Private sector knocks governments economic planning for region From Rickey Singh in Barbados
Guyana Chronicle
March 5, 2002

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CARIBBEAN governments came in for some trenchant criticisms on regional economic planning yesterday from leading private sector representatives at the first-ever 'Private Sector Summit' organised by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

With the central theme of "Competitive Private Sector Development: An Imperative for the Future", the one-day event, held here in collaboration with the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC), brought together some of the leading minds and top officials of Caribbean institutions, business sector and labour movement.

Some representatives of the CAIC platform knocked governments for failing to live up to expectations in macro-economic planning for strategic development over the past 30 years. Others called for the Caribbean's Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) to first ascertain informed opinion of the private sector before engaging in international negotiations on what it considers a regional perspective.

There were also calls for the CDB itself to be more "people focused" and for political parties that see themselves as "alternative governments" to engage in serious dialogue with the private sector in drafting election manifestos that reflect "the realities" of the environment in which they operate rather than being stuck with the unenviable task of having to implement "unrealistic" policies outlined in such documents prepared for electioneering purposes.

President of the CDB, Dr. Compton Bourne, in his opening address at the Grand Barbados Hotel, had urged the more than 100 participants to be candid in their responses to presentations and in sharing ideas.

Some participants seemed anxious to take up that offer no sooner than the completion of the keynote address by the new head of the RNM, Director General Richard Bernal who stressed that the Caribbean had no alternative to engaging in "strategic global repositioning" which made cooperation between the public and private sectors, in consultation with civil society and representative institutions imperative.

While Bourne raised four specific questions for consideration in requesting responses for the development of a new development partnership with the private sector, Bernal sketched some 11 aspects in a hurried 20-minute presentation on requirements for "global repositioning" by the Caribbean.

Bourne wanted to know if the CDB should be:

** Focusing on improving the policy environment and investment climate in its borrowing member countries (BMCs).

** Concentrating on financing equity investments or development of capital markets.

** Acting as "honest brokers" in bridging any gaps in the public/private sector partnership.

** Investing in education, training and re-training as technology threatens to marginalise unskilled labour in the region.

** Or should the bank do any or all of these or more?

With the intention of getting informed responses by the close of the day's event to help the bank in a more focussed and broad-based development strategy, Bourne himself was left to ponder on the specific issues raised by Bernal in his presentation on what should be done for the future.

Among the "strategic global repositioning" advocated by the Jamaica-born economist and Washington-based ambassador for some 10 years was:

** Developing a new vision, promoting a mind set of change to take advantage of an already changed world in, for instance, areas like health tourism and making the Caribbean a kind of "retired home centre" for the ageing population of the biggest market in this hemisphere, the United States.

In relation to the area of competitive exports, Bernal pointed to the need for diversification away from industries and sectors that have been traditional but now too costly to maintain in gaining an advantage on the global market place.

He urged recruitment of skilled overseas nationals whose creativity could best be used at home and called for an end to negative criticisms and attitudes toward foreigners whose investments in the Caribbean provide jobs and advance economic growth while inspiring competitiveness with the local/regional private sector.

Creation of new alliances in foreign policy to deal with new challenges instead of being bound with old alliances that have either been eroded or no longer crucial, as well as being willing to accept new ideas at a time of seeming intellectual crisis, were also raised for consideration by the RNM Director General.

Earlier, in welcoming participants, Chief Executive Officer of the CAIC, Sean Ifill, said the summit intended to achieve clearly defined areas in which the Caribbean private sector can pursue "market-making activities or, more precisely, market-winning activities".

This could be achieved by a combination of an aggressive marketing strategy with products and services geared to meet and exceed global standards, he said.