The STAR Busi­ness­week


In a land­mark re­cent study pub­lished by the In­ter-Amer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Bank en­ti­tled “Bet­ter Spend­ing for Bet­ter Lives”, the bank de­liv­ers a sober­ing anal­y­sis of what Caribbean na­tion­als have known for gen­er­a­tions—that our gov­ern­ments are su­perbly in­ef­fi­cient, with many bor­der­ing on to­tal dys­func­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the IDB, however, in­ef­fi­ciency could be cost­ing us more than we orig­i­nally thought, with gov­ern­ment waste bleed­ing the re­gion for as much as US$220bn a year, or more than 4 per cent of Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean’s an­nual GDP. This is hardly a sur­prise and is no won­der why in­ef­fi­ciency and gov­ern­ment have be­come syn­ony­mous with one an­other, al­most in­sep­a­ra­ble. Our ex­pe­ri­ence in the Caribbean has been one of tacit en­dorse­ment of these in­ef­fi­cien­cies and, more of­ten than we would like to ad­mit, in­ef­fi­ciency has been en­cour­aged by the cit­i­zenry and even ve­he­mently de­fended by po­lit­i­cal stal­warts dis­guised as civil so­ci­ety. The coun­tries of the Caribbean are some of the youngest na­tions in the world, with many coun­tries like Saint Lu­cia hav­ing achieved in­de­pen­dence only 40 years ago. Armed with that per­spec­tive, the work of many na­tions in the re­gion has been ap­plaud­able—at least to some de­gree—in tran­si­tion­ing our peo­ple from post-colo­nial­ism to the era of glob­al­iza­tion.

The phrase “What have you done for me lately?” seems per­ti­nent here though as the era of green gold has long passed its shelf life, fainter as the years go by, and to­day, noth­ing more than a mere anec­dote that stale politi­cians, who are fresh out of new ideas, con­tinue to cling on to.

The open­ing lines of the IDB re­port en­cap­su­late this in­ter­gen­er­a­tional tol­er­ance and con­tem­po­rary frus­tra­tion per­fectly: Most coun­tries in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean have re­cently reached, or are close to reach­ing, mid­dle in­come sta­tus. As such, cit­i­zens in the re­gion are de­mand­ing more and bet­ter ser­vices from their gov­ern­ments. This junc­ture is cru­cial: if gov­ern­ments can cope with these new de­mands, coun­tries stand a good chance of climb­ing up the de­vel­op­ment lad­der. If not, so­cial ten­sions may arise, stalling de­vel­op­ment, as has hap­pened time and again in many promis­ing coun­tries. For more on this lurid anal­y­sis of pub­lic spend­ing pat­terns in the Caribbean, be sure to be­gin with our lead story “Curb­ing Gov­ern­ment Waste” start­ing on the cover page.

It’s Noth­ing Per­sonal. It’s Busi­ness.

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