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Commentary: In search of a regional frontier
Published on August 21, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Melanius Alphonse

Much has been discussed about what type of political and economic integration is desirable for the Caribbean region.

On one hand, Caribbean leaders are struggling to create strategies to get there. On the other, are these strategies really working to protect against high unemployment, rising inflation, and high debt? What are the steps towards the exchange of ideas in a region of diverse knowledge flows, and to take advantage of a unique Caribbean experience?

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Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com
Further examination would suggest an in-depth public relations strategy built around the cultural capital of the region that we're all in this together, from Guyana to Haiti, might be useful.

The execution of this strategy should let it be known that the region values loyalty and business retention, and does take pride in building shareholder value in exchange for building long-term economic growth.

The hallmark of this strategy should be one that is keen on product development and the delivery of customer excellence. This also, has to be about balancing the interests of the region, with corporations that are willing to invest in human and physical capital to inspire the generational change that is taking place, and to bring forth the realization that, despite where you were born, there is equal opportunity towards social and economic upliftment.

Resources, education, family structure and services can influence and subsequently define an entire city, nation, region and the world. Our region is no different, with its geographic diversity and specialization of cities all blended into a Caribbean heritage gifted with unique experiences that can attract quality investments to a familiar and hospitable hemisphere.

But in order to facilitate a regional frontier, there must be improved accessibility and the removal of barriers to help create access to funding; the ability to move comfortably to and from work, between communities and from island to island; the harmonization of transaction cost and documents, and keeping a lid on the cost of living, all form part of the equation.

In this context, a regional frontier will require a wider awakening and truth telling to broaden the region’s creative spirit, its social capital and public policy towards development.

But perhaps, in trying to remedy this situation, the taboos and prejudices of the 50s and 60s could be holding back the potential of an industrious people; unable to maximize the region’s growth potential.

Let’s face it. The “us” versus “them mentality” has devalued economic performance and regional authority. In today’s economy, the Caribbean region needs to focus on a collaborative effort that shares a vision with action, and direction. But there is more!

This adjustment combined with the governance of a unified region, with labour regulations, the free movement of people, an open skies agreement, tariff and a legal framework to strengthen the economic partnerships needed to trade and develop with economic buoyancy, will also have to be revisited in areas such as institutional structure, application and execution with a new tool box.

In that regard, the distribution of responsibilities and what government(s), and existing institutions should do is a major propriety. But note, politically calculated maneuvers and interfering in a market economy is not advised. Of primary concern should be the need to collectively maintain predictability and stability, efficient administration of services, well written laws and well managed judicial systems.

Further, greater efficiency in monetary and investment focus is needed to build on the achievements of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, (ECCB) and to preserve the region’s financial strength.

Savings in the region will have to be increased. Lower borrowing cost must be a priority, as well as closing the equality gap through economic growth that builds the trust of investors, to the point that they feel confident on the long-term to invest.

The outcome of these would cause a change that is expected to yield sustained results through the retention of global clients and serve as a springboard to attract new prospects into the region.

That’s why a more substantive and clear strategic object with a sequence of measurable steps that are evaluated and communicated through an in-depth public relation strategy on an ongoing basis is indispensable.

The Caribbean needs closer regional integration, but a politically charged region is not beneficial to its strategic rebalancing.

The Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe cannot deliver on this. Variable value added tax (VAT) rates and multiple levels of bureaucracy are a nuisance in such close proximity.

And neither is it sensible for the region to remain in repetitive economic troubles and possible economic isolation, and consequently surrender the future to uncertainty.

Preferable, the region’s horizon should be zoomed in 15-20 years with a high-level perspective of a favourable investment regional frontier.

The focus of which should be laying the foundation for economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity.
 
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