Tuesday, 29 January 2013 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
Retirement funds are drying up, hiring is down, and small businesses are in a chronic rut. Consumption is weak, taxes are too high, and youth and long-term unemployment is skyrocketing. Tourism is limping, the financial sector is going through turbulence, and crime has made up its mind.
The prospect for a renewed economy is nowhere in sight, but Antiguans and Barbudans are tired of blaming and excusing. They want a workable plan to fix the economy. They need transformational leadership to focus on shared prosperity.
What equipment does the government have to address our plight? It has nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Our way out is at the border of delivering solutions and overcoming obstacles.
To plug the holes in the economy a strategic restoration plan is needed. Indigenous thought linked to international tools is a good start. More attention ought to be devoted to eliminating management deficits and reducing operational indelicacies. The Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell could turn stifling tax policies into pro-growth instruments. This should be motivated by a clear concept of public good.
Next steps: Examine what adjustments could be made to create jobs and instill confidence in the economy.
This could slow down the pace of the country’s premature demise. Then, the minister should engage the best minds to help him figure out: What kinds of investments the government should invite. Matching the right talent with the right task will help the ministry operate at a level of thinking that is bigger and bolder than the size of our small island. There’s a correlation between due diligence, investors’ rightness of fit with the common good, and outstanding talent helping the government revive the economy. Also Lovell should explore a bankable way, to integrate the diaspora using their educational and financial capital to expand development goals.
Faced with daunting challenges, the minister and his team must find new sources of growth. An action plan to create a growing cadre of economically empowered residents and citizens armed with entrepreneurial savvy should be on the table. One example is to re-structure the energy sector by turning the nation into the green capital of the Caribbean.
However, 70 percent renewable energy should be owned by indigenous businesses. A stimulus package that reduces the high cost of doing business, and increases competitive benchmarks to expand the regional market should be given serious consideration. These simple strategic moves would put Lovell on the leading edge of innovation and change. If not, hunger will replace hope; fatality will choke faith, and our dysfunctional economy will become unbearable.
John Rawls’ social justice concern that the greatest good should be for the greatest number of people or Abraham Lincoln’s proposition that the government should be “of the people, by the people, for the people” should be tailored to remedy our financial ills. To take the government’s image out of a coma, the disapproving voice of the faith-based community could raise the people’s eyebrow, by calling for fiscal honesty and affordable financing for entrepreneurial businesses.
Now spreading colossal despair, the United Progressive Party administration is fully responsible for our broken economy. But considering the resources our beleaguered government is out of, and the money the people don’t have, ‘doing development’ and profiting from our untapped resources and moral imagination, requires that we resist the forces that undermine prosperity.Overcoming obstacles
The Ministry of Finance and the Economy and Public Administration, and Information and Broadcasting has demonstrated breathtaking naiveté at overcoming too much debt and too little growth. This signifies that the government is “clean bowl” by the weight of the economy, but continues to insist that it should stay at the crease.
It loves the office, but hates the responsibility.
Having called for public consultation to turn things around, the government‘s public relations is amusing. The bottom-line: the country’s great financial depression is now.
To fix the past nine years of policies that paralyzed growth, it is less important to convince the populace, which administration accumulated the debt. Whereas no government could afford to reject historical errors, the cost of ignoring current decisions violates micro economics essentials and justifies relentless failure.
Mention a stimulus budget to the Finance Minister and he will give you poetry and prose more easily than estimates and economics. The minister continues to pamper the IMF's debt at the expense of local creditors. But Lovell has not designed a plan that clarifies what Antigua and Barbuda’s natural value is. The country should take competitive advantage of its land, people and pristine habitat to redesign macro-economics structures to generate wealth.
If concern for people is the source of the government policies, its decisions do not show that local response to global difficulties will mitigate external shocks. The government hasn’t made significant investments in self-feeding agriculture. We still import hundreds of million worth in food while neglecting local farmers. Absent is an educational pathway to develop a highly knowledge-based population the cornerstone of economic revitalization. Simply giving scholarships is meaningless, if well-paying jobs are not available at home.
While our sharpest minds are being sentenced to foreign shores, the government says that this ad hoc scholarship program is a signature achievement because it has global outreach. Inasmuch as educating our children to be geographically mobile professionals is desirable, it is hard to justify a development model, where there is an abundance of potholes and failing students at home while trained engineers and highly qualified teachers flood the world.
The result the local village gets poorer while the global village gets richer. The aim is not to stop, but to combine strategically, the scholarship through diplomacy program with tangible and sustainable initiatives.
Overall, there’s an unquenchable mission for an appropriate track record. It is to create a matter-of-fact list of programs for showcase effect. But these ideas are not connected to strengthening the economy in a way that evokes confidence in the future. Where is the change promised that was supposed to out-class previous administrations with incomparable insights, lifted the whole culture of morality to new heights, and taken the nation to higher levels?
The timeline for the menu of best practices available to the government to take effect is short. I have provided practical strategies to move the economy from rapid decline, to growth and improvement. I have also recommended that the government not ignore the ties between scandalous allegations of corruption and mounting poverty. Clearly, there’s a precious preference for external prescriptions while homemade solutions are de-prioritized.
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.