The Scarlet Pimpernel Blog
Monday, 17 January 2011 06:56
By The Scarlet Pimpernel
A Word on Planning- The spurts of economic growth, development, and prosperity experienced in Antigua & Barbuda during its first generation (30 years) as an independent nation have largely been fashioned by momentous changes in the global marketplace, some of which, quite recently, have harmfully impacted the local economy.
As a result, when you listen to government leaders, the prime minister and minister of finance in particular, you get the distinct impression that the nation’s current regressive economic situation is more the result of events that occurred outside of Antigua & Barbuda, somewhere in the global arena, than a consequence of the imprudent programs and policies adopted by a government obdurately engrossed in an opposition mindset, reinforced by 28 years of antagonism.
Now, after almost seven years in power, the UPP government remains deeply afflicted by a collective form of “adult separation anxiety disorder” associated with sudden separation from opposition and transition to governance. I recommend vigorous psychotherapy for these government leaders who disingenuously ignore the well-known reality that along with the foreseeable economic challenges of globalism and the worldwide economic crisis emerged a host of development opportunities for small, developing economies like Antigua & Barbuda. The bare truth is that these new opportunities continue to evade us because, as a nation, we have never been prepared for progress.
The majority of growth and development Antigua & Barbuda experienced in the past, for which the opposition (ALP) loves to take credit, was more the result of inflows of investment capital generated from past booms and bubbles in international money markets and having inherited an island paradise that will always beckon international investors, than the result of effective, strategic development planning. Regrettably, our beloved nation has never had the benefit of carefully researched, competently prepared and precisely implemented, long-term, medium-term, short-term, or even day-to-day planning.
Under the ALP government, there were scores of dedicated public servants laboring in a building labeled Ministry of Planning & Development, while prime party supporters received six figure consultation fees for compiling (cut and paste) laughable documents, labeled “Development Plan,” which decorated the desk drawers of ALP ministers and were never read. In contrast, the UPP government apparently does not see the need for a ministry dedicated to planning. However, the panoply of problems which currently confront the nation constitute a multiple module message to the UPP government that “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”.
The ministries are overcrowded with highly-educated advisors, consultants, and technocrats who have developed numerous strategy documents, conducted countless workshops, and held various training sessions to justify their burden on the wage bill. So why does the ship of state remain adrift from sun, sea, and sand to assured barren land? What is the missing variable in the economic resuscitation equation? Indeed, the government has been diligently seeking solutions from the four corners of the planet, in addition to the assistance received from “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” (IMF). Yet relief for the suffering, jobless, impoverished masses is nowhere in sight.
But do not despair boys and girls, because Minister Lovell assures us that the “rebound of the advanced economies is  critical to the  recovery of small island states like Antigua and Barbuda … and there is a 12 to 18 month lag between developments in advanced economies, and the realized effects of these developments in developing economies.” People, the minister of finance is saying that the revival of the economy is really out of his hands; therefore, we must meekly wait, and murmur not, until sensible politicians in developed countries implement programs and policies to revive their economies, then tourist from these countries will return to Antigua & Barbuda in droves like before. When will our government take responsibility for governance? While in opposition the UPP was clear that the role of the opposition is to oppose. Well, please be informed that the role of government is to lead, not to wait on competent leaders in other countries to solve our problems. Budget 2011
My mother taught me that if I have nothing good to say, I should say nothing. So I am respectfully reluctant to comment on the 2011 budget statement, but after perusing the document and listening to as much of the debate as I could stomach, I feel compelled to say that it seems more like a colourfully outlined political statement intended to placate a placid populace than an elucidation of a disciplined approach to sustainable growth.
To punctuate my point, I will dissect the small section of the budget statement titled "Money and Credit in Antigua and Barbuda”. The budget statement reported that credit to the private sector and loans to businesses and private individuals increased. Meanwhile, the consistent three billion dollar money supply in Antigua & Barbuda saw a 5.1 percent reduction in narrow money and a decrease in both private sector deposits and savings. In plain language, this means that local banks heeded the government’s repeated supplications for assistance and partnership. The banks upheld their end by extending more and more loans to businesses, desperately trying to help the government jump-start the economy. Despite much government talk of commitment to stimulating the economy, the proper role of government in economic crisis was obviously not understood. Thus, in spite of numerous sincere efforts on the part of local banks to help business and individual entrepreneurs survive hard times, the lack of adequate government crisis policies and programs forced even well-managed, longstanding business like Home Restaurant, The Beach and Susie’s Hot Sauce to recede into bankruptcy.
Indeed, businesses and banks lost millions and millions of dollars in their witless partnership with the government, attempting to stimulate the economy. And now, the pitiless Minister Lovell has the unmitigated gall to stand in the hallowed halls of our parliament and state that “high levels of public debt severely limit the space for fiscal stimulus, and low private investment has hindered growth.” Harold, without making reference to your competence as a leader or lack of training in economics, I recommend that you read the seminal macroeconomic teachings of John Maynard Keynes, which detail the kinds of fiscal and monetary measures governments are required to peruse to improve the effects of recession.
I honestly believe that the government wants to alleviate the wanton pain and suffering that has engulfed the nation. It is just that the local boys and girls that were elected to help the people continuously fall victim to the behavioral traps that undermine the organizational change needed to rebuild our fledgling economy. One such trap is the failure to detail and prioritize realistic goals. The political statement masked as the 2011 budget is replete with examples of acronyms and names of plans, projects, and proposals that are expected to create major directional change, but fail to articulate the strategies required to accomplish their objectives. In my humble view, setting goals without prioritizing and spelling out the specific details as to how the goals will be accomplished, and failing to address the source of funds that must be dedicated to ensure success of the proposals enumerated, is an exercise in futility, gift-wrapped in cricket metaphors, on another fantastic political journey to nowhere.
Moreover, the psychologist in me cannot ignore the Freudian implications of according the name “NEST” to the culmination of the ideas garnered by the UPP government to rebuild the economy. In psychoanalytic terms, the government subconsciously implicates a “Bird” in the NEST rebuilding process, since birds are best known for their ability to construct NESTs. Unless Prime Minister Spencer is ready to admit that he is a Bird, his administration may be subconsciously calling on Lester Bird for help.
Recognizing the Role of the Nation’s Young Scholars
Government leaders consistently brag about the hundreds of scholarships that have been awarded to Antiguan students during the UPP tenure, while they conveniently avoid the disconcerting reality that the government has no discernible plan for the productive utilization of this growing bank of talent in the development of the nation. These students are useful to the government only as political conveniences, for which they are willing to pay the travel expenses of bringing them home to vote for the party that gave them scholarships.
How can our government ignore that the vast majority of these students will not be able to find jobs for which they are trained, or any suitable job for that matter, in Antigua & Barbuda, and will be forced to seek a livelihood abroad, where their talents can be appreciated and nurtured? For all of the grandstanding about scholarships, at the end of the day our government is simply training students to migrate to developed countries, thereby effectively contributing to the brain drain that they claim to abhor. Our government needs to recognize the importance of constructing a proper plan that views these scholars as a shining ray of hope for overcoming our economic challenges, and the potential architects of an impending prosperity and a brighter future for all.Conclusion
The beginning of a new year is a time when many people feel hopeful and optimistic that the new year and future years will be better than the past. It is also a time when our resolutions are initially tested. This makes us feel less tolerant to accept more of what engendered in us feelings of dislike, disdain, and disgust in the past. As a nation, we must realize that our future, individually and collectively, is really in our hands, once we acknowledge that we create our futures through the decisions we make in our lives.
Politically speaking, we are literally at a crossroad, which behooves us to determine whether we are prepared to accept more of the hapless past or willing to make that critical decision to stand together, not against the ALP, UPP, or any other political group, but in unity, for a better Antigua & Barbuda.
Who feels it knows it … we live here; we feel the economic pressures to make ends meet; we bear witness to the suffering of our brothers and sisters; we see the hopeless looks on the faces of our new graduates and the dimness in the eyes of the younger ones. What more do we need to see before we decide to get up off our hands? The way I see it, change for the better comes down to a decision and the courage to sustain it.The Scarlet Pimpernel is the nom de plume of an Antiguan born “knowledge broker” whose intercontinental exploits involve work as a university founder and educator, military strategist, international legal consultant, United States prosecutor, published author, trade advisor in Latin America and international investment counselor.
The inimitable acuity of the “Pimpernel” is sought after by entrepreneurs, investors and governments from Dubai to Brazil. Recent work, created for Latin America, which speaks to the conjunction of technology and education to reduce cost, motivate students and improve testing results will be translated and introduced to school systems across the Caribbean later this year. “Employing anonymity to domesticate the ego ...”