UCCI speakers reveal diversity of views

| 22/03/2011

(CNS): The UCCI conference heard some interesting and diverse positions on the fundamental themes of the regional conference, as academics, politicians and business people took to the podiums last week. Guyanesebarrister Sir Shridath Ramphal, former secretary-general of the Commonwealth Secretariat, gave the key note speech on Thursday and emphasised the importance of an educated Caribbean. He warned people about being mere spectators of advancing technology and becoming “dependant illiterates” on someone else’s technology “opting for another kind of bondage” and facing a knowledge gap bigger than the income gap traditionally used to measure development.

Against the conference theme of leadership, governance and empowerment, Ramphal spoke about the failure of regional leadership. He said the regional co-operation that emerged after the federalist dreams for the region collapsed in the 1960s was a “triumph of practicality over inclination as mutual interests override natural instinct for contrariness and fragmentation.” He pointed to Ron Sanders’ position that the failure of the region to properly integrate was down to the failure of leadership.

Alongside the leadership deficit in Caribbean he pointed to the failure of civil society to become empowered. He said an empowered civil society does not exist in the Caribbean. He pointed to a lack of activism, consumer associations, trade union movements and others. The former Commonwealth leader also pointed out how the people of the region are not represented properly when the world talks about key issues such as climate change. This was crucial as he noted that this affects the region directly. While professionals from the Caribbean may be, the people are not, he said.

Ramphal warned that the region was buying into the agendas of the NGOs from the north and not considering the agenda of the Caribbean.

When it came to good governance, Ramphal said that one attribute of good government was “the freedom to criticise government.” While the Caribbean on the whole is democratic, he said, democracy was more than form and structure of governance but the “substance and quality as well” had to pass muster. He said there were too many instances in the region of “endangered government values,” adding that governments occupy too much of the governance landscape with the checks and balances of larger countries often absent.

“The yearning for betterment reaches still into every aspect of life, civil and political, economic, social and cultural. It looks, for example, towards more civil societies, more open government, participation in governance beyond the ballot box, and towards a better chance for social and economic achievement for the average West Indian,” he added.

Ramphal also noted that there were very special issues affecting the non-independent Caribbean and said the legacy of colonialism had reinforced separateness. He pointed out that rest of Caribbean had learned not to look down on countries not yet independent, however, as independence had not solved all their problems.

On Friday, following comments from the minister of education, the guest speaker was Dr Warren Smith, the president-elect of the Caribbean Development Bank, who spoke about the need for good leaders to understand the anxieties of the people.

“The focus of leadership must be placed on issues that are the most important to those who are being led,” he said. Smith argued that the major anxiety of Caribbean people could be captured under the broad rubrique of “insecurity” what he described as a generalised sense of losing control of their destiny in a number of critical areas of social and economic life.

Economic uncertainty, climate, crime and violence were the principal anxieties he stated as a result of major disruptions in those areas, which he said should be the principal preoccupation of Caribbean leaders.

“Urgent public policy action for the Caribbean is the development of a strategy to shift regional economic activity onto a new growth trajectory and to provide the resources needed for a dramatic reduction in the unacceptably high levels of poverty,” he said adding that the Asian economies and Cayman had demonstrated that drastic and permanent reductions in poverty came via rapid and sustained economic growth.

“To create conditions for opening up new economic vistas for our people, we need to systematically remove obstacles to the creation of new industries in our small economies, whilst reengineering existing/traditional industries to make them internationally competitive,” Smith said.

With crime and violence now endemic in many Caribbean countries he said it was a source of considerable insecurity and one of the most difficult challenges to overcome because of the power and wealth of the international crime syndicates.

He also pointed to organised crime’s complex relationship with domestic politics in many Caribbean jurisdictions. “Its resolution, therefore, has a coercive as well as a social interventionist dimension,” he said.

As the president of a bank, it came as no surprise that Smith said leaders would quickly recognise that good intentions without access to resources will eventually lead to alienation and frustration. He said Caribbean leaders had to make choices and take risks. Quoting John F. Kennedy he said “There are risks and costs to a programme of action; but they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”

During the two day conference Governor Duncan Taylor, Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, Premier McKeeva Bush, Minister of Education Rolston Anglin, Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale, the former opposition leader Kurt Tibbetts and many other politicians, along with business leaders, such as Tortuga Rum Company founder Robert Hamaty, as well as representatives from civil society, such as Rev. Nicholas Sykes and Dr Frank McField, all took to the podium to offer their views on leadership, governance and empowerment.

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