Caribbean leaders lack the political will to implement the necessary growth-oriented reform programmes that could transform their economies and make the region more competitive and productive, according to Dr Warren Smith, the president of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Smith this morning told officials at the opening of the Caribbean Leadership and Transformation Forum at the Barbados Hilton Resort that some of the United Nations Development goals were in jeopardy because the region was simply too slow to implement the relevant programme.
He said while there had been some progress, at least one-fifth of the region’s population was living in poverty, with over one-tenth considered food poor or indigent.
At the same time, economies were characterized by “tepid” rates of growth, unsustainable debt, high fiscal deficits, low levels of competitiveness and productivity and high unemployment, he said.
The CDB boss said regional leaders and policymakers were well aware of the steps needed to correct these problems and the lessons that can be learned from other economies.
However, he said capacity constraints and the lack of political will were getting in the way of progress.
“I believe that it is the absence of political will, combined with an acute shortage of capacity in countries, that best explains the high level of inaction that, up to recently, has characterized the Caribbean policy reform and implementation experience.
“Unless we can come to grips with these two issues, our full participation in the 2030 development agenda and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals within the given timeframe will be in jeopardy,” he told the forum which focuses on delivering results.
Without making reference to any specific country, Smith also said decisions to delay or abandon some projects were “frequently influenced by political considerations”, including impending general elections.
“In these circumstances there is severe pressure to delay, modify, or reverse urgently needed policy reforms,” he said.
Smith added that while most Caribbean countries allocated a “sizeable share” of public expenditure to education and training that contributed to noteworthy improvements in public sector management, there were a number of shortcomings.
These, he said, included insufficient robust accountability systems for results, a weak enforcement culture, and scarce financial resources, all of which he said, served to undermine timely and efficient delivery of Government services.
The CDB boss said projects funded by the financial institution also fell victim to weak execution, leading to constraints on the bank’s ability to deliver on its development mandate.
Meantime, the bank’s Vice President of Operations Monica La Bennett said although policymakers had identified solutions to the problems facing the region, economic and institutional reform was simply too weak, with the implementation rate of public sector investment programmes below 50 per cent in several borrowing countries.
During the two-day conference, officials will discuss best practices from around the world and seek to come up with possible solutions to some of the issues facing regional economies, as well as find ways to help regional governments fill the gap that exist between planning and policy implementation.