KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Any reform of the public sector in the Commonwealth Caribbean must take place against the backdrop that the state has been a force for good and cannot retreat, according to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
“This does not mean that the state has to be owning all public resources. No. In fact, there are some cases where the state may become more involved and other cases that it will pull back. But that doesn’t mean that it is in strategic retreat, so long as that state is a democratic state and it is accountable to the people,” he told a meeting of Commonwealth Caribbean heads of Public Service Commissions and cabinet secretaries last week.
Gonsalves said that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the state plays a very important role in the importation of LPG but at the same time sold majority shares in the former state-owned bank and substantially privatised the state-owned supermarket.
“So that there are areas which you will go into and there are areas from which you will pull back, but not overall strategic retreat,” he said.
Gonsalves said the region has witnessed the evolution of the public service since the 1930s, when the state was concerned about law and order, collection of taxes and very minimal public services.
“So when people tell you they want limited government, yes, you had it then. But we were not as well off as we are today. And then came the uprising across the region in the 1930s and the people demanded several initiatives to be undertaken. Colonial government wouldn’t undertake them and eventually, we have universal adult suffrage and a devolution of political authority right up to independence…” Gonsalves further stated.
He said that as the demands of the people changed and as the political context altered, there have been changes in the bureaucracy.
The state later became more actively involved in facilitating economic development and owning economic resources, Gonsalves said.