By Kenton X. Chance
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) William Warren Smith on Wednesday again appealed to donor nations to reconsider their view that middle-income countries — like those in the Caribbean — do not qualify for debt relief.
Smith’s appeal came as the Bank began its two-day, Forty-Fifth Annual Meeting under the theme “Taking a New Guard: Sharpening the Focus on Improving People’s Lives”.
His call during the opening ceremony was a reiteration of a position advanced in St. Lucia and Jamaica in 2013 and 2014.
“Mr. Chairman, I make bold to place the debt issue on the table, once again! I humbly submit that the sentiments expressed in St. Lucia and in Jamaica remain just as relevant today, and are in urgent need of a solution,” Smith said.
He noted that the concept of the Global Partnership “starts with a shared, common vision, one that allows different solutions for different contexts but is uniformly ambitious”.
“If the shared vision is the eradication of extreme poverty, then the Caribbean context must be objectively examined. And ‘uniformly ambitious’, rather than piecemeal solutions, need to be embraced,” he said.
The meeting brings together the CDB’s board of governors, composed mainly of ministers of finance from across the region.
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Chairman of the CDB’s Board of Governors, Timothy Harris addressed the opening under the rubic “Turning the Corner — Reshaping the Caribbean Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
He said that over the last decade on average Caribbean countries have experienced “lacklustre real GDP growth and have seen small increases in per capita incomes.
This matter must be of concern to the CDB, which is charged with ensuring the harmonious growth and development of the 15-member CARICOM region, he said.
Harris said that the Caribbean ranks high on the Human Development Index, relative to other developing and emerging market countries, with high average literacy rates and life expectancy averaging 70 years.
“On the other hand, poverty rates in the region are also high, too high I must stress, averaging over 40 per cent for CDB Borrowing Member Countries.
“This is coupled with serious income disparity, unacceptable high levels of unemployment and under-employment, and social exclusion of important segments of our population.”
Harris said that the quiet and tranquillity of the region is too often shattered by homicides and violent crimes.
He, however, said that the current state of affairs in the global environment and the regional and national realities “are all signalling that the Caribbean is at a critical crossroad”.
HE told the meeting that access to low-cost financial resources and technical expertise remain the backbone for achieving the sustainable development agenda for the Caribbean region.
The region needs to seriously explore the potential for public-private partnerships (PPPs) to play a role in enabling sustainable and scalable financial access, he said.
“While I agree that PPPs have potential to expand access to untapped financial resources necessary to support development, I am not certain that we have found a good model for fully unlocking this potential in the Caribbean.
“It is therefore essential for us to collectively deepen the discussion on the active role each stakeholder can play to make it happen.”
Harris said the Caribbean must also identify the pool of viable private sector partners within the region and beyond that are capable of going the distance with any plans for expanding economic infrastructure.
“The Bank has an important role to play in creating an environment for the private sector to innovate and flourish. I encourage the Bank to find soft resources to be made available to our Development Banks for support to our farmers, fishers, hairdressers, our truckers, many of these small entities feel left out in the cold by our commercial banks,” he said.
Meanwhile, Barbados called on Caribbean countries to establish a new agenda for reform that allows for new methodologies to create a more enabling environment for economic expansion based on creativity and increased productivity at all levels.
Finance and Economic Minister Chris Sinckler told the opening ceremony of the meeting that the new platform must also ensure that vital sectors are strategically positioned and supported by developmentally strong human populations and environmentally secure countries.
“We can all agree that the inherent challenges facing the Caribbean are neither new nor are they insignificant. Indeed, if anything at all they are more pervasive, virulent and perhaps like never before they seem somewhat insurmountable.”
He spoke of the challenges affecting the region, including economic stagnation, weak competitiveness, low productivity, unsustainable fiscal deficits and lack of debt sustainability.
“What, however, history has also given us is the fortitude to know that every negative reality whether new or old can be tackled and resolved with the correct mix of policies, appropriately designed, flexibly implemented and widely supported by people, policy makers and partners in development,“ he said.