February 13, 2009
Responding to the crisis


A healthy public debate as to how countries like ours should respond to the global economic crisis is developing. This follows in the wake of the massive upheavals in the developed capitalist countries, occasioned by what is called a financial meltdown and the consequent wider economic fallout.{{more}} With consumption and production falling, jobs are being cut by the tens of thousands, and even previously untouchable economic giants are bleeding. The CL Financial/CLICO case is the best example in our region.

While the positive actions of some regional governments, including that of the CL Financial’s homebase, Trinidad and Tobago, have gone some way in trying to calm frayed nerves, there is still much uneasiness, if not disquiet, throughout the region. Is the full extent of the damage yet ascertained? Who else or who next? Are we sufficiently insulated from even greater harm?

In this light, recent initiatives by the local private sector to ventilate concerns and facilitate public dialogue on these broad economic issues are most commendable. Already, not only pertinent questions are being asked, but suggestions for solutions are emerging. The local private sector has long been chided about not being sufficiently proactive and interactive on such matters, but it is certainly now moving in the right direction. That momentum must be maintained, and interface with the government and state agencies, even when both sides are at loggerheads, must be maintained and extended.

For its part, the government has embarked on a series of its own responses. Some of them, like the Symposium for Senior Public Servants, are not new and may have generated publicity for the wrong reasons. Yet all must be mobilized in the struggle to keep our economy afloat and to preserve the livelihoods of thousands which can disappear overnight if not appropriately managed. Prime Minister Gonsalves has announced some response mechanisms – the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries, oversight committees on Public Works and the General Hospital and a Task Force on Fisheries Development – which are designed to strengthen government’s capacity to keep a firm handle on important public projects.

In addition, some levels of consultation have been initiated with critical economic sub-sectors. Admirable though these are, they need to be more focused and targeted, catering for and facilitating the free interplay of ideas and proposals so necessary for forging a coherent national response. The public-private sector partnership, with a meaningful role of civil society, is essential if we are to ride out the storm.