R. Rose
November 5, 2013
The National Development Plan and Public/Private partnerships

I count myself among the many, hopefully not several or the few, who are currently studying the 2013/2025 National Economic and Social Development Plan launched on the eve of our country’s 34th anniversary of Independence. It is only natural that as more and more people get their head around it and sink their teeth into it, much national debate and discussion will be generated. That will be a most positive sign of our maturity and we should all be hopeful that the discussion does not degenerate and get drowned in the maelstrom of partisan politics.{{more}}

So, first of all, my heartiest congratulations to the architects of the Plan for their hard work in producing the document. It has been a long process, not without its hiccups, but in the end perseverance and dedication have produced results. Above all, whatever one’s conclusions on the Plan, it is a tribute to the vision of PM Gonsalves and his team, in attempting to provide a lodestar to guide us into the next decade. There have been previous attempts at producing such documents, harking all the way back to the colonial period, with the most recent being the 1991/95 Five-Year Plan, but this is the most ambitious attempt so far.

Strategically, it was good thinking to launch the Plan during the Independence celebrations. But there could, and should have been much more of a build-up towards such an important event. The publicity and promotion did not match the significance of the Plan. Such occasions are far too important to be left to the usual bureaucratic approaches and as a result the launching lacked the kind of excitement and eager anticipation that a Plan, guiding our economic and social development for the next decade plus years, should have generated.

While the launching ceremony itself could not be faulted, it is striking that it smacked too much of a public sector affair. It needed a greater presence of non-state and particularly private sector representatives, for after all, the Plan is premised on a public/private sector partnership. This must not be a time-worn cliché, it must be manifested in practice. Additionally, there was the customary absence of any high-powered Opposition presence, a sad reality in much of our Caribbean politics.

Such a low-level of participation by critical actors in our development process tends to undermine the “national” content of the Plan. I am not here pointing fingers in any direction as to who is to blame, simply stating that we, as a people, must collectively endeavour to try and find consensus on such critical issues. Is it not better to try and influence the content of any such document, rather than waiting for it to be framed and then pouncing on flaws?

Having said this, it is the duty of those entrusted with responsibility to chart the way forward to ensure that there are avenues for participation in a meaningful way. At the onset of the formulation of the Plan, that was the laudable aim, and positive steps were taken in that direction. There was engagement with non-state actors, grouped under the umbrella of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC). Consultations were held at the sectoral and community levels and joint teams (state and non-state) travelled abroad to engage Vincentians living in the UK, North America and the Caribbean in fruitful discussions. All this was very commendable indeed.

However, it seems that we do not learn our lessons from history very well. We had the experience of the constitutional review process, a truly democratic exercise, which somehow fell off the rails and ended in the national tragedy that was the 2009 referendum. An exercise demanding national consensus ended in divisive partisan politicking.

This one did not digress in that direction, thankfully, at least not as yet, but somehow between the original participatory beginnings and the launching, the Plan became divorced from the people. Having participated in those early processes and put myself on the line in terms of engagement with the public and the diaspora in promoting popular involvement, I have been confronted with embarrassing enquiries as to what happened to the Plan. Should not at least a preliminary draft, or summary of the recommendations from the Vincentian people be published for further input? Would this have enhanced or detracted from the overall effort?

I make these points not to detract from the splendid work on the Plan, nor to dissuade Vincentians from engaging in public discourse to enrich the document, so as to make it not just a public sector Plan, but one which we can shape. Rather, to point to weaknesses in the formulation, which, even as we address the document, need to be seriously taken on board elsewhere. At the heart of this is our failure, on both sides, public and non-public, to comprehend and arrive at a workable consensus as to what constitutes a genuine public/non-public partnership.

I hope to say more on this subsequently.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.