R. Rose
November 26, 2013
Building a public/private partnership – Part 1

My column was written last week when I was in the Dominican Republic, attending a regional seminar on the EU-funded Banana Accompanying Measures, called BAM for short. {{more}}

This programme has been occasioned by the dramatic changes brought about in the European and global banana market by the brutal “banana wars” of the last two decades and the evolution of the European market in which giant supermarket chains exercise dominance. These developments have eaten away at our traditional forms of access to the market, sacrificing the small farmers in areas like the Caribbean, the Windward Islands in particular.

It has been difficult for us in this region, whether those in the political sphere, or farmers, or leading public servants and technocrats, to come to grips with these radical changes. Many of us are still trapped in the illusions of a return to the glory days of “green-gold,” as banana was described in its heyday. So, we look for persons and institutions to blame, chiefly, but not solely political. In St Lucia one party blames its rival and vice versa, each claiming to be able to “put it right”. Here NDP accuses ULP, pointing to impressive exports when it was in power, and charging that there needs to be a change of government in order for fortunes to be improved.

Such short-sightedness finds favour with those who either do not or refuse to take the time to understand the fundamental changes in the industry, the impact on all our people, not just the farming community, and as a result are in no position to frame an appropriate response. It has as its companion those in the governments in these islands, who believe that by accessing foreign assistance and channelling it to the affected sector the challenges confronting the banana industry will be overcome.

The BAM is described by the European Union as its “last” banana assistance programme to the islands, dubbed by Caribbean people as the “last train to San Fernando”, from a classic calypso of the fifties. It is the EU’s response to the havoc created by its changes to the rules governing the marketing of our bananas in Europe. Whether it is an appropriate response or not is not the purpose of this article; rather the focus is on its basic premise in making a success of the BAM – that it is based on the concept of a Public/Private Partnership (PPP).

For us in the Caribbean, PPP immediately strikes a political chord with the parties of Ebeneezer Joshua in SVG and Cheddi Jagan in Guyana foremost in mind. But the PPP idea underpinning the BAM is very different, the only common factor being that whether as in Public, Private (sector) or Partnership, the P stands for People. It is this people-based approach which is causing so much difficulty, for all our political and administrative systems are based, not on genuine participation of people, but on some supposed “bright”, “capable” administrators and people-loving politicians being able to deliver the goods to the people, the recipients, not the shapers.

A couple weeks ago I raised this challenge to frame a relevant PPP, in the context of the launching of the 2013/2025 National Development Plan. However, that is merely a symptom of our weakness in developing such collective responses to national issues, or regional ones for that matter. CARICOM and the OECS both suffer from this endemic disease of ours. There have been noble attempts to try and overcome this hurdle to our path to development– the Constitutional reform process and the aborted local government reform on which we have all gone silent.

Somehow we have not tried to collectively analyse the weaknesses in those processes, apportioning blame being our traditional response. Unfortunately, such approaches serve us no useful purpose; in fact we end up as even more ready political cannon fodder, for the blame on one side assumes that the other will get it right, using the same methods with new people.

The reality is that neither the public sector nor the private sector trusts the other side and there is a deep-lying fear of the consequences of genuine and active participation of the people in the developmental process, even contempt in some quarters. Each timid attempt is abandoned at the first sign of any serious difficulty and we resort to the old methods of exclusion and what former a Prime Minister classically and philosophically coined as “I conceive, you (the people) receive”.

BAM will fail to deliver if we go down that road. I will develop these ideas further in my next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com- mentator.