Former Barbadian Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, has strongly commended Jamaica’s social partnership thrust, saying the Caribbean cannot afford to “waste its democracy” like some other nations which can shut down their Government from time to time, or “by making opposition to everything proposed by their leader the main political strategy.”
He was giving the keynote address on Thursday, July 16, at the Partnership for Jamaica retreat, chaired by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, at the Terra Nova Hotel.
Mr. Arthur said for the Caribbean, “there can be no sensible option but to embed harmony and cooperation at the centre of our governance and to do everything necessary to ensure that partnership works.”
Barbados has often been cited as a model of social partnership, and the country has for years scored high marks on the Human Development Index of the United Nations annual Human Development Report.
Mr. Arthur, Barbados longest-serving Prime Minister, said the social partnership “represents the most momentous and creative piece of public policy engineering in the history of Barbados, both symbolically and substantively.”
He said it is “beyond dispute” that its social partnership had contributed “massively’ to Barbados’ progress over the past two decades.
Barbados signed its first social partnership agreement in 1993, after the country experienced a severe economic crisis.
Mr. Arthur commended Jamaica for giving primacy to fiscal consolidation, which he said was a precondition for creating an environment of sustained growth and development.
He acknowledged that this programme of fiscal consolidation does not allow much policy space for a stimulus programme. “The country will, therefore, have to foster development by relying more on economic drivers and enablers, which can change the costs of doing business, improve the competitiveness of sectors and enterprises and reposition the Jamaican economy in the global arena,” Mr. Arthur added.
He said the Caribbean was behind in a number competitive indices and he urged that measures be taken to revere this. He made a strong call for regionalism, bemoaning the fact that the Caribbean has the fewest bilateral trade agreements of any region in the world, “and no sustained relationships with the evolving trade blocs.”
The former Barbadian Prime Minister said the building of social capital, which is integral to a social partnership model, is crucial to increasing Jamaica’s competitiveness and readiness to take on the world. He said “the ultimate justification” for any social partnership is its ability to make “the decisive difference” to a country’s development.
He cautioned that social partnership is a very highly sensitive instrument. “It must be carefully nurtured, for at its core is the delicate, intangible asset of trust, which once lost cannot ever be easily regained,” he advised.