By Basil Springer

“It’s a familiar storyline: Timid bureaucrats, obsessed with career advancement and professional niceties, stare at mounting evidence of impending danger. The facts are incontrovertible, the risk palpable, the logical conclusions easily drawn. Yet somehow the bureaucrats remain incapable of acknowledging the danger, let alone advocating the necessary measures that could thwart it” – Chris Weinkopf –

Last week I was talking to a prospective tenant who was interested in renting some office space to expand her professional services business. She had just returned from abroad after being away for only a short time to be greeted by national debate on the call-in programmes relating to economic projections of impending doom and gloom. This was a surprise since it was in contrast to the rosy picture painted just prior to her departure. This concerned her to the extent that she questioned her wisdom in expanding her business in times of uncertainty.

I reassured her that whereas the trend in some of the macroeconomic statistics was going in the wrong direction, there was plenty of liquidity in the banking system and that the prospects for the growth in the economy were good, once the social partners decided to do something about it. What are we waiting for? This is no time for timidity among the social partners. We must move now to take advantage of the opportunities on the horizon.

Two weeks ago the Caribbean Financial Services Corporation (CFSC) , a private sector development financial institution celebrated its twentieth anniversary. A local industrialist Mr. Ralph “Bizzy” Williams gave the feature address ‘from the heart’. He recalled how twenty years ago CFSC had shared the risk with him and, even though it was not fair sailing, from that small beginning his businesses have grown into a significant competitive group of companies that have expanded into the Caribbean.

It is this type of partnership that needs to be repeated time and time again, if the Caribbean is going to carve out a niche for itself in the global market place. CFSC also manages the Barbados Investment Fund which is a venture capital company in which the Central Bank of Barbados and CFSC are the principals. The Central Bank provides the larger chunk of capital as it should do in promoting the venture capital concept as a means of stimulating growth in the economy.

There are many business development opportunities in the Caribbean. These include tourism and tourism linkages, informatics, financial services, health services, business consulting, education services, entertainment and sport. In many of these we have already laid a foundation in Barbados and we must be persistent in building on this foundation.

The concept of Barbados as a donor country needs to be aggressively developed. This will have the benefit of increasing tourism and trade through south-south dialogue as well as developing a thriving business consulting arm, the services from which will be an essential component of the donor supported services to the respective recipient countries. The World Cup 2007 of course is a major opportunity which is being aggressively pursued. There are opportunities in high-tech manufacturing, mining and renewable energy which are suffering from the timidity among the social partners.

There are also other opportunities in tourism linkages, food security, exotic agricultural exports and marine resources which are going a-begging. Immediate opportunities are available in sugarcane diversification, West Indian Sea Island cotton, sport and tourism linkages. Foreign investment is available but it comes with the proviso of private sector leadership and investment partnership at the local level.

At our stage of development, the initial local investment partner might well have to be government. However, an enabling environment must be created so that the private sector provides the management expertise from the word go with government providing a continuing regulatory and service function. There is the temptation that, because government is initially responsible for a large amount of the funding, they might want to exert undue influence on the implementation process. This, in my view, is a mistake and needs to be vented in a social partner environment.

Bevan Springer writing for the Amsterdam News in New York and reporting from Auckland on November 4th, said ‘it’s been a week since I arrived in New Zealand following a productive visit to Fiji and I’m still inspired by the countless opportunities for south-south technical cooperation between small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific… The marketing effort also needs to be launched in this corner of the world, where the Caribbean still evokes nostalgia from the Kiwis, not least to do with the region's stunning beauty and an emotional connection to the successes of the West Indies cricket team, perhaps our most untapped and undervalued asset’.

I can support this south-south dialogue concept based on my own experience in Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Africa. What are we waiting for?

The late W. Edwards Deming was the recipient of the Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure, from the Emperor of Japan, 1960, for improvement of quality and of Japanese economy, through the statistical control of quality. He once observed that ‘It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory’.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -