Investing in people

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Sir Arthur Lewis (L) and Sir Dwight Venner

Dear Sir

The great Sir Arthur Lewis had a dictum: “Economic growth is bound to be slow unless there is an adequate supply of entrepreneurs looking out for new ideas, and willing to take the risk of introducing them. Thus, a private enterprise economy will be retarded if it has not enough businessmen, or if its businessmen are reluctant to take risks”.

This dictum emphasizes the importance of people in wealth creation and economic recovery.

In 1993 after the publication of the first edition of the Saint Lucia Business Focus Magazine. I had the pleasure of being invited to meet the then Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Sir Dwight Venner. In our discussions, Sir Dwight emphasized the importance of “Putting You First” by pointing out that when Jamaica was at its lowest point economically, it was the ordinary Jamaican vendor, speculators and craftsmen who led the recovery with their creativity and innovations.

COVID 19 has placed all economies in the doldrums. And government now must decide on paths back to growth and prosperity. In Saint Lucia, the Allen Chastanet led-United Workers Party (UWP) regime has opted for old style “boom and bust” Keynesian economics one year ahead of a general election. They are borrowing heavily to finance capital expenditure on roads, an airport and other pet projects amounting to over $1.8 billion.

The high level of “borrow and spend” approach of the UWP regime might have some short term feel good factor but the obvious impact will be to saddle us and future generations with the burden of indebtedness given that COVID-19 is increasingly being regarded as a long term challenge.

The alternative approach is to pursue an investment in people strategy as we wait to fully assess the impact of COVID-19. That can be achieved with projects to support the entrepreneurial capacity of our people.

In Saint Lucia, at a basic level, entrepreneurs need collateral knowledge and skills with a major huddle being collateral for many. Therefore, investing in people strategy could focus on getting more of our young people to own homes that will appreciate and can eventually serve as collateral to finance their creativity and innovations.

That strategy, along with investments in skills development and training can serve to retool our people and lay the basis for renewal and regeneration of Castries and other communities, with the focus being on creating flexible housing markets with global appeal particularly to Saint Lucians in the diaspora.

There is no certainty of ever returning to “old tourism model” the best we can do is seek to facilitate the creativity and innovations of our people by investing in them.

Only a progressive government that is focused on “Putting You First” will pursue the wisdom of Sir Arthur Lewis and facilitate the entrepreneurial spirit of our people instead of enslaving us with plantation economics.

Samuel Bowers

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