PART of what effective leaders do is to communicate an integrative vision for change and sustainability, which eventually gets translated into reality. Going on the advice of Vance Havner, the legendary American preacher, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”
Following in the steps of the United Nations, I believe we should create our own National Sustainable Development Goals (NSDGs) backed by an institutional capacity to implement them. These goals would embrace a new equilibrium between social welfare and economic dynamism that promotes inclusive growth, social justice and civil society. Above all, this new development thrust would necessitate a re-evaluation of the policy matrix of the country’s growth strategy, as well as a wholesale revision of the factors that constitute economic development such as education, quality of life, institutional effectiveness, infrastructure, health and social cohesion.
Of course, any vision that seeks to establish a balance between social welfare and economic dynamism here in Saint Lucia, must engender a society that promotes social and economic meritocracy, supports environmental sustainability and research in agriculture, and collects and analyzes economic and social data in order to more effectively guide and inform public policy decisions.
Sustainable growth in small developing states such as ours requires reforming not only specific arrangements, such as counterproductive investment and business regulations, but also more fundamental institutions, such as the legislature and the judiciary, to make them more responsive to people’s needs and to increase public and investor confidence in the dispensation of justice. It is now conventional wisdom that the functionality and effectiveness of a country’s political, legal, economic and social institutions will invariably affect its rate of economic growth. Thus, it turns out a major reason for underdevelopment in small developing nations is the absence or inadequacy of independent and reliable institutions that facilitate vital economic interactions and are able to unleash the full potential of the economies and societies they serve.
The idea that sound institutions are crucial for social order and purpose is worth its weight in gold. Viewed through the prism of behavioural economics, most of our institutions and social capital are not well-developed. As I have argued before, countries with strong institutions remain stable in times of social change and socio-cultural evolution, and also do better over time.
Furthermore, there is appreciably no meaningful development without middle class activism in civil society – and certainly no sustainable democracy without a vibrant civil society. Civil society needs a strong middle class to engender social stability and to be the driver of economic change. A strong middle class supports inclusive political and economic institutions, which underpin economic growth. Further, the strength of a society can be measured directly by the strength of its middle class, which usually translates to better governance, increased corporate social responsibility and greater spending in social sectors such as public health and education. Hence, it is crucial that public policy initiatives are offered and implemented to rebuild and grow the nation’s middle class.
At the same time, the need for productive public services has never been greater. The Public Service is the primary front office agent in our nation’s attempts to improve “the ease of doing business”. Any blueprint for enhancing public sector efficiency must embrace the imperative of business process re-engineering (BPR) which entails a new orientation in delivering public services based on simplification of procedures with a view to providing better quality service, increasing speed, reducing cost and transforming the workforce culture. I fully understand the Public Service in Saint Lucia has become something of a sacred cow. But sometimes even sacred cows need to be slaughtered. Given the present inefficiencies in the Public Service, we need to start questioning existing processes and systematically eliminate the duplication of functions and forms of work that do not add value to the service rendered to the public.
As far as foreign policy goes, economic diplomacy will undoubtedly play a central role in our efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into Saint Lucia. Trade policy must now become foreign policy – essentially a “Look East” policy to increase trade and investment ties with the new Asian frontier markets.
Increasingly, the foreign policy of many developed and developing nations reflect the rise of truly transnational populations, and many of these governments have made pandering to diasporas a foreign policy priority. The engagement with the Saint Lucian Diaspora offers a strategic advantage in multiple areas. Diaspora networks must be seen as true development partners that serve as a potent economic force for re-engaging disconnected citizens, driving national change and contributing to nation building. Hence, Saint Lucia needs to adopt a full-on diaspora-driven foreign policy which aims to fully utilize the skills, experiences, insights and connections of Saint Lucians overseas, in fostering economic growth, reducing poverty and increasing trade.
On the fiscal policy front, a balanced budget policy should only be a long-term goal, given the immediate problems of high unemployment and slow growth which the country faces. A balanced budget will certainly play a role in economic sustainability, but it must not become the tail that wags the dog. As economic history has demonstrated, deficits do matter, but not in the way we think.
In terms of monetary policy, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) will need to show it is much more than a monetary institution that simply manages exchange-rate mechanisms and fosters financial stability. In fact, central banks around the world have become economic change-agents and pacesetters that are expected to use financial innovation and growth strategies to bolster private and public sector dynamism and advance the socio-economic interests of their respective economies. Given the economic stagnation and loss of competitiveness of the economies of the OECS, I believe the ECCB has been woefully inadequate in stimulating economic growth and bringing job security to the OECS region. Hence, new strategic leadership may be required to oversee a paradigm shift in monetary policy that can stimulate regional growth.
If Saint Lucia wants to do better as a nation, it needs to develop a balanced scorecard for growth – and leaders must rise above partisan consideration and unite people in developmental work by ensuring maximum people participation. Critically, leaders must get the questions right before proposing answers. This means they must have the willingness and emotional intelligence to listen and learn – and the stamina and perseverance to make things happen.
For comments, write to Clementwulf@hotmail.com – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.