Barbados can become a thriving centre of international investment by 2025 if we pursue three priorities:
- Reform the public sector to remove all the obstacles to the ease of doing business.
- Reform our educational system to make Barbados a centre of innovation.
- Address the growing disconnect between employment and income to ensure social justice.
Becoming a centre of international investment
These goals are achievable because it is relatively easy to turn around a small economy and society like Barbados. But it requires political will and leadership. The first priority is public sector reform, which you can approach in a simultaneous piecemeal and comprehensive fashion.
You pick two or three critical agencies, say, town planning, the registry, and customs, identify the impediments to fast transparent service and remove them.
The government appoints a task force, headed by a member of the Cabinet, of twelve people chosen in their personal capacity as bright, creative, critical thinkers. This team is tasked with coming up in six weeks with a blueprint of what precisely should be the purposes and functions of government in Barbados in the 21st century, by what agencies/entities those functions should be carried out, and how these agencies/entities should be structured. And this without reference to what exists. One reason for starting from scratch is to identify which functions have ceased to be relevant or are out of synch with a changed environment, or are carried out inefficiently by a hodgepodge of different agencies. Another reason is to imagine novel forms of governance that increase citizen participation and jump-start us into the future. Once a blueprint is drawn up, wide consultation should take place over the following twelve weeks, after which a finalised blueprint should be submitted to the Cabinet for approval, and then to Parliament for discussion. A special committee should then be appointed by the Cabinet, possible with the aid of consultants, to work out a detailed plan of how to move from the present situation to the one proposed in the blueprint over a five-year period, with time frames, costs and resources identified. This should take another twelve weeks. Then any necessary legislative change would follow.
The second priority is to reform our educational system. In a world of relentless change whose outcomes we cannot predict with any accuracy, the best path forward for a small society like Barbados is to invest in innovation, or, more specifically, the capacity of our people to be innovative. Our current educational system, instead of releasing the talents of our children, stifles them. We need to change the curricula to value and promote innovation and creativity and impart the skills necessary to flourish in today’s economy. This might involve:
- Converting one or two of the older secondary schools into a combined pre-university sixth form college.
- Abolishing the harmful and archaic Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination (BSSEE) as a means of allocating students to the secondary schools.
- Turning the Barbados Community College into a college of the visual and performing arts, offering degrees, akin to the Edna Manley College in Jamaica.
- Turning the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic into a College of Science and Technology offering degrees.
- Creating a well-funded centre for innovation at the UWI campus that would also monitor and promote both national productivity and service excellence.
All of these measures would together provide a human resource base for a creative innovation economy.
Safeguarding against the gig economy
The third priority is to start an informed national conversation about the growing disconnect between income and employment in an increasingly automated gig economy i.e. an economy in which the labour market is characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs, and in which workers lack the protections, job security and benefits associated with more traditional forms of employment. One way to address this issue is an idea that has been around a long time but has recently gained a lot of traction. Known by a number of names and coming in a variety of forms — universal basic income, social income, guaranteed annual income — it is essentially a programme by which every citizen is guaranteed an annual income paid by the state. Most economists have objected to it on the basis of its cost and its apparent disincentive to work. But bear in mind that it would replace all existing welfare benefits, and, counter-intuitive as it might be, it would lead to a surge in risk-taking entrepreneurship.