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Caribbean warned of debt trap

By Michelle Loubon

Jamaican writer Rachel Manley has called on Caribbean governments and Central Banks to engage in visionary economic thinking to benefit the region.

She was at the time delivering the feature address at the 27th Dr Eric Williams Memorial Lecture, at Central Bank auditorium, St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, on Saturday.

Manley now lives in Toronto. Her grandfather, Norman Manley, was the founder of Jamaica’s People’s National Party (PNP) and was one of the leaders of the West Indian Federation.

Her father, Michael Manley, also subsequently served as Jamaica’s prime minister.

The theme of the lecture was ‘The Road to Independence: A Manley Perspective’. and it was attended by Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Orville London and former head of the Public Service, Express columnist Reginald Dumas.

Manley said she was “no historian or politician”, but she successfully drew upon her knowledge of Caribbean history including slavery, colonialism and Independence; especially in relation to T&T and Jamaica.

The collapse of the Federation (1962), in which Dr Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago had famously quipped “One from 10 leaves nought”, set about a new train of politics as Caribbean countries set about establishing their own Independence.

Zeroing on Independence and Jamaica, Manley said: “One important aspect of nationhood, the cornerstone of independence that has eluded us, is the question of economic independence. Economically, we have not been successful. It’s the things I see when I go back to my country- schoolhouses debilitated; education funding inadvertently now withdrawn; people still carrying water in buckets. I read we have accumulated over a trillion and half Jamaican-dollar debt. A small band of millionaires account for a large portion of wealth.”

Manley added: “Like the rest of the Western world, our middle class is struggling, and the poor characterise our landscape in humiliating urban ghettos, hillside barrios and rural backwaters that tourists may find quaint. But which scream of frustrations of poverty and lack of opportunity.”

Manley challenged leaders to confront the socio-economic problems plaguing Caribbean societies.

She said: “And so, on that count, let’s not pretend. In Jamaica, difficult challenges need to be faced, hard questions asked and solutions found.

And now more than ever I think we must look to visionary economic thinking on a regional basis. We need to rethink our question of debt which can only plunge future generations into deeper poverty.”

Manley said the problem of debt had to be addressed urgently.

“We need to address this problem of debt as a region and approach our debtors with new ideas towards debt forgiveness which would give us the opportunity to redevelop vibrant economies. And I know I am speaking to the right audience, for Trinidad is the rich uncle, and right here in the Central Bank is a man (Rambarran) with the vision and heart and practicality to lead this charge and make it happen.

“This will avert the present course of debt the Caribbean is headed for. It can be done. It has to be done. And if we think as a region instead of as units, it can be done. And this would be following the charter of Caricom that bears Williams’ signature.”

Manley even issued a challenge to Central Banks. She said: “Perhaps our Central Banks will get together and be able to influence the political will to find strength through a regional voice to solve the problems which, call them what we will, will ultimately be regional problems.”

She said The University of the West Indies and the West Indies cricket team “remain our flagships and remind us what we can achieve together”.
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