February 18, 2009 issue


Challenging realities

Even as the major developed and developing nations of the world, among them our own Canada, the US to the south, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, China and India, along with other countries, take steps to safeguard their economies as the global recession deepens, the outlook for the Caribbean is beginning to reveal more challenges as it begins to see more fallout.
The global picture is cause for careworn looks and growing anxiety. The impact has been devastating in energy sectors for most nations, causing ripples in financial markets and then into economies. Reports out of Dubai, for example, have indicated that the economic crunch has seen property values slide in the high development real estate sector – so much so that foreign workers who were a large percentage of the workforce have abandoned jobs and even the country. It has been reported that in Dubai Airport thousands of abandoned cars now reside in the parking lot, some with apologies taped on windshields.
Nations such as in the Caribbean have not been spared the ripples. In the US, even as its government debated the introduction of billions of dollars to push the country towards positive growth, the Trinidad and Tobago economy was rocked with a financial crisis - a cold awakening to the sign of the times - when the four subsidiaries of CL Financial ran into what could have been fatal turbulence. This financial crisis saw the Trinidad and Tobago government stepping in to pour billions of dollars into this floundering enterprise.
Inevitably, job losses followed with this bailout by the Trinidad and Tobago government. However, these layoffs were not the first in the twin-island republic, neither in the Caribbean - mounting job losses have been occurring in areas other than the financial sector, particularly in tourism. With less visitors arriving from abroad, job losses have been taking place across the Caribbean in the past months, particularly among the nations where tourism is the main income earner - Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica. It is a downside that is expected to continue for some time until the global crisis hits the bottom and economies begin a recovery by climbing upwards again.
While we are concerned about the ripples in our economy and even our jobs here in Canada, and for us in the GTA – vulnerable as we are because of the ongoing economic downturn for the automobile, oil and gas and services industry, we share our worry for our homelands such as Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti – recipient nations as it were for what were ongoing and significant remittance packages sent by family members living abroad. Prior to the global downturn, our remittances to the Caribbean totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars – the decline in these gifts of money and in foodstuff sent in barrels to our homelands is now undoubtedly affecting the quality of life of thousands of family members back home. Even as we lose sleep over the daily financial turmoil on Bay Street in Toronto, at the same time we worry about relatives not having sufficient funds to buy food at Stabroek Market in Georgetown.
Even as the Caribbean deals with the new reality of a recession, as governments there begin the challenging journey of stabilising economies to ride out the economic storm, it still continues to deal with the daily trauma of escalating regional crime. It means now the war must now be fought on two fronts – surviving the economic tsunami while battling surging crime waves.
This was a reality made clear over the weekend by Jamaica’s Minister of National Security at the opening ceremony of the 12th Joint Meeting of Caricom Standing Committees of Commissioners of Police and Military Chiefs in Jamaica. Despite the downturn that is causing dwindling revenues and budgetary cuts, the major challenge that remains is to keep resources for regional security high on the agenda. Surely it would not do to survive the economic onslaught but lose the war against crime.
These are clear and challenging realities for governments in the Caribbean.


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