LONG ON PROJECTS – SHORT ON VISION By Tim Caines By reading the title of this piece you may have surmised that it is a critique. It is constructive and offered only because I am certain that we, as Nevisians, can and must do better. Looking back there are many projects and programs that we can point out with pride. What is not so easy however, is asserting that over the years we have maximized the opportunities for greatest economic advantage in consideration of the projects and programs that we have put in place. Let us look at two for illustration purposes: Infrastructure – Specifically Road Construction And Repair. Since independence we have been building and rebuilding roads. Yet after twenty-five years of incessant roadwork and miles and miles of concrete and asphalt being laid throughout, we find ourselves still having to contract foreign companies to construct. If practice indeed makes perfect, we should have been experts in road construction by now. Had we invested in developing the expertise using as a catalyst the various road projects, we could now have been paying the tens of millions (maybe hundreds of millions before all is said and done), to a Nevisian company. All it would have taken initially was having one of our engineers understudy the head engineer of the foreign company hired when the first phase of the road work began. What makes it even more depressing is that we have what it takes to establish a company of that nature. We have an asphalt plant, a public works division, and professional and civil engineers at home and abroad. How difficult would it be? Not very. There is a current and continuing need for the expertise. Our government owns equipment that can be sold to the new company, and concessions can be given for new equipment and vehicles (as is the case with foreign companies). There is a somewhat knowledgeable workforce. Those persons currently employed in Public Works filling the potholes can be shifted to the new company where they can be further trained and better paid. Not only would this move provide some funds for our treasury in the sale of the plant and equipment, but it would also permanently reduce our recurrent expenditure. The result? We develop exportable expertise, we create jobs as opposed to work, while decreasing the cost to government. Most importantly, however, is that the millions we are pouring into roads, (now and future), stays in our economy. Coincidentally, similar can, (and should), be done in the other areas of Public Works, and the production division of the Agriculture Department. Government should be in support of private enterprise, not in competition with it. Private enterprise improves quality, increases efficiencies and expands economies. Healthcare – (Assistance With Critical/Catastrophic Illness) For years we have been flying our citizens to other countries whenever they are afflicted with anything more that a cold. Our hospital was recently upgraded and expanded but undeniably patients with major illnesses or requiring major surgery have to be taken elsewhere. More recently still we have made (are making) arrangements with Cuba to treat our citizens at reduce costs. Now this is all well and good, but again it is not a long term solution to our health care program nor are we fully capitalizing on the opportunities. We have doctors practicing and specializing all over the world. You might well travel to Cuba and be tended by a Nevisian. Why not make the investment now and build a modern, state of the art medical facility that can fully meet our needs and afford our doctors that same opportunity to practice and specialize at home. Then have the Cubans, (as their assistance), rotate their doctors in, working with our more experienced practitioners that we bring home as we develop the expertise our interns. In doing this we reduce the cost of treatment to our citizens. Notwithstanding that the cost of treatment in Cuba is reduced, it is not free and the treatment center would be able to cover its cost. Additionally the patient and/or family must meet the cost of airfare, lodging, food, and transport in Cuba. Also to be dealt with is the cultural differences and the language barrier. Building and operating our own facility eliminates all these, provides more opportunities, and keeps more money in the island to be recycled and compounded in our economy. Additionally we develop the expertise over time, yielding economic benefits. A modern facility with matching expertise would encourage more persons to return home; some for the career opportunities, some knowing that they can be taken care of if the worse should happen. One of the stagnates to our economic growth is the miniscule increase in population caused by the continued hemorrhaging of persons from the island, mostly the professionals we so desperately need. Also the center has the potential to become an economic driver. Most of the English-speaking Caribbean is now traveling to Cuba for treatment of catastrophic illnesses. The Cubans are not offering their services at reduced rates simply for the sake of being nice. They know that when we come we stay in their hotels and guest houses, we eat at their restaurants, and we ride their taxis … all generating economic activity past the employment of doctors and nurses. If we build like facilities and develop the expertise, is it not reasonable to assume that we would attract much of this business considering Nevis is easier and cheaper to get to for most if not all of the islands; and that the language, culture and lifestyle is similar? Besides, happens if/when communism falls in Cuba and capitalism brings the costs there in line with the rest of the world? We must be persistently cognizant that no project or program works in a vacuum. Other aspects of our economy and/or society are always affected. With each we must grasp the opportunities presented for our collective intellectual, professional, social and economic development. To do this however, we must contend with three major obstacles that keeps us from thinking cohesively about our collective and perpetual development. First is our lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Too many of us, given a choice, would rather be the PS in the Ministry of Works, earning a guaranteed seven or eight thousand monthly, than jump at the chance to make millions by starting and owning the company contracted by that same Ministry to do the work. The rationale, as one person put it: “… a sure salary at the end of the month.”Working in ownership capacity as plumbers, technicians, masons, retailers etc., we see it as a job and not a business. No real plan for growth or expansion. As one foreign business owner living here once told me: “Nevisians don’t open businesses, they open shops.”That reality why others can come to Nevis, borrow our money from our banks, and open businesses that employ us, as we create wealth for them. While we cannot all be entrepreneurs, more of us need to take that initiative, and in the types of businesses that determine our economic destiny. Like it or not, we live in an ownership society, and those who controls the money control the entity – whether it be a family, a business, or a country. Second is our envious competition with, and/or non support of each other. There is a “crab in a barrel”mentality that permeates our society that is strangling our social and economic progress. For whatever reason we do not like to see anyone else get ahead, whether it be that they are leaving us behind, or catching up to us. Consider this: I made the suggestion to a few persons we should assist Nevisian civil engineers in establishing a company capable of building and repairing our roads. After agreeing to the benefits outlined above most commented, (in various forms): “… but you know they won’t want to see a Nevisian get all that money.”Sad, but true. I can’t recall how many times I have personally heard and been told of comments like “… me nar give dem deh me money”or “a deh me money a go”; and persons actually stop supporting local businesses. Why? Because after toiling for years, (or projected earn
ings), that owner can afford a nicer car or built a comfortable house. Yet those same persons have no problem spending that same money with wealthy foreigners. That is precisely why most of the major drivers of our economy are foreign owned. Why foreign owned businesses thrive while domestic owned struggle or fail. Thirdly we need to value our professionals, respect their achievements, and appreciate that they as trained, as talented, as capable as the ones we ordinarily import. We must give them every first preference for employment. Time and again Directorship, General Manager, Department Head positions are filled by foreign workers, despite the fact we have qualified, capable persons here and abroad. It seems like any person who steps off a plane with a briefcase is an expert, provided of course that he did not grow up here. Yet Nevisians, as or better qualified, are not consulted or contracted because they are still seen as the little boy or girl from such and such village; or they are family to such and such. And if by some happenstance the position is given to a Nevisian, he/she is paid minimally, while the non national who previously (or subsequently) hold the position is paid twice as much (or more), plus housing and travel allowances. What does it say when we have doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, business professionals, educators etc from various countries, yet ours are scattered the world over, choosing not to come home. To reach closer to our truest potential we must change our mindset. We must realize that every challenge also presents opportunities; – opportunities for us to develop our own people and expertise. Only by capitalizing fully on these opportunities, in support of each other, can we expedite our progress as a people. If we do not, we will continue being the employed, rather than the employers in our own land, and continue to have two major exports: wealth and human capital (brain power).