Submitted by The Mahogany Coconut Think Tank and Watchdog Group
It is now obvious that there is a cultural hurdle to overcome if the Caribbean is to move forward. So often we have restricted our discussion of culture to the entertainment or superficial level that we fail to recognize and understand that the economy itself is cultural in nature. In other words the cultural norms of a society have a direct effect on all the factors that contribute to the economy.
One of our greatest cultural problems is our approach to time. Buses run late, we get to work late and then we realise that thousands of man hours are lost because of this simple fact. Without a proper public transport system, it is virtually impossible to improve productivity. Hence, those who live in societies where things “run” on time, immediately realise the importance of organising their business in order to catch the train or bus that they need to get to a particular point. The result is that time is not lost and productivity is less threatened.
We all recall when we used to get days off to attend test cricket! Nothing wrong with supporting our cricketers, but in those days during five day tests, the entire Caribbean came to a standstill. It was just the way we did things. Little did we realize the negative results of being five days behind our business while we enjoyed our cricket? We also enjoyed shopping days for Christmas. Imagine getting time off at the peak period of commercial activity.
During carnival and other festivals, we are known to “fire de wuk’ while we party. Once again, there is nothing wrong with partying but we can no longer afford to fete for a whole week and expect productivity to rise. The simple truth is that the world has caught up with us and the days of waiting two weeks for a passport or a week for a birth certificate, should have been things of the past, if we intend to go forward.
This leads us to the failure of governments to approve business opportunities quicker and to grant permission for land development and other matters at a faster rate. All of our islands have courts that are backed up with cases as far as two decades ago. Unfortunately, no serious business person is going to wait a year or two to get a development approve. We still have land sales and the settlement of estates taking years to complete. Against this background, both local and international business is running at the speed of molasses.
We need to retain our uniqueness without squandering real development. We can no longer expect the world to wait on us. The information highway almost by –passed us and we have been playing catch up now for nearly three decades. Our agro based industries are a half century behind and our marketing efforts on the international front are not stellar. We have to make a mental shift and unfortunately there are very few leaders in the region, who seem capable of inspiring us at this time.
It is possible to keep our rum shops; our closeness with neighbors; a vibrant community spirit; our carnivals and festivals; enjoy our cricket and arrive late for parties and dances. However when it comes to managing our economies and developing our people , time is of the essence, and we must transact business at what are considered international standards. Time waits on no man and the Caribbean must accept it will not wait on us.
The world has caught up with the Caribbean and ready or not it is here.