A relationship built on public trust and consultation is critical to the success of any programme created for the economic recovery of Barbados.
This was the advice of former Prime Minister of Ireland, Mr. Enda Kenny, as he addressed a special meeting of the Social Partnership at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, this morning.
Accompanying Kenny was former Irish Minister of Finance, Mr. Michael Noonan. The two were key players in the recovery of the Irish economy after it collapsed in 2008.
The forum was facilitated by former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Coca Cola Company, Mr. Neville Isdell, and Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
Kenny, who made it clear to participants that he was not in the country to dictate to Barbadians what they should do, but to share the story of his country’s path to a successful recovery, with the hope that local players would find value in aspects of the story.
Critical to Barbados’ recovery, he suggested, would be for all to recognize and accept that government was about “making decisions that are in the greater interest of all the people”. This, he added, was best achieved through the fostering of a healthy relationship with the social partnership.
The former Prime Minister stressed that Ireland would not have been successful in its recovery programme, which required the sorting out of myriad problems, if it had not been able to obtain “the full buy-in” of the social partnership.
In fact, he said, one of the hallmarks of that relationship was that while Noonan was Minister of Finance “people from all over the country, including farmers”, could walk into his office and speak on issues impacting them and their business or sector.
Additionally, they radically broadened the process of annual budgeting and budget preparing by including all segments of the social partnership in round-table type presentations that were conducted in public and televised.
Ultimately, Kenny explained, all this was aimed at building a regime of trust so “people believed” what you were saying, and that you would stick with it till the end.
This was buttressed, he added, by a requirement that every three months persons who were responsible for programmes had to make presentations to the country on their progress.
This approach, the former Prime Minister said, prevented strikes and other issues of social unrest.
In response to a question from General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union, Ms. Toni Moore, about how the Irish Government was able to get players to remain committed over the long term, Kenny noted the importance of empowering public servants to act by genuinely engaging them in determining the options, and then executing them.
To the applause of the audience, former Coca Cola chairman Isdell said he had great trust in the way the Government was handling the affairs of the country and as a result had just made a significant investment in the country by purchasing a number of properties around the old Screw Dock at the Careenage in Bridgetown. This area is going to be the subject of major tourism development.
Meanwhile, Noonan, the former Finance Minister, explained that when the Irish economy crashed, many hotels, guest houses and restaurants collapsed as owners could no longer operate them profitably. But, he revealed, it was the first sector to get back on its feet in a major way, followed by agriculture.
One of their successes, he said, was creating links between locally produced foods and the dishes served in the tourism sector – and he recommended this as an avenue for Barbados to consider travelling on its recovery path.