Sunday 1st June, 2008

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Can foreigners develop your country?

In a welcome, though belatedly so, development, Prime Minister Patrick Manning has now begun to explain the increasing role of foreign firms in his Government’s projects and programmes.

According to the PM in order for T&T to achieve “developed country” status in 2020 it needs to maintain and even quicken the pace of what, in effect, is construction-intensive activity throughout the country. This explanation begs a number of questions that I will begin to address in this column.

What is a

developed country?

The first and key question that requires an answer is what is a developed country?

This question itself needs to be broken up into two parts; what is development and what is a country?

The economic literature on sustainable development, for example, distinguishes between “development,” defined as qualitative improvement, and “growth,” defined as quantitative change.

One suspects Mr Manning really is talking about economic growth and confusing this with development.

The equally important question is what is a country? Is it simply a geographic space such as an island or does it require that its population cohere around certain defined principles and values arrived at through national dialogue?

The point that is being emphasised is how can we aspire to something (developed country status) without being clear what it is?

What is “undeveloped” or “under-developed” about T&T in any case? Does this apply to every sphere?

Personally, I consider T&T to be a blessed society in terms of both social relations and the natural environment. Unfortunately, there is a major reversal taking place on these two counts as a result of evil forces roaming the land.

The development I would like to see in T&T is a reversion to the level of social peace and cohesion and environmental quality we had 35 years ago.

How can foreigners

develop one’s country?

Mr Manning’s syllogistic logic is as follows: “T&T needs to become a developed country. Its construction industry and, by inference its business sector is not up to developed country quality. Ergo we will import foreign companies to give us a developed country.”

This logic, if correctly interpreted, misses the central process through which one changes the developmental status of a country: which is by its own people acquiring competencies and capabilities. China and India are excellent examples of the process of indigenous development.

Who ultimately decides

on what is a developed country and how?

The third question that follows is why is my view and vision and that of everyone else in the society not informing the so-called “Vision 2020” that was pulled together by teams of “experts.”

I myself refused the invitation, half-baked as it was, to be a member of one of its working groups. The reason was simple. No small group of people, no matter how “bright,” “educated,” experienced or rich, can come up with a vision for a society.

What Mr Arthur Lok Jack’s committee needed to do was to initiate a national debate on the visions (note visions, not vision) for the society. Those who research on the future have long come to the conclusion, for example, that there can be no one projection of the future. Rather, using something called “foresighting” scenarios of what the future could look like are identified.

The implications of each scenario is then “teased out” by technical work.

The Government’s Vision 2020 put the cart before the horse: beginning as it did with technical work. Very few people participated in formulating the vision and the overwhelming majority have no idea of its details. Hence there is no purchase or buy-in by the population.

Instead, what we have is a continuation of the long discredited “top-down” approach to national decision-making: this with a vengeance in that, on the evidence, all of the construction activities seem to reflect the “developed country” image that one person has in his mind.

Mr Manning has correctly observed that those in leadership need to be strong and not moved by every fad or fashion. It is one thing to accept this and another to swallow blindly a vision that is itself not clear, on which there has not been a national conversation and that, on the evidence, confuses tall buildings with real development.

More on this next week.

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