Sat | Jan 19, 2019

What about human development Dr Hughes?

Published:Monday | December 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Wesley Hughes, that very dedicated civil servant, made it daylight clear. In his speech to Rotarians two weeks ago (Gleaner 22/12/15), he said the billions of dollars in the PetroCaribe Development Fund were put into upgrading the Norman Manley International Airport, Falmouth cruise ship pier, Highway 2000, North Coast Highway and, more recently, the north-south leg.

"Connect the dots", declared Hughes, "and you can see the elements of a national development strategy using infrastructural investment to drive private sector-led growth." He is talking, of course, about physical infrastructure. He goes on to list a string of other infrastructural projects that emerged from the Government giving priority to investment in tourism - sewage systems and water systems in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Hanover and Trelawny, and modernisation of the Sangster International Airport.

There you have it - the national development strategy is to use physical infrastructure to drive private sector-led growth. And Hughes is talking about especially the foreign private sector like the Spanish hoteliers and the North American backers of the LNG power plant coming on stream at Bogues.

But there is another species of foreign investor who comes not to build something new but to acquire strong local companies like Wray & Nephew, like Red Stripe. More crucially, what if even some of those billions of PetroCaribe and government dollars had been put instead into human infrastructure, that is, into health, education, skills training, security through social intervention, small business, agriculture?

What if? Then 19 premature babies would not be dead. Boys' schools would not be so far behind girls' schools in numbers and quality. Scamming and murder would not be daily headlines. A parent might be able to find $800 for his child to visit Hope Gardens zoo. Tens of thousands, gasping to survive, would not be jamming city and town streets to sell cheap Chinese goods.

It's not that human and physical infrastructures are mutually exclusive. It's whether you believe or you don't believe in the ability of our own people, once given opportunity, training, education, health and security to build all the road, water and sewage systems and airports we need. Then, depending on which you believe, a predominance of one infrastructure or the other follows. In referring to 'our own people', I include poor, middle and rich, the earners and the owners, penniless but enterprising students and established companies, though it is the former sets who would benefit more and give back more.

This is the nub of the issue, not whether the country is growing or not growing, not whether by IMF or not by IMF, but HOW it is to grow, if it is to grow at all - through a northern-led investment structure of takeovers or through people, its own, and their ingenuity and drive, with inputs from investors who build.

Horace Levy