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EDITORIAL - The value of Norman Girvan

Published:Friday | April 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM

With the death on Wednesday of Norman Girvan, aged 72, Jamaica and the Caribbean have lost a towering intellect who felt that scholarship ought not to be an end in itself. It was to be employed in bringing practical value to people.

Professor Girvan practised what he preached. And we, in this region and the rest of the developing world, are better for it. But Norman Girvan would probably have argued that the effort to which he committed himself remains far from finished and that its logic insists that we continue. He believed that the product of regional integration was greater than the sum of its parts.

It, perhaps, says something of the outlook of Norman Girvan, and his eclectic interests, that, born in Jamaica and living in Trinidad and Tobago, he died while receiving medical treatment in Cuba - whose institutions have, in the past, awarded him high honours - for injuries received while hiking in the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. Further, up to the time of his accident, Professor Girvan actively campaigned for the rights of Dominican Republic citizens of Haitian descent in the face of a whimsical ruling by that country's constitutional court that stripped many of their citizenship.

At his death, too, Professor Girvan was the personal representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Venezuela-Guyana border dispute. Until recently, he researched and taught at the University of the West Indies Graduate Institute of International Relations at St Augustine.

In that context, it is probably worthwhile recalling that Norman Girvan's formal discipline was developmental economics and that his work in this field helped to influence policy, from which several countries extract value today.

For instance, his 1960s study of the bauxite industry in the Caribbean and his other writings on the behaviour of transnational corporations helped to inform the thinking in the 1970s of the Michael Manley Government's approach to bauxite/alumina that culminated with the production levy in 1974, from which Jamaica has earned more than US$3 billion.

YOUNG, LIBERAL INTELLECTUAL

Professor Girvan, additionally, was among the young, liberal intellectuals Manley, in the 1970s, wooed from university campuses to the public sector. He served as chief technical director of what was then the National Planning Agency, was an economic adviser to Government in the turbulent economic period of the late 1970s, and sat on the board of the central bank.

While Norman Girvan's value as a technocrat and public intellectual has been acknowledged and utilised globally - among his many appointments were as an official at the UN African Institute for Development Planning; a member of the board of the South Centre; and as a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy - what resonates most with this region was his emergence as a regionalist and thinker and writer on regional affairs.

He served as secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States and contributed to discussions, formal and otherwise, on processes to enhance the efficiency and value of the Caribbean Community, including its transformation to a single market and economy. His blog was an essential point of contact for critical thinkers on these issues.

Regional leaders and others of influence would do well not only by Professor Girvan, but by their population, if they embrace and act on the basis that the region is greater than the product of its parts.

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