N Touch
Monday 24 September 2018
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Commentary

Where to start?

Elizabeth Solomon writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

It is a difficult question that one. Working in peace building there is no more crucial, nor for that matter, challenging question to be answered than where to start rebuilding.

In countries emerging from war where the economy is in complete shambles, the institutions of governance have been ravaged, social services are, for the majority of the population, a thing of the past, and everything is overshadowed by tremendous distrust between social and ethnic groups, and between the citizens and state authorities there can be no clear-cut answer. Furthermore, the answer becomes hugely influenced by the scarcity of resources.

Everything is urgent, so how to spend what little money is available. Do we invest in social services like health and education to help people re-build their lives? Do we focus on the economy first to stimulate growth? Do we focus on routing out all the criminal elements to re-establish rule of law and to ease tensions by giving citizens a sense of justice? Do we build new buildings and roads to improve productivity? Do we pour all our resources in social cohesion strategies to address the distrust that feeds instability? Do we focus attention on strengthening the institutions responsible for governance to imbue the process of nation re-building with a culture of transparency and accountability, which is important for the sustainability of peace building efforts? Or do we invest in all of these, spreading the resources thinly to make sure it all happens in unison?

These are very important questions. Getting it wrong could lead the country back into conflict despite millions of well-meaning dollars spent on rebuilding, as has happened many times. Or worse, there have been many costly interventions that manage to stop conflict but never rebuild. In such cases people limp along with their lives in a sub-human manner for generations with no resilience in the economic growth, which, in any case, benefits only a few. The answer comes down to a decision on what intervention would have the most transformative impact. What is it that will kick-start a culture change so profound that all the gears of nation building are greased and put into motion?

The question seems apt to consider again in the context of the Prime Minister’s recent reflections on our arrival in 2018.

He has embraced the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention” and has asked us to support the Government as it seeks to walk “new pathways” in improving the socio-economic well being of the country. Whatever way one chooses to assess the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves, we need to think our situation through carefully, thoroughly, holistically and collectively. We need a fully integrated transformation plan.

Looking at the myriad of issues impacting on our viability as a country, which one do we fix first so that in fixing it we begin to impact positively on all the other areas of concern? Do we improve productivity and stimulate a commitment to professionalism to help boost the economy, particularly as we turn away from extractive industries and seek to leverage the talent that exists in the service sector?

Perhaps. If so, who should champion the process of change? The private sector? Or are we hoping for a major revamp of public sector institutions to lead the charge? Neither really seems up to the task. While there may be some opportunities for the private sector to support greater efficiency, how far could be their corporate reach? Isn’t productivity and a commitment to standards a personal goal that becomes entrenched through education? In that case, maybe we should forget this generation and focus exclusively on the next.

Strangely, this seems to be a widely held point of view, but I don’t buy it. Yes, we must invest heavily in youth, particularly by reconditioning the education system, but we cannot defer change. What is the transformative intervention that we need to begin to exorcise the rot?

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