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Rethinking Fundamental Relationships in the Context of Human Resource Development - September 1, 2000

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In the Context of Human Resource Development


Prime Minister of St. Lucia


Kingston, Jamaica - September 01, 2000

INTRODUCTION: The Malthusian Mindset

We often say, somewhat apologetically in this region, that our people are our greatest resource; as if this were not true for all countries. We acknowledge regretfully that we are mineral poor, implying that this condition throws us back upon that secondary option which is our people. We enter the development arena with the foregone conclusion that we are too insignificant to change the world, and like the country girl newly arrived in the big city, we decide that we are poor but pretty. We catalogue our attractions in full colour brochures and advertise for the role of victim.

Changing this mindset, this overwhelming premise of insufficiency is the primary human resource issue facing our region today. This is not to suggest that the condition is universal and without exception. Clearly this gathering testifies triumphantly to the contrary. But, by whatever means we arrived here - many of us from most modest beginnings - we are the few, the lucky, the privileged. By whatever means, we have left too many in our wake: the unlucky, the unprivileged, the runners up.

An unnecessary and debilitating competition for scarce and dwindling resources is distorting our vision of our world. A majority of our people - particularly policy makers - approach development with the mindset that there will never be enough anyway; the poor and the dispossessed will always be among us. It is not surprising then that a recent poll shows that more than half of Jamaicans would emigrate today if given the opportunity. For many others, life has become an unkind and ungracious scramble to capture as much as possible, as quickly as possible, by whatever means necessary. The alternative is a passive subsistence on crumbs. The outcome is anarchy and it is not acceptable.


Health services, education and jobs are excellent examples of chronic shortcomings in conventional socio, economic and political delivery systems. In their present form, and managed as they are, it is difficult to see these delivery systems reinventing themselves without radical rethinking and redesign. We must act soon before time further erodes our capacity for change.

We can begin by altering our outlook on our world. We can begin by studying and validating the tremendous accomplishments that Caribbean people have wrought from a land that was not theirs in an environment not of their making. We can begin by taking stock of the traditions, mores, values that have brought us through the last five centuries; which in fact, have shaped the very human resource we now claim as our greatest asset.

We must believe in the West Indian experience and help others to understand its legitimacy. In so doing, we celebrate the river of intellect and energy that is nurtured by so many tributaries. Those tributaries are already manifest in the West Indian persona: academic excellence, cultural activism, social adaptability, strategic resistance, communal cohesion. The challenge is to recognize, validate and re-deploy those assets already resident in the human resource; re-deploy and redefine them for survival in a revised global environment.

I believe this conference is a worthy step in that direction. It is enlightening in itself that this year’s Academic Conference establishes a thematic link between human resource issues and issues of health, education and employment. In so doing, it not only bridges the major imperatives of economic development thinking, but also presages the evolving interdependence between individual and societal imperatives in the context of a changing global reality. It creates a thematic framework that is appropriate and timely: a framework within which to address the changing nature of civil society, and within it, the changing personalities of workers, firms, organizations and governments.


It would be an omission to discuss human resource development without considering health issues. We accept without much discomfort, that standards of health and human well-being profoundly affect economic performance and quality of life. Obviously, a resource must be productive – or potentially productive - if it is to qualify as a resource. This makes accessible health services an individual and a collective priority.

Nevertheless, beyond productivity issues, health is a basic human need. Moreover, the chronically unhealthy among us reflect chronically unhealthy environments, substandard housing, poor sanitation. These people are also most likely to feel dependent, and least likely to feel autonomous. That they will turn for assistance to government is therefore highly predictable. The dependency syndrome sets in. Within government the urgency is applied to symptom rather than the cause. We throw money at it, but the delivery system cannot cope. Radical revision must start at the source not just the symptom. In education, health and employment the long-term approach is likely to be the cheaper alternative.

Faced with ill health, the creative imagination which is the prime ally of human and economic development, cannot be devoted to problem solving whether at household or national level. Frustration and futility do not make good bedfellows with innovation and dynamism. Yet these latter qualities are the very ones that we need to transform our young and impressionable societies. They are the ingredients of new technology and wealth-creating intellectual property.

Quite apart from being of limited help to themselves, the unhealthy are unlikely to function well within the family unit. If the primary breadwinner falters there is a domino effect. The entire family is at risk and likely to become charges on the public purse. They achieve this either through a loss of current and future productivity or because being unproductive, they can ill afford their immediate need for health, education, housing and other services. Politicians know this picture only too well.

If we are sensible we will address the environmental problems even as we try to make delivery systems more efficient. There is also the need for responsive health related safety nets to cushion the unpredictable and the catastrophic. Universally, the most vulnerable are low-income, single female heads of households and their children. This is our Caribbean and these groups constitute a major chunk of Caribbean society. They represent both the current and future stock of the national workforce and the quality of health care is directly related to the availability of prime-age adults.

As our populations become increasingly urbanised and thus exposed to greater health risks, our task is to shape public and private health sector investment policy to ensure that the vulnerable are not just treated when they are ill, but prevented from getting ill in the first place. This is not new logic, but social interdependence makes it critical. It is no longer possible to partition our problems. The macro logic must be applied now while we still have some options.

This in turn, highlights the need for new delivery formulas. Among them must be comprehensive national health systems, and national health insurance schemes. Both should be highly contributory with unfaltering financial viability. They must also engage individuals to take responsibility for conserving and deploying their resources over their own life cycle.

The environment must also exist for private sector/public sector partnerships, based on best practice. Collectively, we will need to devise what the 1999/2000 World Bank Development Report refers to as "a multi-track strategy with the priorities dictated by levels of income, financing, age profile, social circumstances and organizational capacity". Of these factors organisational capacity is the critical variable to which government must pay increasing attention.

We must however acknowledge the formidable resource constraints related to the financing of health services. Some of these problems are structural. For example, those related to high costs, small populations and the indivisibility of certain infrastructure. Others are related to scarcity. For example the supply and recurrent cost of quality health care personnel. These are market-driven and related to high training costs over several years.

One possible solution is to imp-rove efficiency across delivery systems so that expensive top-grade medical personnel can be as productive as possible. Another is to so design the system to develop strategic competencies that reduce dependence on higher cost personnel. Public attitudes must also be acknowledged: for many health-care is a public good to be provided and subsidised by government. Adjusting this mindset to accept market-determined user fees is in some cases, a quantum leap and political suicide.

Several issue therefore challenge us: questions of who is to pay and when. We must also consider how to share costs between the current generation of tax-payers and the future generation of beneficiaries. Attention needs to be paid to the ways in which private/public collaborations can really lower costs. Optimal subsidy levels must be determined given our recurring problems of scale. These are just some of the issues and I trust that in your deliberations you will afford them some attention.


In education, the priority must be to increase the proportion of the population receiving quality education at all levels. In all our countries we still deny too many students their right to secondary and tertiary education. In many of our countries we annually condemn half of our school population to life-terms without access to further formal education. These cast-offs then become unemployable except in the most rudimentary of jobs. As the world becomes increasingly knowledge dependent, such jobs are increasingly unavailable. The result is chronic poverty and social dislocation and that recurring dependence on moribund government.

Government then undertakes its own frantic attempt to attract, create or subsidise opportunities for mass employment. The result is a series of short-term employment strategies that can only provide temporary relief but will not materially address the fundamentals. Resources that should be improving education are diverted to "make-work" programmes. The long-term macro-economic logic which should drive public expenditure, saving and investment becomes hostage to short-term pragmatism. Swelled by ranks of the chronically unemployable, our societies become increasingly ungovernable just as management capacity - particularly within government - is spread inexorably thin.

At primary and secondary levels therefore, the challenge is to permanently expand the capacity for the delivery of quality education and training. We simply must redesign and manage school systems away from examination-based rationing. This is the system we now use to allocate scarce school places. It is a perversion of education preoccupied with regurgitating correct answers and standard methodologies. The system rewards memory rather than imagination and penalises innovation and original thinking. This is incompatible with our societies’ need to produce analytical thinkers and creative problem solvers. It condemns us to repeating mistakes. It surrenders us to futility. It is an investment in economic marginalisation.

The new imperatives for education reflect what is happening to entire economies. The vast majority of citizens must first be trained to continuously seek and acquire marketable skills. You may wish to consider in this context, whether Methodology becomes as important as content. Secondly, education must empower people to be more than employees. It must imbue them above all with a sense of self-determination and the prospect of economic and political autonomy. This translates into a larger percentage of the population being equipped to move into wealth creating employment and self-employment. It is the only outcome that is socially sustainable.


In many ways, the same technology which drives change is broadening our options. Learning, like employment need no longer be location specific. Distance teaching, open universities, and multi-media information transfers, are increasingly cost effective solutions. Technology is driving down the unit cost of education, and the cost of a given unit of processing power is said to halve every eighteen months.

The possibilities for public/private partnerships are promising. Internet access for households is expanding exponentially. Moreover, this is not a function of government, but the market. Mega universities with their massive enrolments and consequently lower costs, are targeting foreign students and eradicating the need to travel from home countries. Profits from e-commerce are subsidising hardware and software Internet costs. Telecommunications technology is driving the cost of actual on-line access toward zero.


On the subject of employment relations, it is important to note that fundamental changes are taking place in the structure of employing organisations. Imperatives of domestic and international competitiveness are ushering new standards of performance into public and private organisations. As global traders we will simply not be able to earn our way in the world by doing the same old things in the same old ways.

Charles Handy, former Professor of the London Business School suggests that the employment/productivity formula is moving rapidly to a point where half as many people will be employed, at twice the average salary to produce three times the output. For the internationally competitive firm, this is not a formula for exploitation; it is a formula for survival.

In planning the strategic development of our human resources therefore we need to contemplate not just the prospect of better paying jobs for the few, but fewer paying jobs for the many. The dilemma of redeployment looms large. The most pervasive forces reshaping the employment formula are technology driven. Increasingly, new employment opportunities are not desk-bound or even location-specific. These jobs are not full time but fixed term; contracted in for specialised and specific tasks. They are not labour intensive but knowledge intensive.

Increasingly, wealth-creating jobs depend on the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and know-how. In this respect, the acquisition and ownership of intellectual property is becoming more valuable than plant and machinery. This is the age of the virtual organisation and we must examine the daunting task of preparing our people for defence or assimilation.

Increasingly, workers will sell their services not to one organisation but to a portfolio of several employers. They will thus be responsible for planning and managing their lives in fundamentally different ways. Concepts of authority and autonomy are being radically revised.

The changing relationship between workers and their organisations mirrors the changes taking place between governments and citizens. Citizens are clamouring for greater autonomy in the management of their personal and civic destinies. Political leadership then cannot be autocratic. Government must be decentralised and participatory. Authority must be earned; autonomy respected.

This evolution will also increasingly affect the social and economic functioning of labour unions. Their role as collective bargainers will be diminished relative to new functions in the areas of training, arbitration, contract design and enforcement. Their memberships will have to include for professionals and the highly skilled. The fundamentals are changing and they must find their relevance in the new order.


Tony Blair, then Leader of the Opposition wrote in his 1996 essay, My Vision for Britain,

"Instead of trading off our past, we need to develop the energy the enthusiasm and the ideas to match the challenges of the future. We need to be proud of our history, but not bound by it."

Ultimately, if any of this is to happen, central government needs radical revisioning. Though history has handed us a particular, highly centralised model, we need not be bound by it. The focus on government is not in itself myopic. It merely acknowledges that Governments, instead of being catalysts for change, are probably perpetuating the status quo. Their slow monolithic character makes them primary targets for revision. Their pervasive impact, particularly in the context of small Caribbean economies makes it imperative that they adapt, and quickly.

Your leadership as thinkers in that process is vital. You must infect others with the temerity to undertake that reform and modernisation required by our more complex, integrated and interdependent societies.

For too long government has assumed the persona of the indifferent monopoly with an exclusive power to tax. However as long as health, education and employment continue to resemble public goods, central government needs to improve its efficiencies. The notion of Government as a service industry is still revolutionary to most public servants but the time has come to change the mindset.

Indeed, if we wish to advance civil society, and if advances in the human condition are intended to give more people more autonomy, then the decentralisation of Government is both a prerequisite and an inevitability. There exists both the need and the opportunity and we should squander neither.

Finally, the presumption of insufficiency is as self-defeating as it is incorrect. The presumption of a finite human resource is fallacious. We are an infinite resource and history has made us resilient and creative. Recognising this is an important beginning and I am pleased to see these themes revisited so convincingly in the recent collection of essays: Contending with Destiny: The Caribbean in the 21st Century. Resisting the role of economic victim in an aggressive global market is the first step towards our own economic liberation. Let us not assume that we have no options or that all our options are pre-defined. I leave you now with an old maxim re-engineered: In economics as in life, the best options are those you create for yourself.

I wish you every success and thank you most sincerely for this honour.


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