December 15, 2014
I note with interest Major Lloyd Jones’ (R) letter, “The problem with the Barrow administration’s development program is one of sustainability,” which appeared in your Amandala (Belize) newspaper dated December 14, 2014. Major Jones has raised a number of points which need to be expanded in the interest of public information and clarity.
The development objectives of the programs he alluded to (as far as I am aware) are not fully known, as they have not been articulated, documented and presented in a form to invite public scrutiny. One can therefore only guess or interpret the intention or objective of this government program based on what is known. One good aspect of the national infrastructure activities is that they have been “projectised”, and as such, the overall cost, inputs and expected outputs can be identified, measured and subjected to review and evaluation against a known or perceived vision, and related cost.
There is a temptation by many people to restrict the concept of “Value for Money” to a financial audit function. As a result, the concern is narrowed to how the related sums of money (project funds) were spent vis-à-vis the budget, and under whose authority was the spending done, and whether or not timelines were met.
The “Value for Money” concept was developed in Canada and embraced by the government of that country, and used by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as a monitoring and evaluation support mechanism to measure success or failure of their international programs. The concept goes beyond financial auditing, which is seen as only one of the components. It extends to include the multiplier effects of the development activity, stakeholder benefits, attractions to the project idea and project outputs and use of funds, among others.
So, when Major Jones raises concern about the sustainability of these infrastructure projects, the discussion should go beyond labor intensive applications and the possible development of small scale construction businesses with special quotas, to include wider economic development benefit issues, such as upgrading and expansion of existing private sector businesses and housing units as a result of the infrastructure initiative in the affected areas; increased values of such assets; increased demands for bank loans in the private sector owing to increased confidence in the business sector and among private home owners; and increased consumer demand for food stuff, clothing, building materials, leisure, and related services and products at the district and national levels.
People, who are working today as daily and weekly paid road builders, may later become attracted to other skills and related services such as cement block making, steel bending, motor transport trucking, operation of heavy equipment, operation of earth-moving equipment, catering etc. Also, since, they are working in groups they may become attracted to group dynamic activities, which can lead to some of them pooling their resources and forming business partnerships etc.
The infrastructure program is but the first ripple in a sea of economic and social transformation. It is an economic truism that the working poor (people) spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food, clothing and housing. So a national infrastructure program is an engine for economic growth and a primary base for development.
To interpret sustainability only within one sector of the economy is myopic. The national economy is integrated and the present focus on infrastructure will in time be replaced, possibly with a National Housing Program, or a sustainable Food and Forestry Production Program, or a sustainable Tourism Expansion Program.
Today our technical skills base is low. We are primary producers of agriculture and forestry products, but, as our market becomes more sophisticated, and our skills base becomes higher and broader, our industrial base will expand. These areas of economic activities will not only expand our industrial base, but will also broaden our revenue and tax base, and so ease our dependence on foreign aid. One should note that when the country of Singapore became independent it was less developed than many Caribbean countries. Today Singapore is a highly developed country.
You cannot attract increased levels of Domestic and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) without good infrastructure, a technical and professional skills base, and an overall enabling environment to spur economic development.
Please do not underestimate this infrastructure initiative. One question posed by the “Value for Money” concept is, are the main beneficiaries happy with the projects? Speak to the citizens of Belize City, Belmopan and the many towns and villages of Belize for that answer.