Commentary

Poor work done by the OECS on Covid-19

It is not often that I offer my comments on documents produced by governments or even regional and international organisations for the simple reason that everyone should feel a sense of obligation to be informed.

Hence, when such documents are made public, people should read as much of the information provided as possible so that they can eventually engage in useful public discourse, armed with the appropriate knowledge.

But my discovery of a certain document recently and the content therein left me with little choice but to speak publicly about the document. Let me be quick to immediately admit how utterly disheartened I am with a recent Report entitled COVID-19 AND BEYOND: IMPACT ASSESSMENTS AND RESPONSES by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

The said report, hyped as “a product of the Economic Affairs and Regional Integration Division,” is presented as “An economic and social impact assessment evaluating the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on economies and populations of OECS Member States.”

The full Report can be accessed online at:

https://www.islandinnovation.co/report-covid-19-and-beyond-impact-assessments-and-responses/.

Also, for those of you who might be interested in a rebroadcast of the launch of the report by a team from the OECS, you may click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=202589434048273&ref=watch_permalink.

In that press conference, the Director General of the OECS touted the work done on the Report by what he called a “multidisciplinary” and “interdisciplinary” team that included individuals from several of the Divisions across the Commission. He also alluded to reviews of the Report conducted by an OECS’ national working at the World Bank and a local Statistics Consultant.

Anyone who listened to that press conference and then turned to read the Report would have to be left rather confused, to say the least. Why? There is a huge disconnect between what was said in the press conference and the content of the Report as far as the utility of the document is concerned.

Unquestionably, in its present form, that Report falls way short of adequately dealing with the many key elements of the very topic that it purports to be addressing.

While it is virtually impossible for me to exhaust the array of weaknesses in the report, I will, nonetheless, bring some clarity, cohesion and direction to the Report with the hope that the authors can revisit it and produce a revised version that can truly serve as a blueprint for the advancement of the OECS, going forward.

As the saying goes, a good opportunity should never be wasted. The OECS Commission is charged with the responsibility of leading the sub-region onto a path of sustained economic growth and development within the context of regional integration.

If that institution, given the serious challenges posed by the COVID-19 to our economies, is incapable of responding to those difficulties by way of serious recommendations that can give our countries a fighting chance of survival in these times of adversity, then, the people of the sub-region will be well within their rights to question the purpose and relevance of the OECS Commission.

As a servant of the people, I can only hope that those responsible for the production of the said Report will be open-minded enough to accept the criticisms I will offer and incorporate the ideas generated into a final version of the Report.

As presently constituted, the Report cannot stand the test of time and should not be used as a basis for serious policy interventions by any of our countries in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 and its already devastating effects on our small and highly vulnerable economies.

But why have I come to this conclusion? The very first thing that struck me about the report was the subtitle: “Impact Assessments and Responses.” Anyone, even with an extremely limited exposure to economics, would be aware that the use of the word impact implies quantification.

Further, by assessments and responses, the Report should have been dealing with both analysis and analytics, conducted by the OECS. A glance, therefore, at the Table of Contents in the Report, should have raised one’s expectations given the words associated with Parts 2 to 4 (Sectoral Economic Impacts, Social Assessments and Cross-Sectoral Issues, respectively).

These three Parts of the document, given the title of the Report, had to be the heartbeat. It was in those Parts that the public should have been provided clear analysis and analytics to bring out the essential features and quality of the Report. That was not to be. And hence, the Report, by virtue of that failure alone, has fallen way short of any goals set by the OECS as far as the utility of this document is concerned. But, what’s the problem?

Let’s take a look at Part 2, for example. There we are presented with 35 pages of materials that purportedly speaks to the issues of “Sectoral Economic Impacts.” The OECS was supposed to have presented we the public with a thorough discussion of the impact of the COVID-19 on travel and tourism, agriculture and food security, manufacturing and the creative industries.

Well, it has. The problem is that none of the analysis was done by that institution. And this shortcoming is not only unfortunate, but it is shameful. Why? The same OECS is bold-faced enough to then put together a set of recommendations for our countries to implement in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 to our economies.

Clearly, what the OECS has done in Part 2 of this Report is simply present summaries of studies, documents and data from various regional and international institutions including the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), World Travel & Tourism Council, Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

In those 35 pages (pages 34-70), one cannot find a single sentence of analysis done by the OECS! Yet, the OECS then magically derived a whole set of recommendations that the Member States should adopt!

To add salt to the wound, many of the recommendations put forward cannot be justified based on the analysis and analytics contained in the report. Time does not permit me to delve deeper into that issue but let me remind the public that unless an issue is discussed in the body of the Report, it should not magically appear as a recommendation.

So, look at some of the recommendations on pages 49-50, 58, 67…and tell me how many of those issues were discussed in the Report. From where, then, were these recommendations derived? In a sense, therefore, once Parts 2-4 of the Report have been deemed inadequate from a technical perspective, as they truly are, the usefulness of the entire Report comes into question, given the title of the Report.

In short, “A Review of Covid-19 and Beyond: Impact Assessments and Responses” cannot be deemed a useful exercise if there is no impact, no assessments and no responses that are correlated with the assessments.

To the OECS, I submit: Go back to the drawing board and come up with a revised version of this Report that can hopefully be of some value to the people and countries of the sub-region.

This Report, as presently constituted, is weak and poor in relation to its organisation, content and technical dimensions.

Special Correspondent

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