Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Public Policy versus Human Needs
Posted: July 12, 2001
Dr Kwame Nantambu

Political theory suggests that one of the main functions of any government is to protect and maximise the interests of its citizens. In the pursuit of public policy, a government has to determine to what extent economic development, albeit industrialisation, can be achieved at the expense and/or neglect of basic human needs.

In other words, economic success does not necessarily mean that the citizens are better off in the receipt of their basic human needs; in some instances, the citizens are worse off as a result of economic success. TnT is such a case study.

The welfare of the majority of TnT citizens seems to receive second or third class priority, while the first priority of the political powers that be is to achieve first world economic status for TnT.

As Professor Frederick Harbison of Princeton University explains: 'Human resources (people) . . . constitute the ultimate basis for wealth of nations. Capital and natural resources are passive factors of production; human beings are the active agents who accumulate capital, exploit natural resources, build social, economic and political organizations, and carry forward national development. Clearly, a country which is unable to develop the skills and knowledge of its people and to utilize them effectively in the national economy will be unable to develop anything else.'

Or as the former president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, once concluded: 'man cannot live by GNP alone.'

Such a sentiment is seconded by Pope Paul VI in his 1971 encyclical titled 'The Development of the Peoples' thus: 'the sin of liberal capitalism cries to heaven and its horrible consequences manifest themselves in violence and bloody revolutions.'

TnT 1970 and 1990 reflect these authoritative observations. This writer argues that public policy should focus on the development of human beings, not of things. There is need for a new economics as if people matter.

The fact of the matter is that the current 'privitisation formula' which is the spinal cord of public policy will not do the trick or solve the human problems that exist in TnT.

In 1950, such a formula was called 'Industrialisation by Invitation' and championed by West Indian economist Dr. W. Arthur Lewis. This formula did not solve the problem for the Caribbean.

In fact, studies prove that this foreign, private sector formula resulted in the dependency, underdevelopment and economic Balkanisation of Caribbean economies.

In the 1980s, this formula was called Reaganomics. It did not work for the United States economy which experienced huge debt increases despite financial-economic gains for the few haves.

This 'privitisation formula' did not work in Jamaica under then Prime Minister Edward Seaga, where only the few, haves benefitted at expense of the ghettoed, poor majority.

The same end-results are on the horizon for TnT's majority. Instead of holding a three-day retreat in Tobago to discuss an already flawed divide and rule/conquer private industrialisation economic programme for TnT, the political powers that be need to hold a three-day or seven-day retreat in TnT to formulate a basic human needs programme for ALL citizens.

Public policy in TnT should focus on the welfare of human beings. Public policy in TnT should focus on maximising the Gross National Welfare (GNW) of its people instead of the current focus on ONLY maximising the Gross National Product (GNP).

TnT might be industrialised economically but on the flip side, the human side, the captial city, Port-of-Spain, is flooded with young, dirty-smelling vagrants, clogged up drains, filthy streets, daily violence against businesses, just to list a few while the spread of HIV/AIDS is rapidly leading TnT to 'economic and social crisis' according to the government's own medical assessment.

TnT might be industrilised economically but on the human side, public schools have now become a violent war zone jamming to the beat of heavy metal rock CDs and suicide, teenage girls are violently killing each other, teenage mothers are killing their baby, women have become the prime target for daily violence, nurses and teachers are in a mass exodus pilgrimage, teenagers are committing suicide, while families are injesting gramoxone in suicide acts, just to list a few.

TnT might be industrialised economically but on the human side, there is a total, complete breakdown of the family, incest is an accepted daily act, domestic violence and homicide are accepted daily acts, just to list a few.

There seems to be a 'logical symbiosis' between public policy and social decadence, disrespect for value of human life and violent crime in TnT.

The main question that comes to the fore is: whose value system and way of life are reflected in this economic public policy planning? The logical answer is the Euro-American value system and way of life. Indeed, TnT's TV programmes and eating outlets such as Pizza Hut, Subway, White Castle, Mc Donalds, KFC prove that this answer is correct.

TnT's current governmental structure also proves that this answer is correct in terms of NEMA, EMA, etc and economic advisors. In other words, the end-results of 1950 and the 1980s are going to re-occur in this new millennium.

What is also going to re-occur is the re-colonisation of TnT Euro-American style. In fact, it is already happening. As such, it is NO small wonder that for the first time in history, TnT has elevated itself to the status of being ranked on an international Corruption Perception Index (CPI) as a result of its public policy planning process.

Maybe the notion that the Euro-Aindustrialised countries only show the developing countries the image of their own future' is relevant to public policy in TnT today.

What is needed in TnT is a new public policy planning process that focuses on maximising the basic human needs of its citizens. Public policy must seek to improve the Quality of Life (QOL) of TnT people. Basic human needs include equal access to health care, job opportunities, education, shelter, transportation, water, electricity, safe, decent housing, food/proper nutrition, among other things. Public policy needs to be humanised. Young vagrants in Port-of-Spain need paid jobs not free condoms. Citizens of TnT need proper health care from all hospitals as a basic human right.

Governing should not be run as a profitable business venture. It must function as a human-oriented venture.

In the final analysis, the current public policy planning process has resulted in the obvious detrimental self-destructive, self-inflicted and self-nurtured hemorrhaging of TnT's socio-cultural-familial-human fabric.

It is TnT's modern-day catastrophic Bubonic plague that is decimating and destroying human life on a daily basis. TnT's economy, society and governmental structure are now fueled and driving by Euro-American horsepower, by planned, colluded and concerted design. The daily violence at home, at school, at downtown businesses, etc., attest loudly.

As a result of public policy, some sectors of the population and communities have become the victims of skewed or lopsided infrastructural development or the law of uneven development.

Some Trinis live in penthouse surroundings while others are surrounded by doghouse trappings ---- and they are NOT laughing. In TnT, a person's humanism is measured or quantified in monetary terms, value or worth instead of being evaluated or qualified in human terms, value or worth.

In other words, it is not who you are but what you have. You may live in a million dollar home but are you living in a million dollar happy home environment? That's the vital question in terms of public policy.

Life experience suggests that true happiness is more than the mere acquisition of money and material gains. Put another way, what it the difference between a poor prisoner in his cheap prison cell surrounded by iron bars and who is afraid and scared to die compared to a rich and famous Trini in his/her million dollar home surrounded by iron bars but who is afraid and scared to live?.

What is needed in TnT is an indigenous, Trini, inward-looking, inward-conceived, inward-oriented, inward-originated, inward-valued and inward-driven public policy programme that seeks to maximise the interests and welfare of the people first and foremost.

And the people refers to ALL the people B not just a chosen few.

Public policy must create a just social order and human dignity and self-respect. Public policy must seek to eliminate injustice, inequality and racism.

Public policy in TnT has marginalised human value and needs. It must be clearly understood that the effectiveness and success of any public policy is measured by how best it takes care of 'the least of these' in society. TnT society is NO exception.

Equality for all citizens must be one of the primary objectives. Or we might as well conclude as the British economist Lord Maynard Keynes did in 1936 as follows: 'In the long-run, we are all dead.'

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Nantambu is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, U.S.A.

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