Investment is to development, what water is to crops. Plants can’t grow without water; in fact, without water plants will shrivel and die. Similarly, if there is no investment then there will be no development, no growth and the economy, the country will stagnate. Developing countries need investment in tangibles like roads, ports, electricity, communication and transportation and intangibles like health and education among others to nurture growth and ensure that they continue to develop. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have investment in today’s new technologies like fibre optics, for instance.
But the most important kind of investment that a country can make is in its own people; its human capital. Investment in human capital, particularly in children, in their education and well-being ensures the longevity of a society as well its evolution.
A look at developed countries—like Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada, the USA and the UK for example—reveals the impact of such investment. These societies are not just advanced, but continue to evolve as scientists seek cures for diseases, grapple with global warming and strive overall to improve life on the planet. It is from First World countries that the world has seen such advancements as space travel, the television, the computer, the internet, smart phones and non-fossil fuel cars among other things.
The investments made in the human capital in these countries redound not just to their benefit but to the world at large. On the other hand, Guyana is among several developing countries that has had the painful experience of watching its people leave in droves—by the boat load, by the plane load as the late Jamaican poet Louise Bennett put it—taking their skills to other lands where their needs such as for decent remuneration, advanced education and good healthcare could be met. As a result, they and their offspring would have contributed to the development of those countries that became their new homelands.
Unfortunately, this state of affairs continues up to today and will not cease until there is evidence of a concerted effort by those in authority to invest in people. Take for instance the education sector; it has been reported that $2.7 billion was spent on the infrastructure of schools and other education facilities last year and another $2.9 billion is earmarked for the same purpose this year. This would be something to write home about if it were not for a couple of salient facts. One is that while buildings with their fixtures and fittings can contribute to better learning, buildings cannot teach. Teachers have been grossly underpaid and taken for granted for decades, so much so that many of the best of them are no longer around. The second is that very often there is no value for money when schools and other facilities are built. Minister of Education Priya Manickchand said as much in her budget debate speech: “Sir, we recognise and we are very unhappy with the fact that sometimes we get shoddy work. That does not mean all contractors do shoddy work but we have been robbed, the country has been robbed a couple of times…”
The country will continue to be robbed, not just by unscrupulous tradesmen but of its human assets and its chance of real development, as long as the current nearsightedness prevails; and this extends to every sector. The propensity to gloss over the dross smacks of superciliousness and is an insult to ordinary folk.
Not that there have not been gains, there have. But just take a look at education and health again for example. When upwards of 16,000 secondary school students fail English at an exam set by the Caribbean Examinations Council and there is only a 30% pass rate in Mathematics at the same external exam, clearly there is something wrong. When pregnant women and children die at the country largest public health facility for want of pro-action by those charged with their care, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is need for drastic change.
It is the dearth of quality human capital, more than anything else that hampers growth and development and while this can be fixed, the offensive $10,000 per child handout dreamed up this year points to more myopia. The cumulative process of investing in our human capital involves looking at the bigger picture and that has not yet begun.