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10 years after Poverty Report


by Maxwell Haywood

It is now ten years since a major poverty report on St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was published. The report titled “Poverty Assessment Report – St. Vincent and the Grenadines” is dated July 1996. It was prepared by Kairi Consultants Limited a team which was contracted by the Caribbean Development Bank, in association with the National Assessment Team of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The consultants are based in Trinidad and Tobago.{{more}}

While reading the report, one area caught my attention. The report stresses the critical importance of the institutional and organizational foundations of poverty and their impact on poverty reduction, alleviation and eradication.

The persistent nature of poverty in societies around the world is directly tied to the nature of the interventions that humans have devised to manage and develop their societies. In every civilization, the mechanisms used by human beings to facilitate interaction between themselves and nature have been playing the major role in determining the quality of life enjoyed by human beings and other living creatures.

Weaknesses of the institutional base

Addressing poverty effectively is not only about ensuring an adequate income. High consideration and priority should be given to the institutional aspects of poverty. The report points out, “Poverty is not only about the shortage of resources, but also about the weaknesses of the institutional base to respond and to correct for it.”

The report emphasizes that it is always very difficult to address poverty without mechanisms deliberately geared toward poverty reduction, alleviation and eradication. It describes many economic, social and governance/political institutions, and national and community organizations or structures in SVG which impact on the situation of poverty. In this connection, the report states: “Some contribute to income possibilities, provide transfers, or strengthen the capacities and capabilities of individuals”.

At the time of the report, not enough of the economic institutions were geared up for poverty alleviation in SVG. For instance, the report asserts that: “A few of the economic structures that were reviewed display a poverty focus or sensitivity. Fewer still have had the actual experience of fashioning programmes geared to assist persons or households in the lowest socio-economic category to develop capabilities and capacities. The development thrust for poverty reduction needs to become more focused, and to be invested with urgency.”

Social organizations such as NGOs experience lack of finance and other resources to do their work effectively, and according to the report they rely “on a high level of volunteerism in the conduct of their programmes.” Furthermore, the majority of the NGOs according to the report, “tend to minister to the issues of traditional social service delivery…. Very few have a preventative or development focus”.

Political clinics

Moreover, governance or political institutions influence the nature of poverty in SVG. The report states: “The absence of genuine local government organs results in the focusing of the decision-making process in the central government in Kingstown. There is institutionalized an arrangement through which the State supports ‘political clinics’: the representative of an electoral district has, at his/her disposal, resources that are used to address problems at the local level. It is not immediately clear how well the system has worked in bringing relief to those in need.”

In this connection, I look forward to the outcome of the Local Government Commission.

Poverty still haunts us

Ten years after the poverty report, poverty still haunts the lives of many citizens and communities. In the midst of this poverty, other institutions and initiatives have been established with linkages to poverty reduction. For example, the Social Investment Fund (SIF) is geared specifically at addressing poverty. A large part of SIF’s focus is on building the capacities of residents of local communities so they will be empowered to develop their own human interventions aimed at improving the quality of life.

Furthermore, among others there are now the National Economic and Social Development Council(NESDEC), Public Service/State Administration Reform, and the education revolution. The challenge is to ensure that these institutions and initiatives are well equipped and properly coordinated to accomplish measurable improvements in the lives of the poor and vulnerable and lead to the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty in SVG. In this regard, Vincentians at home and abroad must become more vigilant.