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There is no spoon

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I recently attended the Caribbean Public Procurement (Law & Practice) Conference (CPPC 2010) in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. One does not usually 'wax lyrical' about academic or professional conferences but this one, held between 11-12 October 2010, was very well done. Margaret Rose and her team at CPI must be commended for superlative work.

My presentation was on the need for openness and transparency in public procurement. It carried the introductory line, 'There is no spoon' and began with the following paragraph:

Some may remember the 1999 movie by the Wachowski brothers, 'The Matrix.' There is a scene where the protagonist, Neo, is brought to meet the Oracle to determine if he is indeed the Chosen One, as some think he is. In the anteroom he meets another candidate, a young boy bending spoons without physical force, who advises him that the trick is not to try to bend the spoon with his mind. He says, '... that  is impossible. Instead, only try to realise the truth ... There is no spoon.'


More banks wanted

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Dr Derrick McKoy (l) and Hon Audley Shaw (r)

Minister of Finance Audley Shaw is advocating for new entrants to the financial sector. He argues that new players would spur competition for borrowers and reduce interest margins.

Shaw, who was addressing the 11th Annual Shirley Playfair Lecture on competition and regulation in the banking sector at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Thursday evening, reiterated what he said was his "disquiet" with the slow rate at which commercial banks had been reducing interest rates.

The minister said greater competition would lead to banks pricing their products more competitively, reducing stickiness in lending rates, and an overall lowering of interest margins to more sustainable levels.


The middle class and development

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I remember some years ago when international aid and development agencies complained about the rising middle class in India. In the eyes of the IMF and the World Bank, then, the new middle classes were a plague on the land; they were consumers and encouraged consumption; and the little hard currency the country had was being frittered away on trivial things like radios , TVs  and motorcycles. The implication of the IMF position was that poor countries should not have inappropriate aspirations.  Consumption was for rich countries. Poor countries, like India, should be content with subsistence. The image the notables at the IMF and the World Bank tried to convey, living as they did and for the most part still do in the comfort afforded in the commercial and political centres of Western Europe and North America,  was that the middle classes in developing countries were greedy and parasitic. Apparently, in the minds of the IMF and World Bank notables of twenty years ago, those undesirable middle class characteristics featured only in developing countries and not in developed ones: It seems that in their opinion, consumption in Paris, London and New York were, on the other hand, good things.

The US$2500 Tata Nano, unveilded in India

The US$2500 Tata Nano, unveiled in India


The big gamble

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No one wins a war on the application of a tactic only. You may win battles with tactics, and if you win enough battles you may win the war. However, one plans to win the war with the application of strategy. This is the big gamble. Tactics are the small wagers, playing the numbers so to speak. When one wins or loses one's tactics, these are small victories and even smaller losses.

In the contemporary world, the wealth and development of poor small countries cannot be achieved by the application of tactics only. Even if they are successful, they provide only small victories: the occasional balancing of the budget, once in a while the restraint on inflation, incremental increases of live births, the occasional highway, and even perhaps the attraction of foreign investment in a port. Enough, perhaps, to pay the bills occasionally but not enough to leave an endowment for the future generations.


Towards an anticorruption theory of public procurement

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I will come back to this theme several times over the next several months, but I am fascinated by the concept of a corruption-free public procurement system. As much as we advocate for efficient public procurement systems and in our grand pursuit of 'best practices', we always have to address the nagging doubt that our public procurement processes are being derailed by corruption.

It seems that allegations of corruption fall more readily and more easily on poor Third World countries. When such allegations are made against governments in rich countries, they are quickly forgotten. Can you imagine if the allegation was raised, about a poor developing country, that its representatives in Parliament regularly accepted money from persons to raise questions in the legislature; or that the members of the legislature consistently, and uniformly across party lines, had established a tradition of making fraudulent claims on the government for maintenance expenses; or that a government would give tax credits for bribes made overseas; or that the central bank gives business persons foreign exchange permission to pay bribes overseas; or that the government would support the executives of one of its strategic enterprises paying bribes to members of a foreign government; and when evidence of the latter misconduct is made public, the government used its control of the prosecuting agency to prevent the prosecution of those involved.


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