Deficit of meritocracy in the Caribbean

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

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A meritocracy exists where selection and promotion of people is based on merit, more specifically, their qualifications and performance. Regrettably, there's a deficit of meritocracy in the Caribbean.

In the national political arena, selection is based on political party affiliation, amount of money donated, race, class and gender. Civil servants are mostly promoted by seniority. Longevity and patience are more important than competence and performance.

At the regional level, one outstanding factor is nationalism. Another is that selection is often based on whether your nationality is underrepresented or has never held the post. At least, gender discrimination has been ended in this arena as much by regulation as by sheer weight of numbers.

To accommodate the lack of merit, there is institutionalisation of rotation in representing the region but alas! merit does not count as long as it is your countries turn. If there is no formally agreed rotation then the rule has to be proved by ensuring that every country gets the post at least once. We recall the debate over whether or not the appointment of Mr Darren Sammy to captain the West Indies was done on merit .

In the private sector, there is by and large a meritocracy of sorts but it is often diverted by class, race, colour, the school ties and family connections.

We have seen in our region a pandemic nationalism which, in its most perverse form, is spawned by xenophobia and an isolationist mentality which becomes more virulent the smaller the country. Again, that throws out merit in the selection and promotion process.

Last Friday, at least 100 workers employed by the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) stayed away from their jobs, protesting against the decision of the company to hire a Trinidadian as a manager. The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) said that the company had replaced an Antiguan with the un-named Trinidadian who, at 65 years old, was past retirement. Add a new element: age discrimination and not competence.

In this atmosphere there is no chance that there will be free movement of people within the Caribbean Community (Caricom) any time in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the irony is that in the colonial days, West Indians were free to move around the region to live and work.

To its credit and benefit, Jamaica was the most liberal in this respect as befits a country made up of people from other countries. However, since all the countries have gained political independence and declared their solemn commitment to free movement of persons all governments have introduced work permits. The result is that merit does not enter into the selection and promotion process.

Because of the isolationism and xenophobia one has to question whether there is any genuine Caribbean or West Indian community. In fact there is open hostility among the different nationalities, most effectively demonstrated by the immigration officers of the region. Jamaicans and Haitians are treated with aggression everywhere, particularly in The Bahamas; Guyanese meet hostility in Barbados and Grenadians are disparaged in Trinidad. Nevis (5,000) wants to secede from St Kitts (40,000).

With this lack of meritocracy, is there any wonder than we can't put our best foot forward often enough?




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