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It Had to Be Security: The Nexus Between US-based Foreign Aid and Public Administration in the Caribbean

Foreign aid based in the United States has traditionally been critical to sustaining the machinery of central government in English-speaking Caribbean countries. It is not clear if this is purely geographical or geopolitical. Concerns about security have now perpetuated this tradition. This series of articles seeks to explore how this aid is critical to public administration in the Caribbean, particularly within the current focus on citizen security. This first installment will explore the institutionalized historical context of this relationship and conclude by highlighting security as the shared concern today.

In this series, foreign aid is conceptualized as program assistance channeled through the official sectors of relevant countries. This is in keeping with the definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA) used by the Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). U.S.-based foreign aid therefore refers to aid activity channeled bilaterally through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and multilaterally through the World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and relevant entities of the United Nations which are headquartered in New York City. Simultaneously, this article will seek to draw most evidence from the experiences of Jamaica and explore implications for other relevant Caribbean countries. This is because of the country’s history, its historical experiences with U.S.-based foreign aid and how these have shaped donor assistance to the English-speaking Caribbean more broadly.

 

The Context of Public Administration in the Anglophone Caribbean

Public administration in the Anglophone Caribbean reflects a common heritage and policymaking context. These countries went through almost homogeneous experiences of colonialism, representative self-government and full independence in most cases. They commonly share homogenous gestation with the Westminster-Whitehall approach to public administration. It is consequently no surprise that they have retained its core pillars as a basis for autonomously maintaining their own state machinery today. There is the sovereignty of parliament, the emphasis on competitive party politics, reliance on leadership by a core elite, and widespread proliferation of portfolio ministries and departments headed by political representatives. Therefore, these countries have been historically dependent on foreign support, while displaying a natural deference to domestic political power in all areas.

Geographical factors have added dynamism to this context. The majority of Anglophone Caribbean countries have their political roots in Europe, their cultural ties in North America, and the roots of their economic development philosophies in Latin American thought. Therefore today there are heterogeneous constitutional and political relations with the British Crown and government, respectively; expanding Caribbean communities throughout the United States and Canada; and the problematic grouping of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) as one development region. Parallel to this dynamism are common challenges.

 

The Challenges of Anglophone Caribbean Public Administration

In the last 50 years most Anglophone Caribbean countries assumed autonomous responsibilities for their own political and economic affairs, independent of support from England. No sooner than these countries lobbied and obtained independence and elected to discontinue plans for a Caribbean-wide federation, they were reminded that they had to survive independent of the British Crown, and individually as Caribbean states. The onset of the Cold War and the implications for geopolitical relations, the susceptibility to global economic shocks and natural disasters, the loss of preferential agricultural markets, the inability of domestic markets to support local economies, the challenge of attracting foreign investments, the increased demands on the limited resources of the public services, the obligation to maintain political competition and win votes and the basic difficulties of maintaining the rule of law were the realities the new governments faced. These governments faced cash shortages by the late 1970s and have not recovered; particularly in the case of Jamaica. There is the implicit and debatable acknowledgement that Jamaica and Trinidad made a costly gamble with the immediate post-Independence experiment. Therefore the relationship between the context and challenges of autonomously maintaining Anglophone Caribbean public administration establishes a particular dependence on foreign aid.

 

Caribbean Public Administration and US-based Foreign Aid

Public administration in Anglophone Caribbean countries largely relies on foreign aid, and U.S.-based aid is particularly significant. Simultaneously it is on record that the U.S. government has traditionally been concerned with the domestic politics of the Caribbean including British Guiana (now Guyana), Jamaica, and Grenada. Emergency assistance from the U.S. government normally follows the passage of hurricanes. Similarly, program aid is customarily sought from the U.S. mainland. Illustratively, former Prime Minister of Jamaica Michael Manley made visits to Washington D.C. not only to negotiate assistance for the country, but also to lobby on behalf of other developing countries that were part of the emerging New International Economic Order (NIEO). Foreign assistance has therefore traditionally been U.S.-based and been among the first options for Caribbean governments facing public administration crises.

 

The Crisis of Human Security and Caribbean Public Administration

The public administration challenge of sustaining citizen security across all Caribbean countries may now unite public administration and perpetuate the dependence on U.S.- based foreign aid. There has been increased focus on crime and human security in the LAC region particularly given the transshipment of guns and drugs through Caribbean borders to North America. This focus informed the decision to launch a Caribbean Human Development Report in 2012, and to make Citizen Security its main concern. While Caribbean public administration has been trying to find its identity post-independence and the apparent failure of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), transnational crime and its regional implications mean that public administration in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, and the Organization for Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), will be impacted by how U.S.- based foreign aid is relied on to address this challenge.

The next installments will focus on the challenges presented in this article and look to the story and experiences of Jamaica to draw lessons.

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Author: Vaughn Graham is a doctoral candidate in the University of Birmingham, UK. He has also worked with the Government of Jamaica for over 10 years in various capacities. He has experience with Rule of Law policymaking and the implications for various donor funded programs and projects.

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