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Improving the Nexus Between U.S.-based Foreign Aid and Public Administration in the Caribbean

By Vaughn Graham

What Constitutes the Nexus?

Development challenges have traditionally constituted the core link between public administration in the Caribbean, and its dependence on U.S.-based foreign aid. The last five articles have demonstrated that citizen security constitutes the most recent challenge and will likely perpetuate this dependence. They have also demonstrated that citizen security programs will only be effective when they engage with the institutional characteristics of these countries. Drawing on the example of Jamaica, these articles have argued that key characteristics emanating from the Westminster-Whitehall heritage will either make or break citizen security program assistance. Consequently, there is the need to understand the relevant nature of historical institutions, institutional continuity and any prospect for institutional change.

The Relevance of Historical Institutions

graham 1Relevant characteristics of the Westminster-Whitehall heritage are the determinants of any successful citizen security program assistance from U.S.-based donors to Caribbean recipients. These characteristics are the state-centric nature of policymaking, significant departmentalism, partisan political competition, and how they interrelate. The relevance of historical institutions is a contested area of social science scholarship. This is owing to the different philosophical ways in which political scientists understand the dichotomy between materialist aspects (such as, laws, procedures, customs, rule of law entities, etc.) and ideational aspects of institutions (how materialist aspects are contextually interpreted and socially constructed). It is tied to how anthropologists perceive the tension between structure and agency. It is also moot when institutional economists talk about public goods and common-pool resources.

Despite these contestations, evidence from the field of practice suggests that the materialist aspects of the Westminster-Whitehall heritage, the ways in which they structure social life, and how they shape rational policymaking decisions, are more immediately relevant to the prospects of citizen security program assistance on a much broader scale. In other words, constitutional provisions, laws and procedures setting out policymaking, ministries and departments, and the competition for votes, are more relevant to the viability of citizen security in Caribbean countries, than how different actors interpret these laws at different points in time. This helps explain why there is Westminster-Whitehall continuity in the relevant Anglophone Caribbean countries, and why policymaking in other territories closely follows the tradition left by Dutch and French colonialism. Historical institutions are therefore relevant to anything and everything related to citizen security, given the latter’s reliance on the ‘responsibilities of citizens to co-produce security through community partnerships with state-actors.’

If citizen security is now a public administration challenge in the Caribbean, and is dependent on U.S.-based foreign aid to help with this ‘co-production’ of security, what are the implications for both U.S.-based donors and Caribbean-based recipients?

Implications for Successful Program Assistance

There are at least three implications that are relevant for both U.S.-based donors and Caribbean-based recipients.

Implication 1: Become Political and Remain Politically Neutral

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It is impossible for donors to remain apolitical if they are to support citizen security successfully in the Caribbean. Simultaneously, Caribbean recipients should reasonably embrace the place of these donors in development policymaking. The political dimension and security are institutionally linked constitutionally, and because of history. The example of Jamaica illustrates how rule of law institutions were put directly in the hands of the political executive after the 1962 Constitution. Also, political movements and parties that were established out of the labor riots of the 1930s, established divisive cleavages around charismatic leadership and dogma that precipitated political conflict since the 1970s. The links between political actors and criminality, and the internationalization of crime, subsequently cemented this institutional link between the political dimension and security.

Therefore, for U.S.-based donors to be successful in supporting citizen security programs, they will need to challenge the contours of this institutional link and be given the policy space to do so. While these donors may consider this anathema given their limited legal authority, there might not be any cause for concern in this regard. For example, donors can satisfy themselves that the communities chosen for citizen security assistance are selected based on evidence, rather than ex ante determination by a political representative or a state actor. Development planning should reflect the balanced view of donors as constituent actors, rather than left to the exigencies of recipient state actors. These are some practical ways of becoming political while remaining politically neutral.

Implication 2: Support Programs, Not Ministries

If U.S.-based donors are to be successful in the Anglophone Caribbean, they should prioritize cross cutting programs and not the individual programs of ministries. More relevant to citizen security programs may be the refurbishment and construction of community centers and other rule of law symbols in relevant communities, such that citizens can identify with their ‘co-production’ responsibilities. Instead, most funding is presently channeled through the purses of ministries and may never result in this level of capital development for various reasons. Simultaneously, there are existing power asymmetries between ministries and development funding that may serve to perpetuate these asymmetries rather than being more effectively broad based. There is consequently a need for both donors and recipients to transcend the exigencies of departmentalism.

Implication 3: Focus on Citizens

If citizen security is about the responsibilities of citizens to co-produce security as the Caribbean Human Development Report 2011 states, then U.S.-based donors should not only go beyond ministries, but also recipient state actors. Presently state actors, through government offices, initiate, authorize and execute much of the donor-funded programmatic work. There is little reliance on partnerships with non-state actors to initiate, authorize and execute these programs. It is therefore important for U.S.-based donors to go beyond government and more on the wide-ranging priorities identified by citizens at a much deeper level. Simultaneously, development planning should rely on the input of citizens more meaningfully. Instead of relying on broadly representative public consultations, there is the need for donors and recipient state actors to engage with the needs of communities individually.


Citizen security challenges in the Caribbean exemplify and illuminate the dependence of Caribbean public administration on U.S.-based foreign aid. While the link between the two is not new, citizen security goes at the heart of institutionalism and how an institutional understanding remains critical to successful citizen security program assistance.


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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