April 12, 2007

Top-down Caribbean Integration - Daley

Regional leaders just don't get it. When they get together for their periodic summits to discuss their fancy reports and studies, they seem to think the rest of the Caribbean has a deep, abiding care. Most people don't.

The reason there is no huge interest in this whole business of regional integration has to do with the fact that ordinary people are still being left out of the discussions.

Those who have observed and studied the integration project since the time of the failed West Indian Federation in the 1950s have repeatedly pointed to the problem of leaders seeking to integrate from the top down. It didn't work in the past and there is hardly any reason for thinking it's going to work now.


On that matter of Federation, a report of a working group on ways to strengthen regional governance is one of the latest issues to occupy the minds of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders. Its recommendation for the creation of a supranational body is far-reaching and, in many ways, paints the outlines of a federal structure.

The so-called CARICOM Commission, modelled on the successful European Commission, is aimed at clearing the way for swifter decision making within the regional com-munity, especially in the context of an emerging single market and economy. The idea has been floating about for years now but it looks like steps are being taken to move it to implementation.

According to the recent report of the working group, the "Commission, in the exercise of its functions, should have authority to intervene within individual national systems and at the level of regional entities on behalf of the collective political directorate in the elaboration and execution of agreed decisions."

That mandate is sure to scare some people who still have fears that attempts are being made to federate through the back door.

Leaders have endorsed the report of the working group, which was headed by Dr. Vaughan Lewis, former Prime Minister of St. Lucia and a respected academic in his own right. That was in February. Since then, there has been little discussion about the whole thing. Granted, Cricket World Cup has taken the spotlight, but I'm not convinced enough is being done by the leaders through their technocrats and communications specialists to have the idea of the commission ventilated and explained.

Political opportunism

Without this genuine discussion, there will be ample room for political opportunism when crunch time comes around for political parties. The proposed Commission represents a delicate initiative which has to be handled with care, especially since it involves surrendering some aspects of national sovereignty.

It's not too complicated for ordinary people to understand if they are provided with sufficient and appropriate information as to how it would work and the benefits to be derived. After that, they can decide whether they want to gamble on it or not.

What we have had, too often, over the years are regional leaders making decisions about people's lives without having the benefit of widespread public consultation and feedback. It's the usual top-down attitude that hasn't worked.

There is a chance with this proposed Commission to change that approach by involving everyone - from the man on the street corner to the Opposition parties - in the discussions. I can think of a few regional institutions that might have benefited from that more enlightened way of doing business.
Source - Jamaica Gleaner

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