September 01, 2008

The Poltical Union dance

This political union dance
Manning goes on defensive after "flying consultations"
Source: Jamaica Observer
Publication date: Sunday, August 31, 2008

As Prime Minister Patrick Manning spearheads official celebratory activities marking today's 46th Independence anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago, he would most likely be quietly reflecting on the clear disinterest by some of his Caribbean Community colleagues in any form of regional political integration.In his assumed high-profile jet-shuttle initiatives to spread the message in favour of regional and political integration, to which his government and three others in the Eastern Caribbean have committed themselves, in principle, Manning returned home last week knowing that, at best, he could count a so-called "coalition of the willing" on just one hand.

More likely perhaps no more than three. They would include his colleagues from St Vincent and the Grenadines (Ralph Gonsalves) and Grenada (Tilman Thomas). St Lucia's Prime Minister, Stephenson King, had participated in the August 14 meeting in Port-of-Spain hosted and chaired by Manning but it is doubtful that, given the precarious nature of his administration, he could be considered a serious partner in a political union initiative with Trinidad and Tobago.

Neither Haiti nor Suriname, with their different political history and culture was ever viewed as potential allies in a political integration process-except in a distant long term.

For its part, The Bahamas has remained under successive governments on the periphery of Caricom. It operates more as a partner in functional cooperation, with limited interest in the single market, but no interest in the single-economy dimension.

The two countries whose new governments are also yet to commit themselves in any serious way to the creation of Caricom's single economy, are Jamaica (under the leadership of Prime Minister Bruce Golding) and Belize (led by Prime Minister Dean Barrow). It was, therefore, quite puzzling that Manning should have extended his jet-flying visits to meet with his counterparts in Kingston and Belmopan. The situation became less puzzling when he finally felt obliged to explain why he had included Haiti, Suriname and The Bahamas in the process.

After much criticism by political opponents and comments in the region's media, the result of a poor, if not contemptuous effort to communicate with the public, Manning was doing some explaining late last week.

He had extended, out of courtesy, his "consultations" with Caricom counterparts outside of the trio of OECS heads of government that had signed with him a "Joint Declaration" (the text remained a secret at the time of writing) on regional economic and political integration. He never requested ANYONE, he insists, to join the Port-of-Spain initiative by four prime ministers for a limited political union projected for 2013.
Those who were aware of the disinterest by both Jamaica's Golding and Belize's Barrow in any form of political union, should now be more concerned in ascertaining the extent of the commitment of both to encouraging the transformation of Caricom into a seamless regional economy.

Such a course would, inevitably, involve a more centrally driven governance system, located in a proposed Single Caricom Act, and realised with a new administrative mechanism armed with executive authority to ensure effective management of the Community's affairs.

In the present circumstances, a Community whose members cannot get their acts together to advance arrangements for a single economy by 2015; nor (except for Barbados and Guyana) abolish the Privy Council in preference for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their court of last resort, seem to be "spinning top in mud", to borrow an expression of our Trini cousins, with the flow of "talks" about even a limited political union by 2013.

These days we are being exposed to strong negative vibes about the future of a once enthusiastically promised CSME (Caricom Single Market and Economy), the target dates for which have kept shifting and remains elusive, even as the political rhetoric continues to capture headlines.

The region's people are being kept largely in the dark about the defaults by politicians and technocrats that have resulted, to date, in delivering only about one-third of approximately 330 of required "implementation actions" to make a reality of the single economy.

In relation to the CCJ, all of our governments dutifully spend taxpayers' money annually to maintain but, shockingly, they fail to have it as their final court. Now, the new game in town is prime minister Manning's jetting around to talk about limited forms of economic and political union, without any road map made known publicly on the steps towards such a goal; and no move to promote national consultations on this vital issue.

Little wonder the deepening disenchantment and cynicism about Caricom's future as the viable economic integration movement which it was conceptualised and launched to be by its visionary architects.

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