December 31, 2008

Caricom and Party Politics

Caricom and party politics '08
Rickey Singh
Wednesday, December 31st 2008

Source: Trinidad Express

ALTHOUGH they all remain officially committed to the creation of a Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), it became evident during 2008 that there are regional governments that are not singing from the same hymn sheet.

If the long overdue inauguration of the Caricom Development Fund was one of the few encouraging developments, the reality is that the list of unfinished business to move from a single market to a single economy remains quite significant.

The promise made at last July's Heads of Government Conference in Antigua for a special stakeholders consultation on the CSME was not kept and in the face of growing concerns about the likely negative consequences for our region from the international financial crisis, Caricom leaders have not considered it necessary for a special summit.

They seem to be quietly disposed to waiting until their inter-sessional meeting in Belize in March, if not February, to deal with this issue, along with a range of other matters, CSME-readiness among them.

At the sub-regional level, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) may have underscored its own uneasiness, or disappointment, with the pace of progress for the CSME's inauguration in 2015 by the decision of its 48th summit in Montserrat to press ahead towards its Economic Union in 2009.

Trinidad and Tobago has been committed by Prime Minister Patrick Manning - without any consultation with the parliamentary Opposition or private sector and labour movement - to be part of this economic union, with some adjustments.

Its citizens have time to be better informed on how and why this union must take place ahead of an even more challenging process - a regional political union embracing T&T and the OECS without, hopefully provoking fractures with the rest of Caricom which is currently engaged in initiatives to widen and deepen integration and development with our Latin American neighbours.

The report from a group of experts, established under the chairmanship of Dr Vaughn Lewis, to examine and make recommendations for the OECS/T&T economic union with an eye also on political integration, should be useful for public information. But the OECS countries have already targeted 2009 for the realisation of their proposed economic union.

The initiatives for economic and political integration by the OECS and T&T are encouraging but there are problems ahead for lack of appropriate national consultations with national stakeholders.

It is also quite ironic that while enthusiasm is being whipped up for economic union, the OECS, as well as T&T, are yet to unveil any clear action plan to access the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final appellate institution and put an end to the old colonial link with the Privy Council in London.

The OECS countries will also be aware of the reservations held by the Bruce Golding administration in Jamaica about the CCJ, as any firm commitment to a new and empowered administrative structure for the Caricom Secretariat that may conflict with its own notions of sovereignty.

The Antigua and Barbuda government of Baldwin Spencer is heading towards new general election while the St Lucia Labour Party of Kenny Anthony is becoming increasingly militant in pressurising the lacklustre administration of Stephenson King, clearly with an early national poll in mind.

Across in Guyana, party politics took a bad turn for the main opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNCR), with the explosion of internal differences that by year end had deteriorated into open calls for the resignation of its leader Robert Corbin.

Corbin was quite dismissive of such calls and has vowed to remain at the helm as he continues to keep hope alive for a return of his party to the power lost in 1992 after some 28 years in power.
That is an optimism not widely shared, even by those outside of the PNCR's fold with their own disenchantment and disagreements with the governing People's Progressive Party (PPP) that has its own internal leadership tensions.

In T&T, for all the reported unpopularity of Prime Minister Manning repeated failures by the Opposition parties to effect a unity platform feed cynicism about threats to continued governance by the PNM.

This is going to be quite a high profile year for Manning in the full glare of media publicity as he hosts, first the Commonwealth Summit in April and then in November the Summit of the Americas with the new US President Barack Obama and new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as superstar participants. More on this later.

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