December 14, 2008

CSME & CCJ Doubts

CSME - more doubts than progress - Now Barbados 'consultation' postponed
Source: Jamaica Observer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

AS 2008 draws to a close, it is becoming increasingly evident that there is a serious decline in momentum for the transformation of Caricom into a single market and economy (CSME) by 2015.

When I wrote in the Observer two weeks ago that the CSME appears to have been placed on "a slow march", I was not aware that a stakeholders' consultation on the CSME, scheduled to be hosted this month by the Barbados Government, would not be taking place.

Late last week the Caricom Secretariat and the Barbados-based CSME Unit confirmed that the consultation was off and would now take place on a date to be determined.

Six months ago, at their 29th Caricom Summit, our Community Heads of Government had accepted an offer by Barbados' Prime Minister David Thompson, who has lead responsibility for CSME-readiness arrangements, to host "a wide-ranging consultation in the second half of 2008".
That has not happened. Instead what has been surfacing is more reservations about the CSME, in particular negative attitudes towards intra-regional free movement of Community nationals, which is one of the key segments of the proposed single economy project.

As it is with free movement of even skilled nationals, so also is the case in relation to, for example, justice and governance (including human rights), transportation, tourism and security - lack of an information flow from Heads of Government assigned specific responsibilities in Caricom's quasi-cabinet structure.

There has now been another official signal from the Caricom Secretariat that the member governments intend to give legal status to the 'Charter of Civil Society' in 2009.

The sad reality is that there have been endless promises to do so since the Charter was officially declared with much fanfare 11 years ago, in 1997.

As in the outstanding case for widening membership access to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), it is to be hoped that the Charter gets the official attention it deserves to become a functional instrument for improved governance in the 15-member Community.

Currently, however, greater concerns relate to the sense of apathy over moving forward with CSME arrangements. Now that the scheduled "stakeholders' consultation" has been postponed, possibly until the first quarter of 2009, an official explanation seems appropriate.

The latest of three former prime ministers to openly lament, within the past month, the "poor" response to advance arrangements for the CSME, is Dr Kenny Anthony of St Lucia.

He has called for urgent and concerted action by all governments of the Community to make a reality of this flagship project, now much more needed, he said, in view of the current global economic crisis.

As previously noted, the former prime ministers of Barbados (Owen Arthur) and Jamaica (PJ Patterson) were equally firm in expressing their own disappointment over the evident lack of serious and sustained action to complete the CSME-readiness arrangements.

A mood of cynicism and disenchantment over lack of action on the "CSME front" could be detected in a number of Caricom states, but it is more pronounced, for different reasons, in Jamaica and Barbados.

Lingering trio

Today there are still Caricom governments that confuse, expediently perhaps, a policy of managed migration - a right that belongs to every Community partner - with their moral and legal obligation to pursue and implement the programme for free movement of skilled nationals, consistent with CSME objectives, as outlined in the Revised Caricom Treaty.

Further, there are three Community countries yet to either begin the implementation process, or signal readiness to confirm with even the unanimous decision by Heads of Government in July 2007 to ensure the upholding by immigration authorities of an automatic right to six-month stay for Caricom nationals on arrival - for whatever reasons - once not linked to any form of employment.

The trio yet to implement that decision are Barbados, St.Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. The governments in Basseterre and St John's are currently engaged in electioneering politics, and CSME implementation will simply be kept on the back-burner.In Barbados, there are now more expressions of reservation and doubt about the CSME than that of optimism for the value in Caricom pushing ahead towards a seamless regional economy.

Since the hopes raised at the joint seminar in Trinidad and Tobago on plans for the CSME, and the subsequent relevant decisions of the Caricom Summit of 2007 in Barbados, changes in governments in some countries, including Jamaica, Barbados and Belize, are reported to have influenced moves for a review of the implementation programme for even skilled Community nationals "with a view to determining reaffirmation or modification".

Last month the Community's Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) decided to establish a "working group" to review and make recommendations for the procedures across the various categories of skilled Caricom nationals eligible for free intra-regional movement.

No explanations were offered as to why this "review" of originally approved "procedures" has become necessary.

In all of this there remains a deafening silence from the prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerritt, who shoulders lead responsibility for "labour" with a specific focus on free movement of nationals. He is proving quite artful in evading media inquiries about the functioning of his portfolio on free movement in Caricom.

Perhaps there is need for an independent audit to indicate the overall readiness arrangements status by Caricom governments to help make CSME inauguration a reality in 2015.

A relevant view is, if those with lead responsibilities for specific Caricom sectors/programmes - CSME or otherwise - are not sufficiently motivated or interested, they can hardly be expected to provide vigorous leadership to attain desired objectives.

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