July 11, 2009

Eastern Caribbean Integration

Eastern Caribbean integration
Source: Trinidad Express

I have as yet made only a preliminary examination of the Trinidad and Tobago-Eastern Caribbean States Integration Initiative Task Force Report. With respect to the matters discussed in the report I am a lay person. However, in view of the importance of such a possible development as is proposed in the report the issues should be understood by all citizens. My first difficulty is to understand the language used since it is of a discipline with which I am unfamiliar. Is it social science, foreign relations or economics? In the Task Force Report use of the word "space" extends beyond physical space (such as discussion on Human Resources space).

I address first the governance structures proposed, starting with the geographic areas being considered. Under "Priorities of External Relations" the report suggests that countries of the Eastern Caribbean (including Barbados) and Trinidad and Tobago will need to organise a more coherent relationship among themselves and that this grouping will also need to sustain a balanced set of relationships with Guyana and Suriname. As recognised in the report these latter countries have large land masses and can thus provide food security and in future provide markets as they industrialise. In a previous article (Express, June 26) I referred to such possibilities and gave a specific example of how Trinidad and Tobago could start this process by investing in aluminium smelting in Guyana.

It seems to me that the most important proposals in the Integration Initiative Report are: (1): "enabling legislation" which is to be enacted in each Parliament which would cause legislation "enacted" by the super-national bodies (the nature of which I shall discuss subsequently) to automatically become law in the individual countries and (2) the fact that the populations of the various countries will not be involved directly in these super-national bodies which will be composed of heads of government of the various countries and their nominees. Thus in spite of the size of the population of Trinidad and Tobago the head of government of Grenada (which has a much smaller population) will have an equal vote in decision-making as the head of Government of Trinidad and Tobago on issues that could have far reaching consequences for the citizens of this country. The Task Force recognises this issue and proposes "consultations" with civil society. Having attended many such consultations I consider that this system has no merit to address this issue.

With respect to enabling legislation the most important issue for this country will be: can such legislation be passed with a simple majority in Parliament? If it can: what will the position be if legislation is passed by the super-national body which, had it been presented directly to our Parliament, would have required a special majority?

I shall now attempt to set out the structure of the governance bodies as I interpret the proposals in the organisational charts shown in Appendix I and Appendix II of the Task Force Report.

Model I (Appendix I): The Union (of Trinidad and Tobago and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) shall consist of three arms: executive, legislative and judicial.

The executive arm consists of: Council of States (heads of government of the members of the union); Council of Ministers: (Ministers of the member states of the union in relevant subject matter); Union Commissioners (Commissioners-one from each Member State of the Union); Inter-State Committees (on different subject matters)

The quasi-legislative arm consists of: House of Assembly (Representatives from the Government and Opposition of each member state of the union); social compact arrangements (including representatives from civil society).

The judicial arm shall consist of: Caribbean Court of Justice (Exercise of Original Jurisdiction); national courts (of the member states of the union).

Model ii (Appendix ii):

Executive Arm: Council of States: (heads of government of the members of the union); Cabinet (of Ministers presided over by a First Minister. Ministers do not hold such office in member states); Union Departmental Ministries, Inter-State Committees (on different subject matters).

Legislative arm: House of Assembly (Representatives from the Government and Opposition of each member state of the union), social compact arrangements (including representatives from civil society).

Judicial arm: Caribbean Court of Justice (Exercise of Original Jurisdiction); national courts (of the member states of the union).

It should be noted that the union would start with only the executive arm in Model I so the initial decisions would be taken by the heads of government and ministers nominated by the leaders. My greatest concern is that I do not see a direct involvement of citizens at the start or for that matter even as the process develops (apart from the so-called social compact arrangements). This is no doubt that this is in keeping with the present trend in Trinidad and Tobago where, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, citizen participation is being steadily eroded.

I hope that we will have an explanation, possibly from the Minister of Information, of the main proposals in the report in simple language so that citizens might be fully informed and not misinterpret any of its provisions.

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