Minutes after he was conferred with the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC), at the opening of the 30th Meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government in Georgetown, Patterson also made the long-argued case that an executive mechanism was needed to shepherd the implementation of Caricom decisions. The award – the highest within the Caribbean Community – was bestowed upon Patterson by President Bharrat Jagdeo, the new Chairman of Caricom.
After receiving the award, Patterson underscored the importance of Caricom to the region and urged the current Heads of Government to do their utmost to protect the movement. During a presentation laced with similes and metaphors, he likened the Caricom movement to a plant, which needed to be properly nurtured if it were to survive. “After 36 years Caricom is still a growing plant which we must nurture. Unless we tend to the tree it will wither and eventually die”, he said.
The former long-serving Jamaican Prime Minister emphasised that the collapse or disintegration of Caricom was not an acceptable option and called on the Caricom Heads to make the institution matter to everyone. He urged the Heads of State not to abandon “the mission to improve the quality of life of the Caribbean people.”
Speaking about his own experience, Patterson said that pride and loyalty to the land of his birth have never deterred him from “becoming and remaining an unrepentant regionalist.” He said that that this particular meeting was an important one since it “is widely believed to be a meeting which will determine whether we swim safely ashore or drown separately in the Caribbean Sea.” He emphasised his belief that regional economic integration is imperative, especially if the region is to be heard globally. Patterson said that the leaders must not assume that the perpetuity of the movement is inevitable.
Patterson told the gathering that: “our own national self interest demands that we widen, deepen and strengthen the Caribbean Community, there is simply no other way out especially in these rough and perilous times”.
Patterson said that “the litmus test for effective governance is not measured by the decisions taken when heads meet, it is whether action follows.” “The greatest threat to the credibility of Caricom lies clearly in the failure to implement solemn declarations and decisions made conference after conference”, Patterson declared, adding that he himself could not be absolved of this flaw. Further, he stated that “mature regionalism will remain a pipe-dream unless authority is vested in an executive mechanism which is charged with full time responsibility for ensuring the implementation within a specified time frame of the critical decisions taken by Heads and other designated organs of the Community. For how much longer can a final decision be postponed on upgrading the institutional machinery if the community is not to become comatose?” This argument goes all the way back to the 1992 report of the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal – who was in the audience yesterday – where an executive mechanism was recommended.
While acknowledging that the Caribbean Community had achieved success in several areas, Patterson pointed out that the challenges currently facing the community are far more daunting that those which existed at the inception of the Community. He identified the challenges of the global financial crises which he opined no state is immune from. He said that the region was no longer benefiting from the special trading regimes and protective arrangements for its agricultural products, such as sugar and bananas which it once enjoyed. He opined that that the region is “gradually being squeezed out from those areas of opportunity which globalisation and liberalization of trade were purported to allow.”
Patterson said that Caricom cannot be blamed for the difficulties that came about because of the global financial crises and said that the answer did not lie “in retreating to insularity or parochial responses.” He urged the leaders to look beyond the crises and use this experience to fuel the process of economic integration through which the productive capacity of the region is enlarged. He argued that the opportunity could be used to provide greater food security, additional processing of agricultural raw materials , energy and mineral resources, information technology , tourism, culture, sport, entertainment and other areas.
“Let us exploit new and dynamic relations with nations such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa without disturbing our relationships with our traditional partners”, he said.
Meanwhile, Patterson expressed his optimism that this conference would see the implementation of several decisions which have been so long outstanding. He urged the Heads of Government to “make the Single Market a living reality as you work towards the creation of Single Economy.” He identified as imperative the settling of issues such as the competition policy, investment and government procurement which he opined can lead to “the danger of undertaking obligations or conferring rights on external groupings which do not exist between us.”
Patterson also called on the leaders “to advance the protocol on contingent rights of skilled Caricom nationals, so that there can be greater freedom of the movement of Caricom citizens within the region.”
The former Jamaican PM also expressed hope that during this meeting that approval would be “given the Caribbean Court of Justice to do all the work which it was conceived and established and is so well equipped to undertake in providing justice for our people as the court of final jurisdiction.“ Only Guyana and Barbados have signed on to the CCJ as their final court of appeal. Belize is to join soon but Jamaica has been one of the key holdouts.
Patterson also highlighted an aspect of the Rose Hall Declaration of 2003 in Jamaica when he was PM. He said that this agreement “reaffirmed that Caricom is a community of Sovereign States but recognized from then that within such a framework, it was both legitimate and feasible for a group or groups of Community member states to forge such closer links among themselves as they collectively consider appropriate.”