CARICOM IN 'COMA'
by RICKEY SINGH
Source: Jamaica Observer
Published Sunday, January 17, 2010
EVEN as the Caribbean Community Secretariat remains intensely engaged in commendable regional humanitarian aid efforts for earthquake-devastated Haiti, the prognosis for any significant advancement in Caricom's major programmes during the first half of this second decade of the 21st century does not appear encouraging.
Indeed, with a perceived trend towards a narrow nationalism, masked in a few cases as new approaches in trade, immigration and economic policies, there lurks the danger of an undermining of the growth of a once robust regional spirit to make the Single Market and Economy (CSME) a reality.
At present, while the Caricom Secretariat is preparing for the first Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government for this year, scheduled for Dominica next month, or early March, there are serious misgivings about the way forward for the CSME -- the Community's flagship project originally targeted for inauguration in 2015.
In November 2009, one of the foremost collaborators in the regional enterprise that is Caricom, Sir Shridath Ramphal, had painfully noted in an address to a forum of distinguished West Indians in Port of Spain on "Regional Progress and Challenges" that "As with West Indies cricket, regionalism can be damaged if we forget our trust and are ruled by short-term fixes. We did not become independent of Britain to scatter our regional heritage to the winds of passing fortune. But we are being tempted to do just that, and Caricom is blowing in the wind..."
A former long-serving Commonwealth secretary general and chancellor of the University of the West Indies warned:
"The CSME has lost credibility. Shame overwhelms us as we create the Caribbean Court of Justice and cling, unwanted, to the Privy Council. If things continue to fall apart like this, the centre will not hold. Caricom is comatose; and without intensive care a coma can precede death."
Asked last Wednesday (before the announcement of Haiti's earthquake disaster) whether he still felt the same way about Caricom as he did at last November's symposium in Port of Spain, Ramphal told this columnist, "Unfortunately I still do", then quickly added:
"If I am to clutch at straws I would derive hope from the recent initialling of the treaty to establish an OECS Economic Union; and the potential for deeper cooperation between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, as exemplified in current negotiations involving the operations of Air Jamaica..."
At Caricom's upcoming inter-sessional in Roseau, Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson is expected to give a report on the CSME Convocation he had hosted last October.
It was an occasion when representatives of both the region's private sector and labour movement did not spare criticisms of what they continue to view as yawning gaps between official rhetoric and actions to generate public confidence that arrangements for advancing the CSME are indeed being seriously pursued.
A notable absentee from the CSME Convocation was the regional economist, Professor Norman Girvan, author of the seminal report on "Towards a Single Economy and a Single Development Vision" that outlined a "road map" for strategising and methodical implementation.
To say that Girvan has himself become disillusioned over the lack of necessary collective approaches to implement the CSME project -- unanimously endorsed by the Community Heads of Government -- would be to recall a similar discouraging example as it relates to Professor Vaughn Lewis's report on the need for a new and more effective form of governance of Caricom affairs.
Now heading towards its 37th year of existence on July 4, 2010, Caricom remains divided on how and when to introduce what leading political and economic scholars, eminent private sector executives and others regard as a necessary new administrative architecture.
At its core -- as long recommended in the 1992 report of The West Indian Commission that was headed by Sir Shridath -- could be a team of eminent Caricom nationals (either three or five) armed with executive authority and focused on systematic implementation of unanimously adopted decisions by the Heads of Government.
If it's not a case of a seeming reluctance by the Community's political directorate against sharing power with leading regional technocrats, or a preference to hide behind expedient interpretations of "national sovereignty", then the Community's leaders should come clean in 2010 on what are the main barriers to the introduction of a more relevant system of governance of Caricom.
Last year, when there were a lot of "special meetings" of Caricom ministers and leaders, as well as task forces with overlapping mandates, to find practical responses to the negative impact on regional economies of the global financial and economic crisis, we were told of plans for a special delegation of Heads of Government and top fiscal and economic experts to engage the international financial institutions in Washington.
Well, the year ended and no such engagement is known to have occurred.
We were also informed of an expected summit of Caricom leaders with President Barack Obama before year-end. No such meeting took place and none is yet carded for any time in 2010.
The region's people are aware of developments that resulted in the miniaturising of the once high-profile Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM).
Less awareness prevails about the status quo of either CSME-readiness arrangements or the extent of progress by the special unit in the Community Secretariat responsible for implementation arrangements for the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) entered into with the European Union in 2008.
The first decade of the 21st century ended last year with ongoing disappointments that no progress of significance was made on the much-publicised people-focused project of intra-regional free movement, particularly as it relates to skilled Community nationals. The issue remains enmeshed in immigration controversies.
The current immigration situation in Antigua and Barbuda, for example, appears serious enough to warrant some direct action by the governments of Jamaica and Guyana with that of the Baldwin Spencer administration in St John's, as there have been repeated reports of unfair and inhumane treatment of their nationals.
At the symposium in Port of Spain on "Regional Progress and Challenges" referred to earlier, Sir Shridath Ramphal had expressed the hope that the results of that event could "help bring us (the region) to our senses...".
Alas, that hope has often been variously expressed at successive Caricom Heads of Government.
It would, therefore, be quite refreshing to see Caricom leaders demonstrate a new readiness to advance the goals of our economic integration movement at their coming 31st annual summit in July - venue is still undecided.
Hopefully this will bring closure to the multiplicity of negative features and occurrences during the second half of the first decade of this 21st century to inspire hope for a significant change, at least during the first half of this second decade when the CSME is scheduled to be operationalised.