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Caricom in paralysis: Single economy on 'pause'

Analysis

Rickey Singh

Sunday, May 29, 2011    

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THE Caribbean Community's much touted regional single economy project is now on hold or, as officially admitted last weekend, "on pause".

This is very disturbing news at a time when our 15-member community is engaged in various international financial services and investment arrangements, including negotiating a new trade and development accord with Canada, amid lingering implementation problems relating to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe.

For the former prime minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, who had shouldered lead responsibility for Caricom's Single Market and Economy (CSME) while he held office for some 14 years, this development "is most disappointing. It certainly sends a wrong message on the region's future."

Now opposition leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Arthur views as surprising the de-emphasis on advancing components of the single economy which would have the effect of limiting the regional economic integration movement to largely a trading market that, at best, amounts to some 15 per cent of the community's collective volume of trade.

For this journalist, who has been covering Caricom events and developments for most of its 38-year history, something seems to have gone terribly wrong within our Caribbean Community to have necessitated the Heads of Government going public last weekend with an official announcement that they have agreed to place the Caricom Single Economy (CSME) project on "pause".

What makes this rather intriguing, if not amusing, is the reality that, for all practical purposes the CSME — often marketed by the Heads as "the flagship project" of a now 38-year-old regional economic integration movement — has really been on the pause button for at least the last four years.

It is all the more pitiful when it is realised that the official admission of being on pause should have come after an acknowledgement that the Heads were conscious of a seeming "loss in momentum" in the regional integration agenda, and that they were committed to a "re-energising" process to achieve major goals encompassing the deepening of economic integration with a more relevant and effective governance system.

Frankly, this may be a time for shedding tears for the future of Caricom, as the integration movement appears to have fallen into a state of political paralysis. For all their appealing assurances in an ongoing "words game", for which they have acquired a certain reputation, the Heads of Government have seemingly lost their way, and now have little, if anything new, to offer for sustaining hope among the diverse peoples of our Caribbean Community.

Before they held a much publicised 'special retreat' in Guyana's Mazaruni region last weekend, the leaders had signalled a collective desire to more eagerly pursue a regional strategy that could "re-energise" Caricom and, by extension, help narrow a widening "implementation deficit" that affects wide-ranging programmes linked to the envisioned single economy to accompany the single market.

That growing deficit in honouring specific mandates for prescribed actions has continued over the years to make a mockery of decisions unanimously taken by Heads of Government conferences — the primary organ of the community — even with leadership changes that often result from national parliamentary elections.

Therefore, after the optimism generated at their Inter-Sessional Meeting in St George's, Grenada last February under current chairman, Grenadian Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, and in particular the expectations raised for a "re-energising" process to emerge from the two-day "special retreat" in Guyana, there is now the perception that Caricom is currently in an acute state of paralysis.

Dashed hopes

Hopes for tangible progress emerging from their Mazaruni Retreat — hosted by Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo — were fed, in part, by an awareness of a 10-page "working document" that was circulated ahead of the retreat by Prime Minister Thomas in his capacity as chairman.

That document, seen by this columnist — though not with the co-operation of either the chairman or retreat host — resulted from meetings of an ad-hoc group of well-informed and committed regional thinkers, some quite familiar with the history, policies, programmes and management of Caricom as well as the functioning of its Georgetown-based Secretariat, currently without a secretary general since the retirement last December of Edwin Carrington.

It was simply awful public relations for the Heads to have issued a two-page statement on their retreat, through the Community Secretariat (on May 22) headlined: 'Caricom Leaders Focus on Prosperity for the People'. Then, by the following day, for the public to learn of a statement from incoming new chairman, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis, that the Heads of Government have agreed that inauguration of the CSME "will now take longer than anticipated".

How long would this "longer" period be? And why the glib talk about placing "greater focus on prosperity of the people" in the absence of referencing ANY NEW approach in their conduct of the community's business; or any specific project/ programme to inspire the promised "re-energising" process?

Further, why have they failed to offer even a two-paragraph response on their initial thinking of the 10-page working document on "Re-energising Caricom Integration" that they had in their possession long before flying into Guyana for the two-day retreat?

To add to the agony, the Caricom leaders apparently felt they were saying something new when they piously announced that, as regards the single economy they "recognised that the process towards full implementation would take longer than anticipated".

The truth

The truth is, as they are well aware, Caricom has been on "pause" with respect to the CSME since 2006, when the Single Market was inaugurated in Jamaica. The CSME was originally revised to come on stream in 2008 and then again revised to a 2015 target date.

But there has been a litany of excuses for lack of required initiatives with the end result of a widening implementation deficit that compelled last weekend's public admission of a "pause" on the single economy, but linking it with another ritual promise to "consolidate gains" of the single market.

A check-list of implementation of ANY decision dealing with advancement of the CSME could well reveal a politically disgraceful situation in the governance of the community's business.

And this at a time when, having been provided, over the years, with a series of mandated studies on what should be done to improve governance of the community, as well as far- reaching recommendations on implementation of the CSME, our Caricom leaders are now awaiting a report from a team of largely foreign experts, primarily foreign-funded, pertaining to, for instance, future functioning of the community secretariat.

Well, while on their officially admitted "pause" on CSME implementation, perhaps the leaders may wish to consider going beyond their two-page statement of largely customary platitudes from their Mazaruni retreat and inform the region's people of precisely what "recommendations for action" they would be taking to the coming regular annual Caricom Summit scheduled for the first week in July in St Kitts.

It is to be wondered whether, apart from perceived failures to properly inform themselves about the recommendations located in a multiplicity of mandated reports on various aspects on the functioning of Caricom — including modalities of relevant governance mechanisms and sequential approaches to advancing the single market and the single economy — our Heads of Government took time (whether or not present at the Mazaruni retreat) for a careful assessment of even the ideas/suggestions outlined in the 10-page working document on 'Re-energising Caricom Integration'.

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