Caricom's promise of 'change' reality

Caricom's promise of 'change' reality

Rickey Singh

Sunday, March 18, 2012

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TO follow statements and promises coming out of the recently concluded Caricom Heads of Government Inter-Sessional Meeting in Suriname, it would seem that in the anxiety to project official optimism for "change", little respect was paid to providing relevant details to inspire the region's public to share that optimism.

It is as if it is enough to merely announce, for instance, that there would be a "changed" administrative structure for improved governance of the multi-faceted obligations of the 38-year-old economic integration movement. But as readers would know, the devil is often in the details.

And the five-page communiqué released on March 8-9 is surprisingly sparse on details that could help boost confidence at a time of deep disenchantment over how Caricom is functioning to make a reality of its claimed 'flagship project' — the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The five-page statement may well raise more questions than provide answers on how the promise of "change" would be realised — either in the short or medium-term.

For a start, at the risk of being proven wrong, it is doubtful that with just about three-and-a-half months before the next regular annual Caricom Summit — scheduled for St Lucia in the first week of July — precious little that is really new should be expected.

Given, that is, the mode of functioning at the Georgetown-based Secretariat, currently weakened by departures of top management staff and, worse, the virtual institutionalised reluctance by the Community's political directorate to delegate powers in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Revised Caricom Treaty.

Political Culture

The reality is that for all the "new talk" about "an era of change", as emerged from the Suriname meeting, the rhetoric of Caricom Heads of Government on "unity" and "change" contrast with a debilitating political culture that prefers perpetuation of a concept of "national sovereignty" to that of "shared regional sovereignty".

Ironically, this is the prevailing mood, even as Caricom remains dependent on funding for projects — including on a new form of governance — from the European Union (eg the Landell Mills Consultancy on new governance), while its leaders continue to ignore European Union (EU) lessons on "shared sovereignty".

Two decades after the West Indian Commission's report with far-sighted recommendations on governance and more, followed by other mandated studies — including one focused on "mature governance" and the critical factor of financing — the Secretariat remains unempowered, with a secretary general who comes no way near to exercising the authority of even a chief executive officer in the private sector.

While no attempt was made in Suriname to lift the so-called "pause" button on advancing the CSME, there was no more "talk" either — and gladly so — about that ill-conceived idea of a standing committee of Caricom ambassadors, operating collectively, either out of Guyana, or via tele-conferencing, to help in sustaining management implementation processes for progress of the regional integration movement.

In Suriname, the leaders leaned heavily on the EU-funded consultancy report on future governance and vested "oversight" responsibility to the Caricom Bureau for the work to be carried out by the secretary general and someone described as a "change facilitator".

Pertinent question

Together, they would work, in the first instance, to strengthen corporate functions, while in a parallel exercise the Bureau would work with "an internal group" from the Secretariat to "improve regional governance and implementation".

If it all seems complex, it may simply have to do with a desire to avoid being too specific when ideas are still to be clarified and the so-called "change facilitator" is yet to be recruited and his/her skills and competence established. There is also the challenge of vesting "oversight" to the Caricom Bureau in the restructuring of the Secretariat.

The Bureau is basically a small management committee of three changing Heads of Government between their twice half-yearly meetings. It has acquired a reputation for passing the buck on sensitive issues back to the regular inter-sessional or annual summit meetings of Heads. It is not known to have the political clout of even an empowered Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee.

The language used in the communiqué cannot conceal the fact that while Secretary General Irwin LaRocque spoke enthusiastically about the Suriname inter-sessional meeting being the "initiator of this era of change within an environment of reform", much remains undone and unknown.

A pertinent question at this stage is whether, in their embrace of the recommendations of the report on 'Turning Around Caricom' our Heads of Government are now disposed to extending executive authority to a management team at the restructured Secretariat.

This is something that was recommended some 20 years ago by the West Indian Commission, but the member governments continue to refuse to delegate decision-making powers on implementation processes that would be consistent with the letter and spirit of the Caricom Treaty to make a reality of the elusive goals of the CSME.

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