THE prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, last Monday thought it necessary to urge leaders, ministers and officials of the 15-member Caribbean Community to “revisit their personal mission” in the best interest of advancing the goals of the regional economic integration movement.
Fair enough. What’s of interest is that Prime Minister Stuart, who has lead responsibility among the Community’s Heads of Government for matters pertaining to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), was not referring to any note he felt constrained to share with his counterparts as 2012 draws to a close.
He did so publicly at a ribboncutting ceremony for the official opening of a complex of offices of the Caricom Secretariat located in Haggat’s Hall in the parish of St Michael. Was he reflecting his own awareness of how the so-called “pause” mode within the 39-year-old Community continues to affect vital policies and programmes on the way forward?
Two weeks ago, in addressing the opening session of the Seventh Summit of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc of states in Equatorial Guinea, St Lucia’s Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, current chairman of Caricom, considered it relevant to stress the imperative of “solidarity and unity” among the 79 member nations at the current phase of “economic distress worldwide...”
Good call, Dr Anthony. But it could hardly have escaped him, having headed two consecutive administrations in Castries before his St Lucia Labour Party’s return to state power last year, that a most effective way to promote desirable “unity and solidarity” within the ACP would be to first ensure attainment among Caricom member states.
Perhaps this could be enabled by practising what we preach, and guided by critical fact-based reviews, to arrest the growing implementation deficits on policies and projects that have contributed to much of the cynicism and disenchantment among citizens across the Community.
The future for regional economic integration via the “Caricom enterprise” could be stimulating or quite despairing. It would depend on the vision, policy directives and level of commitment of the regional political directorate, namely the Heads of Government, to methodically pursue the policies and programmes enshrined in the Revised Caricom Treaty and to ensure effective management.
The current reality, however, amid persistent challenges, is that the Caricom political directorate seem to lack the collective will to seriously inspire hope among the citizens of the Community for a better future; for more meaningful benefits as ‘one people, of one community” (to coin a slogan of the Caricom Secretariat), to dissipate lingering cynicism among too many.
Generally, our Community leaders are quite good at articulating the problems facing the estimated 14 million multi-ethnic, multi-lingual people of Caricom, now in its 39th year of existence.
However, they seem to lack the political will, if not the competence, when it comes to taking collective action to move the integration processes forward in the direction of stated goals to transform a trade-based integration enterprise into the promised seamless regional economy (CSME).
Much of today’s cynicism and frustration among Caricom nationals could be traced to this lack of political will among government leaders to implement decisions unanimously adopted.
For instance, on people-oriented issues such as free intra-regional movement; establishment of integrated customs and immigration services; grappling with the urgent need for improved air and sea transportation and, generally, engaging in sustained initiatives to inspire and educate the public on the benefits of being citizens of our integration movement in the same way that Europeans have come to understand and appreciate what it means to belong to the European Union (EU), warts and all.
After 20 years There are readers — in the public and private sectors — who would be aware that it is now 20 years since Caricom governments received for consideration and action the farreaching, seminal Report of The West Indian Commission on what policies and programmes could help in positioning this region to contend with an increasingly globalised environment with its pluses and minuses
A centrepiece of the Commission’ s report was the recommendation to establish an empowered management structure — a Caricom Commission — functioning in collaboration with the Community Secretariat and Heads of Government, to effectively manage the businesses of the Community.
Twenty years on, this has not occurred! A litany of excuses, rationalisations and numerous reports from commissioned studies have not yet helped to bring Caricom Heads of Government to biting the proverbial bullet for creation of an empowered management architecture (call it “Commission” or else).
A harsh reality is that previous and current Heads of Government are yet to come to terms with their own fears of losing direct political control to empowered management technocrats. And this scenario persists, despite the leaders benefiting from various mandated reports on the way forward for a transformed management structure to deal with the challenges of our time.
Among such reports would be one that included a technical assessment of management provided by the empowered European Commission of the EU (a major source of funding for Caricom).
Perhaps those fears of losing political control could explain why a few leaders could expediently contend that the historic decision by a Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica to establish the ‘Caricom Commission’ was only an “agreement in principle”?
Thankfully, there are citizens of our Community, in every member state, who, as the late visionary Errol Barrow had noted, “are ahead of us, the leaders”, on the imperatives of regional unity.
Another harsh reality is that moving away from regional integration back to ‘national separateness’ is not a viable option. Today’s globalised world would have no tolerance for any such development.
Surely the Community’s government leaders have it within their power to remove the burden of cynicism and doubts about the future for regional economic integration by resorting to a process of methodically crafted and implemented policies and programmes anchored in the Revised Caricom Treaty.