Is Caricom still a collective bargaining unit for the region?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

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THE Caribbean Community (Caricom) is intended to serve three purposes — economic integration, collective bargaining with the outside world, and regional co-operation.


As an economic integration process, Caricom has come almost to a full stop. Whether the present condition is terminal or just a temporary pause while being on life support, not enough people seem to care.


What is not in dispute, however, is that Caricom still has value as a mechanism for unifying its members for collective action. This is necessary because our countries are all small, developing states that individually can exert little or no influence on external events or on more powerful countries and in international organisations. By combining, we increase the possibility of having some influence on the outside world.


Caricom has used its collective bargaining with some successes and some failures, but at least the principle and the process of a united front remained intact.


But the recent election of a new secretary general for the Commonwealth Secretariat now raises the question of whether Caricom still functions as a collective bargaining unit. Caricom never formed a consensus behind a single candidate.


There were, at one stage, three candidates in Sir Roland Sanders, a Guyanese-born Antiguan citizen who had served as that country's high commissioner in London and was a plausible candidate; the much less qualified Dr Bo Tewarie, minister of planning in Trinidad and Tobago who was later withdrawn; and Baroness Scotland, a former attorney general and Cabinet minister in the UK who happened to be born in Dominica and left that country as a small child.


Sir Ronald never got the full support of the region. Baroness Scotland had the resolute support of Dominica and Barbados but was always seen as the candidate of the UK, merely using Dominica as a platform because, since the Commonwealth Secretariat is domiciled in London, international convention prevents a citizen of the UK from being secretary general.


On Friday, Sir Ronald and Baroness Scotland faced off against a third candidate from Africa, signalling that it was not unanimity among the Commonwealth countries that this was indeed the Caribbean's turn to have the post of SG which it last held with Sir Shridath Ramphal. Baroness Scotland was elected to the post.


Whether this was the doing of the UK, unwittingly facilitated by the lack of Caricom unity, or she was the best qualified person, that election is now a reality.


Many will say it does not matter, because the Commonwealth Secretariat is of little importance. Our view is that Caricom should support her in the new job. Those leaders who snubbed her and treated her as pariah must constructively engage her to explore how the region's interest can be best advanced.


The regional grouping now needs to begin a serious process of reflection and emerge with an action plan to restore and make efficacious Caricom's co-ordination in foreign policy.


Regarding candidatures, there must be a transparent process of selection of suitable candidates, building consensus (in time to permit candidates an adequate period to campaign) and well-financed campaigning.


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