THE bureau of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), at its recent meeting, decried disparaging comments by foreign financial and economic commentators. Why is Caricom not getting respect for its economic policy?
Nobody is obliged to assist anyone else, but the willingness to help is usually stimulated by sympathy with someone who cannot help himself because of circumstances beyond his control. This may be due to a deformity, which may require permanent assistance, or to tragic events, such as natural disasters or sudden job loss, which may require temporary assistance.
Assistance is necessary to enable the person to regain the capacity to take care of his own needs. How long is temporary and how much assistance is required invariably depend on evidence that the needy is making an effort to help himself, ie finding some form of employment or economic activity.
These are the unwritten but binding rules of charity and they are applied by individuals and governments alike. Indeed, the patience of governments in developed countries, who traditionally provide foreign aid, has worn thin with developing countries which refuse to accept responsibility for their own economic salvation.
The stagnation in economic growth that they are experiencing is making it increasingly difficult to justify to their own unemployed giving money to people in other countries, unless they are living on US$2 per day or require humanitarian aid after a flood or famine.
None of the countries of the Caribbean are so poor or disadvantaged to the extent that they cannot help themselves. They are seen by some aid donors as not willing to take responsibility for their own economic development or to take the tough decisions necessary to achieve economic growth.
If the Caricom Heads of Government do not want to be the subject of disparaging comments, then they must change their policy to one of self-reliance. If a country is helping itself, the chances of getting a receptive hearing are far better.
How can a country demand respect when so much depends on remittances and the inflow of aid from the multilaterals? Respect is earned, and it cannot be awarded to countries that only refresh the platform for soliciting aid.
The history of the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) illustrates a lack of credibility. Before, during and after the EPA negotiations, Caricom governments were asking how much aid they would receive, completely overlooking the possibilities of exporting to the EU market through the EPA.
Last week, the EU announced its promise of ¤1 billion at the 11th European Development Fund Caribbean Regional Programming Seminar in Guyana. At the same meeting, President Ramotar of Guyana wondered "if any Caribbean country has actually benefited in a tangible way from the implementation of the EPA, and if not, why".
The answer is very simple: the EPA has not been implemented after five years.
Is it any wonder that the region is seen as unwilling to help itself but is always asking for charity, sorry, we meant "aid"? We hope the intention to establish a Caricom Economy Commission will help to reverse this unfortunate perception of our region.