CARIFORUM — which comprises Caricom and the Dominican Republic — has, since its inception via artificial insemination by the European Union declaring it to be a region, been plagued by ambiguity in the process and institutional arrangements for governance.
These organisational problems require an urgent resolution because they have hampered the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and are a serious barrier to the type of dialogue that is imperative to the integration of the wider Caribbean.
There is a recognition that the extant unsatisfactory institutional arrangements have to be changed, but views widely differ among CARIFORUM member states on how to effect this change.
The dilemma is that there are now two secretariats, namely the Caricom Secretariat, an inefficient underfunded bureaucracy, and a CARIFORUM Secretariat which is really a fictitious institution in which the number two spot is given to a national of the Dominican Republic. This post is accorded the status of an assistant secretary general of Caricom. The same person serves as Secretary General of both the Caricom and CARIFORUM secretariats. It is obvious that the parallel bureaucracies are expensive political optics.
One must ask, should there be one or two secretariats and, if there are two secretariats, should there be one or two secretaries general?
The justification is that Caricom is well advanced in the regional integration process with the goal being an "economic union", the ultimate stage in economic integration, while CARIFORUM is a group held together only by being signatories to the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement.
Does the EPA implementation process require a whole secretariat or will the EPA Implementation Unit — adequately staffed and funded — suffice for the task? This raises the concern of whether the Unit, which is a part of the Caricom Secretariat, can serve the Dominican Republic since it is not a member state of Caricom nor is its future membership an agreed goal.
The Dominican Republic has consistently questioned the continued role of the Caricom secretary general serving as secretary general of CARIFORUM. This arrangement means that the Dominican Republic has no input in the selection of the secretary general of CARIFORUM, that a citizen of the Dominican Republic will never be secretary general of CARIFORUM, and that the Dominican Republic has no say in the superintending of the EPA Implementation Unit.
All of this is made more difficult by the fact that the Dominican Republic has a history of isolation and no tradition or culture of cooperation with the region. It is not a part of Central America in spite of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and it is not a member of Caricom. It has no particular relationship with Cuba and has perpetual difficulties with its most immediate neighbour, Haiti.
The export opportunities that emanate from the EPA and the benefits of regional integration encompassing the Dominican Republic are too important to the future economic development of the region to allow their postponement because of institutional arrangements which are not transparent, democratic and inclusive.
Decisive action is urgently required for the good of the region and to forestall the perennial threat of the Dominican Republic giving up on the onerous process of working with Caricom and seeking its own national path to EPA implementation.