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Caricom needs improved reputation, culture change

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The necessity for Caricom to survive to advance the interests of our region, for us, is a non-debate. What we believe is more important is to focus on the quality of that survival and the reputation that Caricom enjoys in the eyes of the world.

The reputation of an individual, an organisation and a country is an invaluable asset. The benefit of a good reputation, especially for honouring commitments, goes beyond pride and self-esteem as it can be the basis for better relations and affect material gains.

On the contrary, a reputation for being unreliable can be costly because entities hesitate to make agreements with individuals, organisations or countries that are not creditworthy.

The reputation of Caricom, as a group of countries, is a complex issue because it depends on the collective behaviour of the group and the conduct of individual member states, including how we treat each other within the grouping.

What sort of reputation does Caricom have? How is the region seen by the rest of the World? Is Caricom seen as a partner that can be relied upon to adhere to the commitments that it makes with other countries? Is Caricom seen as abiding by the rules of the international organisations that its member states subscribe to?

Admittedly, the reputation of Caricom is not what it should be nor what we should want it to be. Frankly, Caricom is viewed in some quarters as a group of small middle-income developing countries that are not willing to take the difficult policy decisions which are deemed to be necessary.

It does not help that we have not fully implemented the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and the Caribbean Court of Justice. At the national level the unsustainable debt levels of several Caricom countries is seen as unwillingness to pursue proper fiscal management.

Several member states are viewed as mendicants who are convinced that their small size gives them an entitlement to aid. We are always asking for aid and doing whatever is necessary to get it. Diplomatic allegiance sometimes goes to the highest bidder and governments are willing to switch allegiances in a process of competitive bidding.

Having gained special and differential treatment in the economic partnership agreement with the European Union (EU), eight member states have not honoured their obligations in this international agreement. To compound our default we do not communicate that we have difficulties but complain that the EU should not be pressuring us.

There is an impression that we have to be forced to do the right thing. Take, for instance, the case of Grenada which, because of a debt to Taiwan, subjected itself and, by extension, the entire region to the embarrassment of having a court in the US award Taiwan the right to attach foreign exchange earnings.

In addition, we need to stop consorting with people like Mr Allen Stanford, who was 'knighted' by Antigua and Barbuda. We reiterate, as well, that the disputed president of Suriname should not be allowed to chair Caricom, and the region should not be shamed by affairs like the attempt by the former Jamaican Government to block the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The fact, too, that some governments are not consistently paying their contributions to regional and international organisations does not paint a good picture of us.

Caricom needs to urgently repair its reputation, and this should begin with honouring our obligations in international agreements and among ourselves. This requires a new culture that is accepted and demonstrated by all member states.

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