BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Five prominent citizens of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), among them a former prime minister and two chancellors of the University of the West Indies (UWI), have issued a strong warning against "a threat to the very existence of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)".
The concerns are outlined in an "open statement to our Caribbean people" released to the media Friday and simultaneously forwarded directly to all Caricom Heads of Government.
It was also sent to Michael de la Bastide, president of the CCJ, headquartered in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; and president of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Compton Bourne, headquartered in Barbados.
Signatories to the statement, all of whom are recipients of the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) -- Caricom's highest honour -- are: Percival Patterson, former long-serving prime minister of Jamaica; Sir Shridath Ramphal, former chancellor of the UWI and chairman of the West Indian Commission; Sir George Alleyne, current UWI chancellor and former head of the Pan- American Health Organisation; Dominica's Head of State Nicholas Liverpool; and Sir Alister McIntryre, former secretary general of Caricom and vice-chancellor of the UWI.
The CCJ, which was ceremonially inaugurated on April 16, 2005 in Port-of-Spain, serves both as a final appellate institution for some Caricom states (currently Barbados, Guyana and Belize) and for all members as the court of original jurisdiction in resolving trade and other disputes.
At the core of their issued warning is that any development leading to the dislocation of the CCJ from its current headquarters base in Port-of-Spain could well prove fatal to the very existence of this regional institution that has for many years been in the making.
They stressed that "any attempt to create a climate of hostility to the CCJ by distortions in the country of the court's location is serious in itself. When it is accompanied by suggestions of creating a National Court of Appeal in place of the CCJ, the implications for the people of the Caribbean Community, including Trinidad and Tobago, become stark and troubling..."
Avoiding any specific examples, the distinguished group of Caricom nationals explained that the issues of concern "have taken the form of studied distortions in the media regarding Trinidad and Tobago's financial obligations to the regional court and related innuendoes about that country's withdrawal from the (CCJ) process..."
Among Caricom leaders who were sent the statement "challenging media assertions on the CCJ", is the community's newest prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago.
However, in a brief telephone conversation yesterday with Patterson, the former three-term prime minister of Jamaica, this correspondent was told that the signatories to the statement "have no reasons to involve in any way the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago in the media assertions on the CCJ".
They stressed that in view of some of the distortions that could seriously undermine the CCJ's very existence, it should be quite clear to all concerned that Trinidad and Tobago, under previous administrations, had "fought forcefully" for the regional court to be located in that Caricom state.
Other member states had also demonstrated keen interest in being the headquarters for the CCJ but in the end Trinidad and Tobago emerged as the location of choice.
Central to those arrangements was the establishment of a Regional Trust Fund (RTF) from which the costs of the CCJ would be met. The agreement establishing the CCJ on this basis was signed on February 14, 2001 by 12 Caricom heads, among them the then prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Basdeo Panday.
The operational costs of the CCJ are being provided from a Trust Fund of approximately US$100 million, raised by the CDB and all participating countries have agreed to fixed contributions.
Trinidad and Tobago heads the list with a contribution of US$31.6 million; Jamaica is next with US$28.7 million; Barbados US$13.5 million; Guyana US$8 million; and the OECS countries and Belize are responsible for US$2.2 million each.
The eminent OCC awardees noted that Caricom member states -- individually and collectively -- "face severe challenges in the international political economy and in their regional institutions to help fulfil their aspirations for social and economic development. It is no time for retreat; it is time to go forward".