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Caricom reform main focus of secretary general

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 04, 2012    

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TEN months into his job as Caricom secretary general Irwin LaRocque is clear that keeping the economic bloc alive will require an overhaul of the secretariat and a reform of the regional integration process.

But LaRocque is also resolute that the job cannot be done by the Caricom Secretariat alone. It will need support from the community's 15 member nations as well as the secretariat's principal organs.

"I have come to this job on a platform of reform. I will try to do as much in my tenure of reforming the integration architecture, starting with the secretariat," he told a group of newspaper editors at the foreign ministry in New Kingston last Friday.

However, LaRocque, who also held discussions in the Jamaican capital with Government, Opposition and business leaders, acknowledged that the Caricom Secretariat is not structured, nor does it have the resources to do all that needs to be done.

"The secretariat can't be all things to all persons. It's just not possible," he said. "We have to prioritise what we need to get done to move our region; do it well, get it off the agenda and move on to something else, and that is what's guiding me going forward."

The reform of the integration architecture, he stated, must start with the secretariat, but it doesn't end there.

"It's big, and it's costing our member states. I don't want to cast judgement on whether it's useful or not. That's going to be done by an independent review," he said, adding that he had identified the funding for the review which will involve more than 20 institutions. However, he opted not to place a timeline on its completion.

"I'm hoping out of that will come a new architecture for integration, because integration cannot be led solely by the Caricom Secretariat. Its constituent parts that make up the specialised agencies have their role to play, and they are playing their role, and the division of labour has to be spelt out as a whole," he said.

LaRocque insisted that the institutions and the secretariat must work in greater tandem in order to "avoid any duplication that may exist and to maximise the use of limited resources that our States are using from taxpayers' dollars".

The reform, the secretary general explained, has to do with how we conduct business in the various governance structures in Caricom.

"It does not end with the institutions only; it is the manner in which our member states conduct their affairs when they come to the regional table. It's about how we do what we do and how we seek to be realistic about what we can do and how we go back home and try to implement," LaRocque said.

Asked how he would like to see the secretariat structured, the secretary general said his desire was for the body, which is based in Georgetown, Guyana, to "be more focused in what it does".

"I would like to see a secretariat that is more structured and I would like to see member countries have the capacity to implement what they say they are going to implement; and how we're going to achieve that has to do with the governance structure of the community, falling short of a central-type authority," he explained.

While accepting that a commission-type arrangement, as exists in Europe, is the best case scenario for the Caricom secretariat, LaRocque pointed out that other jurisdictions, such as Africa, that are testing that structure are having serious problems.

He also pointed to the difficulties being experienced in the European Union with some countries now questioning the value of the union.

Although LaRocque is committed to having the secretariat restructured, he believes it will not materialise in the four remaining years of his tenure.

"You're not going to see a commission created in Georgetown with central authority," he said. "The mood of the region is not in that direction, and the limited energy that you have on resources, you have to know how to channel it."

His sights, he said, are set on making the Caricom Secretariat more relevant and effective. In fact, he described that as "almost a pre-condition of moving things forward".

"I hope that we can also take a real look — and that is going to involve the political directorate — at the manner in which integration affairs are conducted," LaRocque added. "I think it is too easy for us to sit around a table and agree to those things without recognising what it takes to be done and what it takes to implement them when we go back home. I think a reality check has to be taken on those things," he said.

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