What took Caricom so long?Thursday, May 13, 2021
When we trumpeted the almost certain selection of Caricom's first woman secretary general on April 6, 2021 in this space we were confident that Belizean Dr Carla Barnett would create that important history and make the regional bloc look good.
Caribbean Community leaders, at the virtual 21st Special Meeting of the 15-member grouping, gave the nod to a steady and proven hand in Dr Barnett, who also served as the first woman deputy secretary general from 1997 to 2002.
Dr Barnett, a diplomat and junior minister for labour, local government and rural development in Belize, will leave Belmopan to succeed Mr Irwin LaRocque in Georgetown, Guyana, when his term expires in August this year.
Mr LaRocque did not bring the larger-than-life personality of a Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal or an Allister McIntyre to the job he has held since August 2011. Neither was he a darling of the regional press. But he worked assiduously, quietly, and skilfully to steer the secretariat through one of its most trying periods, including the unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic, and before that the worrying threat of a Jamaican breakaway from the 48-year-old grouping over doubts about not benefiting enough from the association.
The choice of his replacement seemed clear to us, and, apparently, the full Community Council of Minister's, led by Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, because of her previous tenure at the secretariat, her academic qualification — she holds a PhD — and her wider experience as a minister in the Belizean Government.
Indeed, the die was cast, as the leading candidates for the post came down to two women, both of them of substance, which is a thing of pride for the region. The other was Ambassador Dr Manorma Soeknandan of Suriname, who is the current Caricom deputy secretary general and herself a PhD holder.
We support the election of a woman to the post of secretary general, but not simply because she is a woman. The best candidate must be selected regardless of gender, and we are happy that no one can justifiably question the professional qualification and experience of Dr Barnett. So let's end that debate before it starts.
Of course, we admit to some surprise that it is only now, after almost five decades, that the region is selecting a woman, given the indisputable truth that our women have distinguished themselves at all levels of local and regional governments.
What is not surprising, however, is that our women have been responding to the need and the opportunities to expand their education and qualification, as seen by the 70 per cent enrolment at the tertiary institutions, compared with men.
And who will dare to dispute with us that the progress and development of the Caribbean Community has happened on the backs of the women?
Yet, it is necessary to make the point that Dr Barnett will need all the help she can get from the regional leadership, and not the usual lip service and fancy phrases, if she is to make a difference, especially in facing the daunting and immediate task of leading a post-pandemic Caricom.
In our April 6 editorial we outlined some of the more compelling tasks a new secretary general will face and so no need to rehash them here. We wish Dr Barnett every possible success.
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