Saturday, February 24, 2018

Harsh realities in Caricom


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THE Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, on Monday thought it necessary to urge Caricom leaders, ministers and officials to "revisit their personal mission" in the best interest of advancing the goals of the regional economic integration movement.

Prime Minister Stuart, the Caricom head with lead responsibility for matters pertaining to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), was speaking at the opening of a complex of offices of the Caricom Secretariat in the parish of St Michael, Barbados. Was he reflecting his own awareness of how the so-called "pause" mode within Caricom continues to affect vital policies and programmes on the way forward?

Just last week, in addressing the opening session of the seventh Summit of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc of states in Equatorial Guinea, St Lucia's prime minister, Kenny Anthony, current chairman of Caricom, stressed the imperative of "solidarity and unity" among the 79-member nations at the current phase of "economic distress worldwide..."

Good call, Dr Anthony. But it could hardly have escaped him that a most effective way to promote desirable "unity and solidarity" within the ACP would be to first ensure its attainment among Caricom member states.

Perhaps this could be enabled by practising what we preach, guided by critical, fact-based reviews to arrest the growing implementation deficits on policies and projects that have contributed to much of the cynicism and disenchantment among people across the community.

I have previously observed that the future for regional economic integration via the "Caricom enterprise" could be stimulating or quite depressing.

It would depend on the vision, policy directives and level of commitment of the regional leaders to methodically pursue the policies and programmes enshrined in the Revised Caricom Treaty and to ensure effective management.

The current reality, however, is that the Caricom political directorate seems to lack the will to seriously inspire hope among the citizens of the community for a better future; for more meaningful benefits as "one people, of one community" (to borrow a slogan of the Caricom Secretariat), to remove lingering cynicism among too many.

Generally, our leaders are quite good in articulating the problems facing the estimated 14 million people of Caricom. However, they seem to lack the political will, if not the competence, when it comes to taking collective action to move the integration processes forward to transform a trade-based integration enterprise into the promised seamless regional economy (CSME).

Much of today's cynicism and frustration can be traced to this lack of political will among government leaders to implement decisions unanimously adopted.

Examples are people-oriented issues such as free intra-regional movement; establishment of integrated customs and immigration services; grappling with the urgent need for improved air and sea transportation and, generally, engaging in sustained initiatives to inspire and educate the public on the benefits of being citizens of our integration movement in the same way that Europeans have come to understand and appreciate what it means to belong to the European Union (EU), warts and all.

There are readers who would be aware that it is now 20 years since Caricom governments received for consideration and action the seminal "Report of The West Indian Commission" on what policies and programmes could help in positioning this region to contend with an increasingly globalised environment.

A centrepiece of the commission's report was the recommendation to establish an empowered management structure a Caricom Commission functioning in collaboration with the Community Secretariat and Heads of Government, to effectively manage the business of the community.

Twenty years on, this has not occurred! A litany of excuses, rationalisations and numerous reports from commissioned studies have not yet helped to bring Caricom Heads of Government to bite the proverbial bullet for creation of an empowered management architecture.

A harsh reality is that previous and current leaders are yet to come to terms with their own fear of losing direct political control to empowered management technocrats. And this scenario persists despite the leaders benefitting from various reports on the way forward for a transformed management structure to deal with the challenges of our time.

Among such reports would be one that included a technical assessment of management provided by the European Commission of the EU (a major source of funding for Caricom).

Perhaps that's why a few could expediently contend that the historic decision by a Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica to establish the Caricom Commission was only an "agreement in principle"!

Thankfully, there are citizens of our community, in every member state who, as the late visionary Errol Barrow had noted, "are ahead of us, the leaders", on the imperatives of regional unity.

Another harsh reality is that moving away from regional integration back to national separateness is not a viable option. Today's globalised world would have no tolerance for any such development.

Surely the community's leaders have it within their power to remove the burden of cynicism and doubts about the future for regional economic integration by resorting to a process of methodically crafted and implemented policies and programmes anchored in the Revised Caricom Treaty.