Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Stop cursing Caricom as darkness

Dr Franklin Johnston, a strategist, project manager and advisor to Jamaica’s minister of education, wrote a column in the Jamaica Observer of May 30 in which he basically contended that the Caricom and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) are the constructs of “Anglophone black people” and not in the interest of Jamaica.

Rooting his contentions in anti-colonialist sentiment, he stated without evidence that CSME is a “clever fiction inspired by the Brits, aided by cabinets, and sustained by well-paid, unaccountable regional civil servants”. He sets up both Caricom and CSME as hostile to the economic well-being of Jamaica.

Dr Johnston is a welcome voice to the discussion of Caricom and CSME —the exchange of views is imperative as all sections of the Caribbean Community work to improve and enhance the benefits of Caricom for the people of all member states.

But welcome should not be misconstrued as acceptance of the legitimacy of the arguments. It is regrettable, for instance, that among the “Anglophone black people” who are accused of keeping “a colonial legacy alive” by constructing Caricom and CSME would be radical Caribbean thinkers and leaders such as Michael Manley, P J Patterson, Norman Girvan, Louise Bennett, Arthur Lewis, Vaughan Lewis, William Demas, Eric Williams, Errol Barrow, Owen Arthur, C Y Thomas, Havelock Brewster, Shridath Ramphal, Alister McIntyre, TA Marryshow and Ralph Gonsalves.

It is most unfortunate that Dr Johnston, who advises the Jamaican minister of education, attempts to create a divide between Jamaicans and the people of other Caribbean countries by promulgating a false doctrine of Jamaican superiority.

The people of other Caribbean countries greatly admire the accomplishments of Jamaican musicians, athletes and thinkers. Indeed, when Jamaicans compete in international spheres in all endeavours, Caribbean people root for them as one of their own. But Dr Johnston should recall that little St Lucia, with a population ten times smaller than Jamaica’s, has produced two of the Caribbean’s three Nobel Prize winners in Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott—the other being VS Naipaul of Trinidad and Tobago; Brian Lara of Trinidad and Tobago (with a population half that of Jamaica’s) remains the cricketer with the greatest batting records; and the leadership roles played in the international community by persons such as Guyana’s Shridath Ramphal and Grenada’s Alister McIntyre are cause for pride by Caribbean people as a whole.

Dr Johnston also asserts that “CSME zealots” all come to live in Jamaica”. If he means that Caribbean persons are migrating to Jamaica, the facts do not support him. While there are nationals of Caricom countries who work in Jamaica under the skilled nationals certification programme, the number is minuscule in comparison with the number of Jamaicans who have migrated to countries such as Antigua and Barbuda.

Further, in contradiction to the inference that Jamaicans play little role in Caribbean integration, the heads of several important Caribbean institutions are Jamaicans committed to the regional ideal. These institutions include the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Export Development Agency, Caribbean Development Fund and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

As for the trade relations of Jamaica in Caricom, while the unfavourable balance of trade surplus with one country—Trinidad and Tobago—is often cited as detrimental to Jamaica, the largest portion of the cost of Jamaica’s imports is oil and gas, which Jamaica needs in any event and would have to purchase elsewhere.

Jamaica enjoyed a large trade surplus with seven of the 13 CSME countries in 2012. And, while Jamaica should be doing better in the export of goods and services, it is not because CSME does not provide the opening; it is because the private sector there has not taken sufficient advantage of the opportunities, including integrating its production with resources from other Caricom countries.

Further, Jamaica is the largest importer of Caricom products because it has the largest population at 2.7 million people—twice the size of Trinidad and Tobago, and larger than Guyana, Belize, Barbados and seven countries of the Eastern Caribbean. And, contrary to Dr Johnston’s claim, Jamaica is not the poorest country in Caricom in per capita income, and it is one of the richest in natural resources.

Little is achieved by blindly cursing Caricom for any of the woes that Jamaica faces. Some of them could have been alleviated by active participation in making Caricom and the CSME work more effectively; a fault which Jamaica shares with all Caricom countries.