TWO years ago, in Grand Anse, this matter was said to be so urgent as to be past due for acceptance and implementation. Its framers said it was among the variety of major challenges awaiting full embrace. They said: “The greatest worry ought to focus on the risks and consequences of failure to act now, and decisively.”
It was a call to arms over the presentation of a report from a group of experts on a plan to create across the member states of the regional integration movement a “new kind of Caribbean citizen.”
This was the tabling of a Human Resource Development (HRD) Report at the 38th regular meeting of the “Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.”
Here is what its authors found, and reported with a huge measure of nervousness: “A low level of performance among secondary school students; male disengagement from the education sector; large numbers of out of school children and youth not engaged in education, employment and training.”
They warned further that “without determined and focused action, current and future generations of children, youth and adults risk being relegated to worsening circumstances of poverty, unemployment, socio-economic disenfranchisement and despair.”
When the report was presented, it further dramatised the situation regarding less-than-enthusiastic responses from the region’s leaders in addressing this and other critical items on the agenda for change and transformation of Caribbean societies. It said while there existed an inter-governmental agreement for giving effect to standardisation and harmonisation of education systems across the region, it had not yet been implemented.
Two years later, the end-of-conference communique from last week’s summit makes no mention of advancing the goals of this report.
But as one indicator of the perilous nature of life in these islands, and the enormous ground to be covered in what is a developmental emergency, a University of the West Indies team in Antigua three weeks ago said it was concerned about the high level of youth unemployment in the Eastern Caribbean.
“Despite potential positives,” the HRD report, pointing towards a new society by 2030, said member states of Caricom “recognise that severe systemic and cultural deficiencies threaten the region’s ability to address future needs, and the contribution of the respective HRD sectors to national and regional development.”
The kind of Caribbean citizen envisaged at the end of this dream is seen to be an individual who would be “able to gain full employment and operate in an environment that guarantees human rights, poverty reduction, mainstreams sustainable development, innovation, productivity and global competitiveness.”
Achievement of these ideals would require what the document’s authors describe as “a whole systems approach based on unprecedented levels of institutional convergence, programmatic coherence and multi-stakeholder partnerships and commitment.”
With no known progress on this developmental emergency, the action, at the expansive Sandals Grand, on St Lucia’s Pigeon Island, centred on the long-delayed ambitions surrounding the Caricom Single Market and Economy. This, of course, just steps ahead of the assessments for equally urgent attention on what is now called “Climate Resilience.”
This is the extent to which the countries in the region can build the kinds of systems that will stand up against the coming impacts of climate change, and the natural hazards that will come with them.
The featured speaker during this summit’s opening ceremony, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, praised the region’s leaders for their support for such efforts as promoted by the UN, and for their combined efforts in looking after their own yards. He pledged continued support for their efforts to reduce vulnerability.
But the leaders themselves were equally consumed with such mundane but vital matters as determining who exactly is an “agricultural worker,” and who can move freely across the region, as among the latest in the expanding categories of people deemed “skilled nationals.”
And in what otherwise was the revival of an initiative that had been tossed aside, the leaders re-opened the door to representatives of the region’s private sector and the labour movement.
These two groups have now been allowed graduation from the days when they were allowed an “exchange of views” at these summits to a proposed position as “associate institution,” through the CSME.
The communique did not specifically speak to it, but the conference was also to have settled on a decision to discontinue the insistence among some member states for duplicating the process of issuing certificates to designated “skilled nationals” coming from one member state to another. This “breakthrough” comes after years of unnecessary nationalistic bureaucracy.
Still, the journey to real progress on the road to regional unity continues to be exceedingly slow.