The New Year started with a great deal of frustration being publicly expressed over the Caribbean regional integration project which, this year, will have been in construction for forty-three years. Other integration efforts, such as the European Union (EU), which began after the Caribbean Community and Common market (CARICOM), have moved ahead much faster and much more effectively for the benefit of the people of their member countries.
It is understandable, therefore, that, in an editorial, one of the Caribbean oldest newspapers observed that a majority of people believe that “any official attempt to unite the region as envisaged in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is nothing but reverie and doomed to failure”. To be fair the editorial did not trumpet this observation with glee or satisfaction. It said that “as we enter the second decade of this century, we hold fast, nevertheless, to the idea of one region”.
So, on the one hand, this editorial, reflecting the views of many, still believes in the notion of a deeply integrated Caribbean – “one region”, but it expresses no faith that, after forty-three years, we will see a CSME anytime soon. The editorial identified four contemporary reasons for its lack of faith in any “official” attempt to unite the region.
These reasons were: an unfortunate statement last year by the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister that her government would no longer be “an ATM” machine for other countries of CARICOM; an injudicious remark by the same Prime Minister that, in the provision by her government of assistance to the islands of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines she would expect some benefit for the construction industry of Trinidad and Tobago; the more recent suggestion by Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica that his government favoured setting up its own national final Court of Appeal rather than acceding to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); and that CARICOM heads of government are yet to establish “any executive machinery to enforce” their own policy decisions.
All of these points are valid. There are many more besides. Among them are that instead of getting on with fashioning CARICOM into an effective vehicle to help with the improvement of their people’s lives and progressing development in their countries, some governments are busily trying to cultivate relations with other larger countries far beyond the region to try to get what they can while they can. The latter strategy is, of course, unsustainable. And, as has happened in the past, the governments now flirting, on their own, with bigger countries not on their doorstep will return to the regional fold which is not only their natural home, but also their best hope.
Fortunately, the statements by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, while indicative of an attitude to CARICOM held by many in that country, were made in the early flush of government. In the past, other heads of government have made equally hurtful (and not fully informed) comments in other contexts. The truth is that Trinidad and Tobago is the principal beneficiary of trade in goods and services to CARICOM – benefits are not a one-way street. This is the message that the government in Port-of-Spain should be delivering to its people. Also, to those who say that Trinidad and Tobago does not need the CARICOM market, they should be challenged to identify the alternative markets, how quickly could they be developed if they could be developed at all, and at what cost.
With regard to the statement that Mr Golding has made about establishing Jamaica’s own national, final court of appeal instead of joining the CCJ for this purpose, it really is time that someone bells the cat on this as well. As I pointed out in my last commentary (“Time to make up your mind”), by April this year Jamaicans will head five extremely important CARICOM-wide institutions. These are positions for which the Jamaica government fought and other CARICOM countries agreed. What is the message that is being sent to the people of CARICOM by Jamaica? Is it that all is well when Jamaica holds the reins, but it isn’t well when other CARICOM nationals are involved? This cannot be so, and Mr Golding is far too intelligent a man and too well informed to hold such a position. The time has come for Jamaica’s leadership to cease pandering to the false notion of some special Jamaican capacity, and, instead, spread the true message that this region is one – and one to which Jamaica’s contribution has been highly regarded by its Caribbean brothers and sisters.
The quicker that the CARICOM Secretariat, as part of an overall reform of all its activities, is given the resources and empowered to mount a sustained, multi-media campaign throughout the region on how membership of the Caribbean Community has benefitted, and can continue to benefit, the people of each CARICOM country the better. And, every government should regard it as its responsibility and obligation to carry out its own domestic programme of education and information.
Of the four points made in the Editorial to which this commentary refers, the most crucial is its observation that “the decade closed without the establishment of any executive machinery to enforce the implementation of policy decisions by heads of government”. This is – and has been for decades – the fundamental problem with the lack of progress of CARICOM in establishing the CSME and even in carrying out a range of activities that are routine in organisations similar to CARICOM.
In his New Year’s address as Chairman of CARICOM until July 2011, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Tillman Thomas, said that “the cry for the ‘quickening of the pace’ was heard” and “active consideration of new governance structures” was given by CARICOM leaders. He offered that “one of the main ideas in taking the necessary steps will be tested in this coming year with the establishment of the Permanent Committee of CARICOM Ambassadors” which, he said, “heralds a new dawn for our Community”.
Mr Thomas is right to hold out hope, but it is difficult to see how another layer of national representatives will implement policy decisions of Heads, when ministers and the Secretariat were not able to do so.
The CARICOM vehicle needs an urgent overhaul, or it really will be a case of ‘CARICOM and gone’.