By Peter Richards
BASSETERRE, St Kitts, CMC – As they gather here for their annual summit starting on Friday, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders must by now be painfully aware that their regional publics have lost their exuberance for the much touted ideas for deepening the regional integration process.
The July 1-4 event will allow Haiti’s President Michel Martelly to meet for the first time with his regional colleagues following his election victory earlier this year.
The speeches at the opening of their 32nd summit on Thursday evening will no doubt be punctuated with calls to ensure that the restructuring exercise is completed as soon as possible so that the much heralded improved governance structure for the 15-member grouping would go into effect quickly as the Caribbean continues to grapple with a changing global environment.
But as one senior Caribbean diplomat pointed out recently, the issue of good governance in CARICOM has generated much discussion as “its citizens become increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of progress with the community’s agenda”.
In fact, when they emerged from the two-day retreat in Guyana in May, the regional leaders said they were re-affirming the decision taken at their inter-sessional meeting in Grenada in February “to await the completion of the current review of the CARICOM Secretariat” before any firm decision is taken.
The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper in an editorial earlier this month, noted that breaking the logjam on governance would require the approval of CARICOM’s two most important power brokers: Jamaica, on the political front, and Trinidad and Tobago, the Community’s strongest economy.
“These are real issues that CARICOM has to work through,” the paper said, adding that CARICOM also “suffers… from a deficit of legal arrangements”.
It is a point that has not lost on the outgoing CARICOM Chairman and Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, who has argued that one of the reasons for the lack of implementation within CARICOM is the fact that there is no legal basis for member countries to do so.
In a paper which he presented to his regional colleagues, Thomas said the Caribbean leaders had also acknowledged “a loss of momentum with regard to the regional integration agenda.
“It is the view of some that the accumulation of scepticism and disillusionment resulting from the ‘Implementation Deficit’ can undermine the progress already made in building the Caribbean Community,” Thomas said, adding that CARICOM needs to undertake concrete actions that deliver tangible benefits to the regional population and demonstrate the value of regionalism in ways that touch on their daily lives.
“The problem is, and has always been, with implementation. CARICOM decisions do not have the force of law; and there is no real machinery to ensure implementation,” notes prominent University of the West Indies (UWI) academic, Professor Norman Girvan. “And at the root of this is the reluctance of member states to share their insular sovereignty with the community of all regional states acting collectively,” adds Girvan, a former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and professorial research fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations.
Thomas wants the region to emulate the European Union as it deals with what Girvan refers to as the “deep seated problems and implementation” within CARICOM.
According to Thomas, the EU is a good example of a succession of stages by which authority was devolved to provide the legal basis for collectively made decisions in certain key areas. He said the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which also includes his country, has agreed to move in this direction with its new Economic Union Treaty.
“This is a clear lesson of the experience of the European Union for CARICOM and offers a way of overcoming the impasse in CSME (CARICOM Single Market and Economy) implementation while preserving the longer run integrity of the integration process.”
In the Grand Anse Declaration of 1989, widely regarded as the blueprint for modern day efforts to deepen the regional integration process, there was acknowledgement that there was need for a people centered governance structure. In fact, the declaration spoke of “the special roles of ……people of all walks and conditions of life in moving CARICOM forward”.
Since then, many studies have been commissioned to look at the issue of governance and the prevailing idea has been for a Commission of three prominent persons with executive powers to ensure implementation of decision.
“The elitist, top down construct of the Commission proposed over the years flies in the face of effective implementation when there is a general acceptance that citizen participation is vital to moving the integration process forward,” notes Ellsworth John, a St. Vincent and the Grenadines diplomat.
This will be the first full summit where a substantive Secretary General is not in place. Ironically, the last person to hold the post, Sir Edwin Carrington, will be at the four-day meeting, but in his new position as Trinidad and Tobago’s ambassador to CARICOM.
Thomas said that the appointment of a new secretary general should be regarded as an opportunity to initiate the re-engineering of the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat in the light of the enhanced responsibilities and legal authority being proposed and for dynamic leadership of the integration process.
“The new secretary general should be capable of driving the regional integration project – one who is imbued also with a sense of political and diplomatic strategy, and who brings to the office sufficient personal stature to be a respected, courageous and independent chief executive.
“The secretary general should be free to recruit a supporting Executive Management Team (EMT) at the appropriate level. He or she would be expected to produce a clearly-defined, results-oriented timetable to implement the Immediate Action Plan,” he added.
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce said it viewed the appointment of a replacement for Sir Edwin as being very urgent given that in recent months “there have been several public incidents that have caused the region to question the value and relevance of CARICOM.
It said the most “known example of this is, six years after member states were supposed to implement the single market fundamental components like the freedom of movement have not been put into action.
The regional journalist, Rickey Singh, has noted that CARICOM governments have “boxed themselves into a difficult position by contradictory and, at times, quite distasteful actions, in dealing with cases of migrants from member states.
As it relates to the Single Economy, the regional leaders have acknowledged that “the process towards full implementation would take longer than anticipated and agreed it may be best to pause and consolidate the gains of the Single Market before taking any further action on certain specific elements of the Single Economy”.
Perhaps the regional leaders will use the summit to, as the Jamaica Observer newspaper urges, to “tell the Caribbean people what has contributed to the delay in this most crucial project that was inaugurated with such great fanfare here in Jamaica in 2006”.
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