Caribbean: Regional Bloc Struggles to Implement Agenda

Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas cited «a loss of momentum with regard to the regional integration agenda».

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BASSETERRE, St Kitts, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, including the new Haitian President Michel Martelly, will gather here Friday for their annual summit as impatience grows with an array of stalled regional integration initiatives.

Officials hope that Thursday night’s ceremonial opening, with Martelly and others, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza, in attendance, will hasten the ongoing restructuring intended to make the 15-member grouping more effective. 

As one senior Caribbean diplomat pointed out recently, «citizens [have] become increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of progress with the community’s agenda». 

The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper noted in an editorial earlier this month that breaking the logjam on governance requires the approval of CARICOM’s two most important power brokers: Jamaica, on the political front, and Trinidad and Tobago, the Community’s strongest economy. 

In addition, the paper said CARICOM also «suffers… from a deficit of legal arrangements». 

This point is not lost on Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, the outgoing CARICOM chair, 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 presented to his regional colleagues and obtained by IPS, Thomas cited «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). 

Thomas wants the region to emulate the European Union as it deals with what Girvan describes 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 includes his country, is moving 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,» he said. 

The Grand Anse Declaration of 1989, widely regarded as the blueprint for modern-day efforts to deepen the regional integration process, acknowledged a need for a people-centred 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 decisions. 

«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. He will also be conferred with the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC), the region’s highest award. 

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,» he said. 

«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 as 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. 

Other issues on the table at the summit include regional health care, ahead of a United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in September. 

While other initiatives may be slow to come to fruition, CARICOM has successfully worked to establish a Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) as a legal entity, providing a more effective response to regional health emergencies by consolidating the core functions of the five regional health institutions. 


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