PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – As he gets ready to take over the leadership of the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Irwin LaRocque knows the next three years will not be easy for him and the regional integration movement.
More than six months after Sir Edwin Carrington stepped down as the secretary general of the 15-member CARICOM grouping, regional governments have given the nod to the 56-year-old Dominican national to become the seventh person to hold the top public servant in the Caribbean.
Ever since he was named as the new Secretary General, the soft spoken LaRocque has been receiving congratulatory messages from near and far, including one from José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“You have been an active participant in some of the more recent discussions for the strengthening of the regional integration movement, one of the oldest in the world, and that I am therefore confident that you will bring a new and refreshing perspective on advancing the CARICOM integration process in the 21st century,” he said.
But the Jamaica Observer newspaper said despite the inevitable flurry of perfunctory letters of congratulations, it is sure LaRocque “is fully aware that his honeymoon, if it can be called that, will be short lived.
“His first task will be to gain the confidence of the political leadership and senior officials of the region. What nobody has said openly is that in the leadership of the region there is widespread concern ranging from disappointment to resignation,” the paper said in an editorial.
Since 2005, LaRocque has been serving as the Assistant Secretary-General for Trade and Economic Integration at the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat.
“I am humbled and privileged for this opportunity to continue my service to the Governments and people of the Caribbean Community,” he said in a brief statement.
“I think it is no secret a lot of things are said about CARICOM and what it means and does not mean and what it has achieved and not achieved and I think there are a lot of expectations so a number of these issues will have to be taken into account and at the end of the day see how we can continue with the integration of the community.”
LaRocque has promised that his tenure would be used to deepen the integration process, since “the future of the region lies with integration.
“In this world it is very difficult to go it alone and the more the region can do together to serve the development and to face the onslaught from the larger world, I think the imperative must be addressed,” LaRocque told state-owned Dominica Broadcasting Service (DBS) radio.
When he announced the selection of LaRocque from a field of five candidates, the CARICOM Chairman and St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas, said his colleagues believed that the new man “possesses the requisite skills of visionary leadership, courage and commitment required to guide the Community at this time of change and uncertainty”.
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said he was confident that his fellow national would do well in addressing the major challenges facing CARICOM.
“The Community requires a tremendous overhaul and we have been saying as heads of government that we need to have a restructured CARICOM to respond to the present challenges.
“While the core functions of CARICOM will remain, there are certain issues and challenges that the Secretariat must appear to be mindful of,” Skerrit said.
Douglas has already made it clear that the pace at which the region moves forward will be determined from the results from a number of the analyses of the 38-year-old 15-member grouping.
“That is why to a large extent we have insisted to the consultants who are doing the review of the Secretariat ‘get your work done as quickly as possible because we are at the point where maybe a crisis is unfolding and we need to be able to stop it in its track and move forward with some new vigour, some new action especially on the part of the people of the region.”
LaRocque, a graduate of the New School for Social Research in New York and New York University, majoring in political philosophy, political economics and economics, will have his work cut out for him, particularly a doubting Caribbean population has kept referring to CARICOM as “CARIGONE”.
“As Assistant Secretary-General, he has provided strategic leadership for the continuing implementation and further development of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), as well as the Sectoral Programmes of the Community including agriculture, services, industry and energy,” the CARICOM Secretariat said when announcing his new appointment.
But the former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Professor Norman Girvan, while welcoming LaRcoque’s selection, said it was also necessary for him to receive the “full support” of regional leaders as he attempts to steer the regional integration grouping over the next three years.
“I know him to be a person of professionalism, integrity and proven commitment to regionalism,” Girvan said, adding “Mr. LaRocque should not be given a basket to carry water.
“If CARICOM is to be re-energised and if the implementation deficit is to be addressed, Mr LaRocque will need to have the full support of the Heads of Government for reform of governance to provide legal teeth to the decisions of CARICOM organs and to establish an executive authority to oversee implementation,” he added.
Noted Caribbean political scientist, Professor Neville Duncan, who believes that LaRocque is capable of “doing great things” has also been critical of regional governments for taking a «very long time» in appointing a new secretary general and also not outlining the terms of reference for the job.
«They can’t expect the new man to come in and define his new role and function. It has to be the CARICOM heads who do that kind of think,» he said, adding «again true to form they are slipping up on the job».
He said the leaders had been trying to get the region excited by the prospects of a rejuvenated CARICOM and a reformed Secretariat, but asked “what exactly are they planning to do with that Secretariat and to what use will they put it to ensure quality regional integration. None of that was spoken about and I am very disappointed,» Duncan told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
Duncan said that while many studies on CARICOM undertaken by the University of the West Indies were gathering dust somewhere he expects thee will be new initiatives, including how decisions are arrived at during the annual summit of regional leaders.
«I think most of the decisions should be approved at the national level first before coming to the CARICOM heads of government meeting …and the Secretariat should ensure that such activities are well coordinated and done in a timely manner so that heads of governments meetings are not a waste of time.»
The Caribbean Movement for Civil Empowerment (CMCE), which sent a petition to the regional leaders during their summit in St. Kitts earlier this year, said that while the people of the Caribbean view integration as crucial for the region’s survival and development, there is a strong sense that the process of integration is in decline and is in need of renewed leadership.
It wants the new secretary general “to lead a complete overhaul of both the governance structures and the orientation of the CARICOM Secretariat, giving it the legal space to become an implementation institution”.
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