Thursday, February 29, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: Sad absence of Caricom’s political will


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IT IS GOOD to look for pleasant surprises to emerge from annual summits of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). But it seems pointless to keep hope alive for any progress from next week’s 31st Heads of Government Conference in Montego Bay on the elusive issue of a new governance system to ensure better management of the 15-member Community.Current and previous regional leaders have pretty much talked to death the long advocated, much discussed, amended and re-defined idea of a high-level CARICOM Commission, vested with executive authority, to preside over the affairs of the region’s economic integration movement under the supervision of the Heads of Government.Until their regular annual summit of 2008, that was held in Antigua, the leaders were in the habit of using language – some tongue-in-cheek – to convey the impression of support for an executive management system of CARICOM, even drawing on lessons from the European Commission.Then, as one of two new prime ministers (the other being Barbados’ David Thompson), at that summit, Jamaica’s Bruce Golding was to make known his position on a new governance system. He had no encouragement to offer.He stressed that while supportive of the major pillars of CARICOM, such as functional cooperation and arrangements for a single market and economy (CSME), his administration was not interested, at this time, in embracing a mechanism that could impact Jamaica’s national sovereignty in governance. This stand, openly stated by the Jamaican prime minister, would have been quietly shared by a few others who think of a CARICOM Commission (or similar mechanism) as a threat to their “big fish” leadership role in a “small pool”. Golding’s position meant that the concept of an empowered management system had effectively been locked away in “no action” files.It is painful to recall who among current and past CARICOM heads of government were more or less passionate in their commitment to move, on a continual basis, the pace towards realisation of a new architecture of management, even as they kept alluding to an overburdened Community Secretariat that was no longer an approriate governance model. Among the leaders who could have been more forthcoming, but got lost in the words game on new governance, were articulate advocates of CARICOM – such as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, President Bharrat Jagdeo, and past prime ministers Owen Arthur, PJ Patterson and Patrick Manning.Do not look forward, therefore, to a resolution at next week’s summit in Montego Bay of this problem that has for too long been postponed due to a lack of collective political will by Heads of Government. In the process, realisation of the Community’s flagship project, the CSME, continues to suffer. It has been a long journey for better management of CARICOM – from the report of the 1992 West Indian Commission, chaired by Shridath Ramphal, to the Rose Hall Declaration of the 2003 summit with PJ Patterson as host; next to a Prime Ministerial Working Group (chaired by Ralph Gonsalves); later followed by a Technical Working Group, headed by Vaughan Lewis. Yet, the talks continue. The promised new governance system remains elusive and the goal post for CSME-readiness arrangements keeps shifting.


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