CARICOM standing still, says St Vincent PM

first_imgNewsRegional CARICOM standing still, says St Vincent PM by: – February 23, 2012 St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph GonsalvesKINGSTOWN, St Vincent — in a wide-ranging letter earlier this month to Irwin La Rocque, secretary general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said that CARICOM’s current mode of marking time is mistaken and such a pause is merely a euphemism for standing still.“CARICOM’s current mode of marking time, at an historical moment of overwhelmingly awesome challenges for our region which compelling demands a more profound integration, is mistaken… ‘pausing’ is but a euphemism for standing still, which in a dynamic world is sliding backwards,” Gonsalves said, referring to the decision by CARICOM leaders at a special conclave in Guyana about a year ago to put the “single economy” process “on pause”.In his letter, headed “On strategic directions for CARICOM,” Gonsalves acknowledged that CARICOM has achieved much but said that its extraordinary promise is yet to be fulfilled. “Its greatest accomplishment thus far has been to keep alive, in an institutional form, however ramshackle, the sensibility of Caribbeanness and the dream of the optimally possible political expression of our enduring Caribbean civilisation,” he said.“Minimalism in integration has its attractions but, in our regional context, it can be fatal to our people’s well-being. At the same time, admittedly, starryeyed maximalism, in the extant political circumstances, amounts to planting one’s feet firmly in the air. But surely, the times demand that we move resolutely beyond minimalism which inexorably leads to regression,” Gonsalves continued.Pointing to accelerated integration elsewhere in the region, he said that the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has moved resolutely towards an “economic union”; the ALBA-TCP, at its eleventh summit recently in Caracas, resolved to advance its integration towards a “single economic space”; and more widely, the recently-formed Community of States of the Caribbean and Latin America (CELAC) determined in December 2011, to embrace more decidedly political, trading, and functional cooperation between member-countries.“Interestingly, the governments of Haiti, Suriname and St Lucia have formally signaled their intention to become members of ALBA-TCP, thus finding common cause under this integration umbrella with three other CARICOM member-states, Antigua-Barbuda, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. I predict that more CARICOM member-states are likely in the not-too-distant future to apply for membership in ALBA-TCP,” Gonsalves said.According to Gonsalves, of CARICOM’s fourteen independent member-states (Antigua-Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago), two of them (Bahamas and Haiti) are engaged only in “functional”, as distinct from “economic/trade”, arrangements. Additionally, Belize and Suriname have historically been on the margins of Caribbean integration, though recently they have moved towards its centre-stage. For four years (September 2007 to December 2011), Jamaica, being preoccupied with its own internal challenges and a restricted engagement in CARICOM, conceptually and practically, was less weighty in regional affairs than hitherto. “Similarly, Trinidad and Tobago, in most recent times, does not evince a practical enthusiasm for a deeper CARICOM union and has all but abandoned leadership responsibilities in Project CARICOM!” he said.Gonsalves went on to say that “the OECS Six” have immersed themselves in a sub-regional “economic union”, given the limited material benefits, if any, which accrue to them from CARICOM as currently configured and functioning. Guyana continues “to hold the fort” as the home of the CARICOM Secretariat but even its most vaunted proposal, the Jagdeo Initiative in Agriculture, has come to naught, in practice if not in policy, due mainly to an insufficiency of resources.“That pithy summation of the member-states’ actual relationship to CARICOM encapsulates that which scars our innocence and retards the optimal functioning of CARICOM itself. Correctives suggest themselves; and the flesh may be willing but the spirit is weak; the mood is somber. To be sure, mood has to be contrasted to strength, but a prolonged, indifferent mood saps strength and induces debilitating ailments,” he said.CARICOM’s mandates rest on four pillars, Gonsalves explained: functional cooperation; coordination of foreign policy; security collaboration; and economic integration. “There has been much success in the area of functional cooperation but often one gets the impression that success is assured mainly when the policies, programmes or projects are driven by the funding and will of an external agency. Foreign policy coordination is patchy at best; its unevenness exacerbated by the passion, innocence or a lack of conviction of many of us. Security collaboration is largely in tatters as we move beyond those halcyon days of Cricket World Cup 2007,” he said.On economic integration, Gonsalves said that the CARICOM trading regime is in place juridically, but it is undermined daily, for example, by the unfairness of effective subsidies granted on fuel to the producers of goods and services in one CARICOM member-state. On wider economic issues of critical importance in the “single market” such as the freedom of movement of persons and attendant contingent rights, the twists and contradictions are yet to be satisfactorily resolved.Turning to the impact of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) on CARICOM, Gonsalves said that the EPA has introduced a new strategic element in the regional integration process and which possesses implications for CARICOM. Given the “free trade” dimensions of the EPA, he said it is likely that three poles of crisscrossing integration may emerge within the broader frame of CARICOM itself:(1) In the northwest Caribbean, a closer economic linkage between Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. The processes of commercial liberalisation in Cuba and decolonisation in Puerto Rico are bound to draw these two resource-endowed countries into the orbit of this north-western pole of regional integration.(2) An eastern-south eastern pole of integration compns1ng the Windward and Leeward Islands, the French Overseas Territories, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, potentially under the leadership of the latter country if it could be so energised. If not, Guyana will, in time, slowly emerge dominant.(3) A distinct pole of the deepest form of economic integration, the OECS Economic Union, which will be at once protective of its special and differential condition and open to the construction of a modern, dynamic, post-colonial economy which is global, regional, and national.Competing, and crisscrossing, is the deepening of ALBA-TCP and the special trading regimes to emerge between Canada and CARICOM, and USA and CARICOM.“So, I arrive at a query of immediacy: Is CARICOM interested in placing itself strategically at the confluence of these economic and trading tributaries? If so, how, and when? And what are the implications of all this for CARICOM’s governance arrangements? These issues demand urgent reflection and appropriate policy responses, regionally,” Gonsalves said.“One thing is sure: CARICOM cannot continue ducking these burning questions or addressing them in a piece-meal, ad hoc, or disconnected manner. Our intellectuals, social partners, regional institutions, and governments must place these matters at the centre of their public policy concerns,” he continued.In what he described as a “central failure in the design and functioning of CARICOM,” Gonsalves said that its focus has been on integrating state institutions and trading regimes, and not on the people themselves. “To be sure, state institutions and trading arrangements touch and concern people, at the first remove, but the people-centred matter of the freedom of movement of people, including hassle-free travel, remains substantially elusive,” he pointed out.According to Gonsalves, CARICOM’s leaders have canvassed repeatedly the ramifications of this “free movement” conundrum but the people, particularly from Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, remain largely dissatisfied. “I am not minimising the attendant challenges, but I am sure that we can do much better on this issue if we truly commit to its resolution, in practical terms, being especially cognizant of our obligations in international law towards migrants, and the letter and spirit of CARICOM,” he stated.The OECS member-countries of CARICOM have some specific grouses, Gonsalves said, including: the limited capitalisation of the CARICOM Development Fund; the veritable collapse of the discretionary CARICOM Petroleum Facility out of Trinidad and Tobago; the decline of the manufacturing sector in the OECS, occasioned, in part, by unfair competition from at least one other CARICOM exporting country and the absence of a proper enforcement of the relevant CARICOM rules regarding protection of certain manufactured commodities from the OECS; the unresolved challenges in air transport, including unfair competitive subsidies granted to one airline; and Trinidad and Tobago’s illegitimate monopoly, through the Caribbean Air Navigation and Advisory Services (CANAS) of all the resources derived from the Piarco Flight Information Region (PFIR) , which includes the airspace of the OECS countries and Barbados.“There is, too, a prevailing sentiment in the OECS, including among state officials and the social partners, that CARICOM’s service to, and sensibility towards, the OECS member-states are less than desirable. Some of these complaints are more easily addressed than others but they are all evidently soluble, if we are committed, on an on-going basis, to solving them,” he went on to say.“If not satisfactorily alleviated, these problems or limitations would fester further; in time they are likely to become septic and debilitating. Meanwhile, there is an urgency for the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to be amended to make special provision for the reality of the economic union in the OECS and the Revised Treaty of Basseterre,” he added.One other related matter for consideration, Gonsalves said, arises from the fact that the member-states of CARICOM are unequally yoked. Trinidad and Tobago is a petroleum-based economy; the member-countries in Central-South America (Belize, Guyana, Suriname) are largely primary commodity producers; and the remaining members of CARICOM are pre-dominantly tourist economies.“Tourism demands, among other things, international airport facilities; only two countries, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines are currently without international airports. How can these two countries compete on a level playing field in tourism in the absence of an international airport?” he asked.Gonsalves claimed that CARICOM has never considered it to be part of its developmental business to assist Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines in the construction of international airports. St Vincent and the Grenadines is currently building one at a cost of US$250 million (EC$675 million) or roughly one-third of this country’s GDP. “Trinidad and Tobago generously contributed US$10 million in grant monies to this project in August 2008. Otherwise CARICOM has stood askance, a little bemused, save and except for a small loan/grant of US$4.2 million from the CARICOM Development Fund, some one-third of which is the contribution of St Vincent and the Grenadines itself,” he stated.Meanwhile, he said, a “Compact of the Committed”, including Cuba, Venezuela, Taiwan, Austria, Georgia, Libya, Iran, Mexico, and St Vincent and the Grenadines itself, have been at work on the airport’s construction which is scheduled for completion in December 2013.“CARICOM is not even helping with advocacy to garner resources!” he pointed out.The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) consists of the six independent countries of the OECS plus Anguilla and Montserrat and, Gonsalves said, the CLICOBAICO debacle has caused an exposure in insurance liabilities of EC$2 billion (US$800 million) or roughly 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the ECCU. “By and large, CARICOM as an organised entity has stood askance from this formidable threat to the financial stability of the ECCU member-countries, the most vulnerable, collectively, in CARICOM. To be sure, there has been reportage at the Conference of Heads and at COFAP but CARICOM has largely been disengaged,” he stated. He added that the resolution of this issue has been left mainly up to the member-countries of the ECCU, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago; recently, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has become involved.“The CLICO-BAICO conundrum represents, arguably, the greatest danger to the integrity of CARICOM if it is not resolved speedily, fairly, and cooperatively. This matter has the potential to wreck CARICOM; and this is not hyperbole. I am hopeful that the government of Trinidad and Tobago in respect• of BAICO and CLICO (Trinidad) and the government of Barbados regarding CLICO International will shoulder their especial responsibilities,” Gonsalves warned.He admitted that the satisfactory resolution of these matters is extremely difficult. Some progress has been made, but there is still a long and arduous journey ahead. “CARICOM’s productive engagement is still required on ‘this insurance business’, now, and ongoing. But does it possess the institutional and juridical capacity? I doubt; should it? Yes!” he said.Finally, Gonsalves said, there is the enduring bundle of issues touching and concerning CARICOM’s governance, its less-than-effective administrative structures, and their sub-optimal performance. “The governance arrangements of CARICOM have been subjected to repeated reviews over the past twenty years with very little attainment of practical success. Authoritative submissions have been made by several bodies including the West Indian Commission headed by Sir Shridath Ramphal, the Prime Ministerial Task Force under my chairmanship consequent upon the Rose Hall Declaration of 2003, the Review Team of the Task Force’s Recommendations under the leadership of Dr Vaughn Lewis, and more recently the pursuit by the Heads of Government Conference of the option of establishing a system of Non Resident Commissioners to CARICOM to facilitate a more efficacious process of decision-making and implementation. Yet another study was commissioned early last year and Landell Mills Development Consultants just sent to my desk last week their final report with new proposals for restructuring the CARICOM’s secretariat,” he outlined.These “governance” discussions and reviews drag on indeterminately and indecisively, he stated.“The informed public has grown weary and cynical of CARICOM’s efforts on this and other vital matters. Yet the dragon’s dance continues. We must be decisive on this, urgently,” he said.“On the issue of administrative systems and their functioning, I do not intend to repeat my views proffered in a letter to the Secretary-General and Heads of State/Government some six or so years ago. I consider them, broadly, to be equally valid today,” he added.Gonsalves said he enthusiastically embraced the call of current chairman, President Desi Bouterse of Suriname, for meaningful change in the functioning of CARICOM.“His general summons for sensible, energetic action is endorsed by all rightthinking persons. However, breaking through the morass of an in-built lethargy in our collective regional political leadership, bureaucratic inertia, and public cynicism will not be easy. But I am sure that we can together seize the time and follow, in practice, Norman Washington Manley’s inspiring declaration of six decades ago: ‘Our region’s unity is a great cause; and great causes have never been won by doubtful men and women’. I reaffirm that CARICOM has achieved much, but it has accomplished way below its potential or the people’s reasonable expectations,” he said.“We must make our union in CARICOM more perfect because it is a great cause for our people’s enduring benefit. I know all about the restraints of ‘islandness’, territorial nationalism or even chauvinism, domestic priorities, philosophical differences, different regional emphases, and learned helplessness. Through the mist of all this, we have it in us to overcome these, and other obstacles and limitations, through a deeper and better integration,” he continued.“As a region we possess enormous strengths and possibilities which can be enhanced for the greater good. Each of the queries or challenges raised herein is capable of amelioration or resolution. Technical answers are available. The insufficiency of political will is the real, unbecoming deficit,” he said.In a “personal conclusion,” Gonsalves acknowledged that he may have written too candidly and probably offended some or at least ruffled feathers.“I truly intend no offence, but I believe that after almost 44 years as a political activist in our Caribbean, including eleven years, and continuing, as prime minister, I have earned the right to speak and write plainly and freely. Years of unremitting toil in the regional political vineyard and the settled realisation that I have lived many, many more years than I have remaining to live, have prompted in me a greater impatience and a preference for a strenuous life over that of an ignoble ease,” he said.“At this moment of urgent reflection let us be truly critical and self-critical in our quest to do better collectively. I urge that we act swiftly. Time is of the essence. The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that: ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.’ The clarion call of old is still relevant: ‘Time for Action’,” Gonsalves concluded.By Caribbean News Now contributor Share Share Tweetcenter_img 14 Views   no discussions Sharing is caring! Sharelast_img read more