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Keep CARICOM on track

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Fri, Jul 16, 2010

Major disappointment has been expressed throughout the CARICOM region about the outcome of the annual mid-year Heads of Government Summit. The absence of several leaders did not send a message of optimism, never mind the brave face put on by those present.{{more}}

The lack of decisiveness in crucial decision-making, as exemplified with the procrastination on the governance issue, certainly does not give one confidence in the future of the regional integration movement. At a time when greater cohesiveness and unity are needed to confront the tremendous challenges facing the region, there is a lack of clarity as to the way forward.

Worrying, too, are the signals of disharmony among the region’s leaders. One would have thought that by now, CARICOM as an entity would be clear as to where it wants to go, how to get there, and the pace at which it must move. There has been enough time to hammer out all the pros and cons in the respective Parliaments in the region. Change of government in one country or another, as is inevitable in democracies like ours, should not be an excuse for backpedalling. Any new administration may have slightly different emphases, but the fundamental thrust should remain the same.

Lack of firm leadership in CARICOM

This does not appear to be the case, and from the outside we get a sense of frustration on the part of some leaders. Our own Prime Minister Gonsalves, himself absent from the Montego Bay gathering, is one such. His pre-Summit confession of a lack of firm leadership in CARICOM was indeed borne out by the outcome of the meeting. A firm advocate of a clear governance structure for the regional body, his frustration could only have been increased by the decision of the Heads to shelve the matter in yet another “Committee”.

Of additional concern to Dr.Gonsalves would have been the statements of the “new kid on the block”, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She announced her presence on the regional stage in no uncertain terms, warning her colleagues that Trinidad and Tobago would not be the region’s “ATM card”. Given the strategic importance of the Trinidad and Tobago economy to the rest of the region, her statement is laden with foreboding. It may well be that her administration is announcing that what it views as the “profligacy” of the defeated Manning government is at an end, but the statement suggests mendicancy on the part of T and T’s CARICOM colleagues and as such does not help to promote the spirit of unity so badly required.

Not in keeping with spirit of regional integration

To be fair to Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, she has every right to ensure that her taxpayers’ money is wisely spent and that there is accountability and transparency. But no matter how well-intentioned, such statements are not in keeping with the spirit of regional integration. Besides, it does not take into consideration the CARICOM commitments under which her country is bound. Prime Minister Gonsalves has already responded.

Even before the unfortunate statement in Jamaica, the new Prime Minister had already made it clear that she was unravelling the cosy relationship which had developed between her predecessor and Dr.Gonsalves and a couple of his fellow OECS leaders. The hastily-conceived “unification” plan to join Trinidad and Tobago with its immediate northern neighbours, a plan that had not even been canvassed for support in either Grenada or SVG, was branded a no-no, quite understandably so.

But Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has to be more careful in her public pronouncements. Trinidad and Tobago, as a “more developed” partner in CARICOM, naturally makes larger contributions to its respective funds. This is the same as, say for Germany or France, in the European Union. By the same token, these larger economies and the businesses within them benefit far more from regional commerce and trade than the smaller economies. It may be good to remind her that the money drawn from the ATM machines must be paid for by the card-holders.

We would hope that our leaders can rise above these side issues and focus on the larger picture. CARICOM needs us all, big and small, ATM, bank-teller, bank-manager and customer. Above all, CARICOM cries out for leadership.

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