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CARICOM in crisis: Need for people-centred approach

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Fri, Feb 24. 2012

For quite some time now, it has become more and more apparent that the regional integration process, as reflected in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), is far from achieving its lofty goals and appears to be floundering. The evidence surfaces from time to time – in our failure to realise the much-touted Single Market, never mind the Single Economy to which our leaders had committed us;{{more}} in the embarrassment surrounding the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); in unnecessary trade and territorial disputes blown out of hand; and in the sometimes puerile utterances of some regional leaders.

Now more evidence of how much adrift CARICOM seems to be, has been provided by two significant documents. First, is a Report by a project Management Team (PMT) set up by CARICOM Heads, currently in their possession. Well-known regional journalist Rickey Singh, writing in the TRINIDAD EXPRESS on February 1, quotes the document as saying that there is indeed a crisis in CARICOM and that it “….is sufficiently severe to put CARICOM’s very existence into question”.

He went on to state that the PMT had given three reasons for this state of affairs – (a) growing frustrations over the slow progress being achieved (b) serious structural weaknesses in CARICOM itself and (c) the continued economic retrenchment sweeping the region.

According to Mr. Singh, the PMT Report concluded that “without fundamental changes, CARICOM could expire slowly over the next few years as stakeholders vote with their feet.”

The second major document is from one of the “stakeholders”, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Fortunately, Dr. Gonsalves is not one for an “opt out” solution. Instead, he has chosen to write the Heads of Government, CARICOM and the OECS to make a plea for urgent action. In a letter, entitled “On Strategic Directions for CARICOM”, the Vincentian leader endorsed both the call by current CARICOM Chairman, Desi Bouterse of Suriname, and the PMT Report itself for “meaningful change” in the way CARICOM functions.

He points to the indecisiveness, the double-speak and unequal treatment of members of the Community, using powerful examples from the small-island states in the Eastern Caribbean. As a result, he argues, CARICOM is floundering while other integration processes in the region are thriving and picking up pace. He lays the blame squarely on the lack of political will and an “in-built lethargy in our collective regional political leadership”.

One important point raised by Dr. Gonsalves, which is right on target is his assertion that a central failure of CARICOM is that its focus has been on integrating state institutions and trading regimes, and not on the people themselves. CARICOM and most regional governments behave as though it is not at all about people. The CARICOM Secretariat remains aloof and apart from the people, attempting each new initiative in the old bureaucratic manner.

Simple integration processes are ignored. Freedom of travel appears to be only for “tourists”, as if when we travel to each other’s territory we are not touring too. We fail to fund the communication mechanisms like regional news agencies, which can help us to understand each other better; our premier educational institution, the UWI, does not place as much emphasis on scholarly research as it should; despite many promises, intra-regional travel by fast ferry is still a dream, while travel by air is expensive and fraught with challenges; and the potential regional force, cricket, is in shambles.

That is the sad scenario facing our leaders as they prepare for the Inter-Sessional Summit in Suriname next month. Even as we applaud Dr. Gonsalves for his forthrightness, dare we hope for decisive action?

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