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Stronger national push needed

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Fri Mar 13, 2014

A line in the keynote address to the opening ceremony of the just ended CARICOM 25th Intersessional Summit was a strong reminder of the obvious solution to mobilising public support behind regional matters.{{more}}

In making the point that CARICOM is not a unitary state, federation or confederation, but a community of sovereign states as outlined in the governing Treaty, the incoming Chairman Dr Ralph Gonsalves reminded his audience, which included fellow heads, ministers and senior technocrats, that “the central responsibility for the implementation of CARICOM’s decisions rests with the governments of the individual nation-states.” It was, he noted, the responsibility of each government to put necessary institutional arrangements in place to facilitate implementation of CARICOM’s decisions.

When extended beyond just implementation, to include mobilising public interest and participation, we see from this summit, the tremendous possibilities when concerted energy, determination and commitment are put behind national institutions – governmental or others, when dealing with matters that are not purely parochial in nature.

For example, had the St Kitts/Nevis political impasse been simply a matter on the Caricom summit agenda, would it have generated the public interest it did here in St Vincent and the Grenadines? National political institutions here in St Vincent and the Grenadines – the two main political parties, to be more specific, pursuaded the public that this was a matter that went beyond an abstract distant discussion, as some regional matters are seen. Hence the week leading up to the summit saw the issue as a dominant topic on the various local radio talk shows and a leading story in national newscasts. Some members of the public may have been hazy about the heavy constitutional arguments, but there was an awareness of and interest in the issue in a way that was there on the climate change discussions for instance, or education, or information and communication technology.

There was also strong public interest in the CARICOM deliberations on the decriminalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and on engagement with countries in Europe on reparations for slavery and native genocide.

These were matters which were at the forefront of national debate here and St. Vincent and the Grenadines where, in the case of the reparations matter, the country hosted a regional symposium, and as with other territories set up a national reparations committee. Governments and other institutions here and in other territories, notably Jamaica, have also been at the forefront of the debate on the medical marijuana issue.

This same sense of purpose needs to be also brought to bear on those initiatives which originate from the ‘centre’ and which hold promise of social and economic benefits to these sovereign states. Leaders often seek to gauge how deeply they can embrace new measures based on their reading of what the political climate can bear. But they may be underestimating the capacity of their national publics to look beyond their respective shorelines and work for a common regional good.

It may be argued that much of the national debate on the aforementioned issues was fueled by the political parties lining up their supporters behind contesting issues and that it was the resulting controversy which gave profile to the issue. The parties have clearly became major institutions for political education in these islands, and must see their responsibility as also including building public interest and participation in regional matters.

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