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The niggling issue of good governance in the Caribbean Community



by: Ellsworth John
Director, Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit

The issue of good governance in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has generated much discussion, as its citizens become increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of progress with the community’s agenda. As early as July 1989, as reflected in the Grand Anse Declaration, there was acknowledgement that there was need for a people centered governance structure.{{more}} The declaration speaks of “the special roles of … people of all walks and conditions of life in moving CARICOM forward.”

Since then many studies have been commissioned to look at the issue of governance and the prevailing idea has been for a Commission of three prominent persons with executive powers to ensure implementation of decisions. In 1992, through the Time for Action, a seminal product of the West Indian Commission, it was proposed that a CARICOM Commission should be established with its membership drawn from within the Region’s public and political ranks, with a President, two other Commissioners and the Secretary General as an ex-officio member. Since then, a number of task forces have been established and, until last year when the council of Ambassadors was proposed as an implementation vehicle, the recommendations have all been basically a tinkering of the original concept of a Commission of three.

The Technical Working Group on Governance, established in 2005 and chaired by Professor Vaughan Lewis, did a comprehensive overview of the issues related to decision making and implementation and made some pertinent observations about the problem. Yet, the solution offered still had its genesis in the recommendations of the West Indian Commission Report, which almost twenty years later, the Heads of Government are no closer to implementing.

The elitist, top-down construct of the Commission proposed over the years flies in the face of effective implementation, when there is a general acceptance that citizen participation is vital to moving the integration process forward. To quote directly from the Lewis Report “in the discussions with the Heads of Government, Leaders of Opposition and other persons, the TWG has been impressed by their persistent emphasis on the importance of citizen participation in the decision-making process and in the legitimisation of decisions taken in regard to the nature and pace of the integration process.”

We flirt with the concept of citizen participation without designing at the national level, an effective, uniformed model to ensure more effective consultation among the citizens. No wonder there is an implementation deficit. The solution to the problem must of necessity be grounded in pragmatism. The effects of the global financial crisis, the collapse of CLICO and British American, the uprisings in the Middle East and Northern Africa and the expected negative impact on oil prices and food security are issues that are confronting our various cabinets and their electorates, whose needs are always pressing and have the urgency of now. There is no denying that all of our governments understand that there is need for collective action to confront these national issues, but there is need for an individual to be identified in each country, whose primary responsibility is regional integration.

This person should be named as Ambassador to CARICOM and be given a staff. He/she should be located in the Office of the Prime Minister to give him/her the requisite power and authority to fulfil the mandate given to the office of Ambassador. I refuse to believe that in each of our countries, we cannot find a person of sufficient political heft and acumen to fill that role. To do so might be to make a tacit admission that only in certain countries are there persons of that stature, one of the fundamental, nationalistic reasons why the concept of a Commission of three, while noble, has had no traction.

At the national level, three bodies are necessary:- A Cabinet Committee on Regional Integration, an Inter-ministerial Committee on Regional Integration and a forum that allows the views of civil society, NGO’s and political opposition parties to be expressed. The latter two committees should be chaired by the Ambassador, who would then report to the Cabinet Committee on Regional Integration. This is a pragmatic method for dealing with the issue of implementation. This, however, does not entirely deal with the issue of decision making.

This requires change in the way the issues are generated and decisions are made. First, it is necessary to accept the construct for governance that when the Heads meet twice per year, it is to look at the broad policy framework for the community and to assess the results of implementation of those broad policies. It requires change in the way the Secretariat conducts its work to incorporate participation by the Ambassadors in the conceptualization of the agenda for Heads. Their participation is essential, so as to avoid an agenda driven solely by a bureaucratic viewpoint, but also with a political outlook.

In essence, what I have just described is how the Permanent Committee of Ambassadors should work and why I support its establishment. The original proposal submitted by the Prime Minister of Jamaica called for the Permanent Committee of Ambassadors to be based in Guyana. However, that eliminates the vital national role that the Ambassadors must play in the implementation of decisions.

Let’s be practical in our approach to the issue of governance.