Caricom In Retreat
Public and press response to the recent special Heads of Government Mazaruni Retreat has been deafening by its silence, indicating no doubt, a certain level of disappointment at the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. Partly through reports from columnist Rickey Singh prior to the meeting, we were left to believe that current Chairman of Caricom, Grenada Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, having summoned substantial regional talent to assist in the preparation of proposals for the heads, expected that some form of programme would be agreed relating in particular to the governance of Caricom issue, and to progress on the implementation of actions on the Single Market and Economy.
Caricom citizens, however, have been disappointed by yet another series of deferments of decisions pending yet more study, and it would not be a surprise if Prime Minister Thomas feels that sense of disappointment as well. Comments by Professor Norman Girvan, who is thought to have been close to the preparation of documents on some of the matters to be discussed, suggest that he himself feels having been led down the garden path. An unfortunate position for one who seems to have had the confidence of heads of government in recent years, to the extent that he was entrusted with the management of the preparation of proposals for a Single Economy and Single Development Vision indicating a path for the implementation of a single economy, and its relationship to the consolidation of the single market; and then accepted by Guyana and Caricom as the new Good Officer in respect of the Venezuela-Guyana border controversy.
The very headline of the communiqué following the Retreat – ‘Caricom Leaders Seek Greater focus on Prosperity for the People,’ suggests a sense of complacency that is incredible. Do the heads believe that the citizens of this region expect them to be doing anything else? And do they really believe that the citizens will be surprised, after all these years, at their statement that as far as the development of a Single Economy is concerned, “the process would take longer than anticipated”? And do the heads, in proclaiming this, feel that that they can convince us that they are “determined to consolidate the gains of the Single Market” before proceeding to a Single Economy, and for that reason it is necessary to defer action on a single currency? In fact, do they really believe that anyone in the region believes that they are thinking about implementation of a single currency at all?
And what do they expect us to believe that they are saying in connection with the mandate for a Protocol on Contingent Rights relating to the movement of skilled nationals, when they observe that there is a “need for certainty and transparency in according such rights.” Are they not the ones to assure the nationals of the component parts of the community that there will be, through the actions of their own administrations, “certainty and transparency”?
The same appearance of throwing dust in our eyes seems to characterize the heads’ discussions and decisions on the reform of the Caricom Secretariat and the appointment of a Secretary General. The objective of the retreat seems to have been to discuss three issues: First, the governance of the community with specific concentration on more appropriate means of the implementation of decisions; secondly the appropriateness of the present Secretariat for the new challenges from the regional and global environment; and thirdly the appointment of a Secretary General. In respect of the first, observers had been led to believe that the current Chairperson of the community would, on advice, be putting specific proposals before the heads. But the first preoccupation of the heads, as emphasized in their first statement in the communiqué, seems to have been on a reflection of an apparent lukewarmness of Caricom countries’ citizens, and therefore on “the need to focus on building a greater sense of community and shared values as a Caribbean People and Society.” In other words, they are blaming us in order, surely, to pass the buck from themselves.
Next, they shift the focus to the need “to identify practical initiatives in specific economic areas which would redound to the benefit of the People of the Community, in the shortest possible time.” This is a task which most people would think constituted the bulk of the Secretariat’s normal work. But in this communiqué it is used as the hinge on which to, in effect, further postpone responsibility for restructuring the Secretariat. As they say, they “agreed to identify practical initiatives in specific economic areas which would redound to the benefit of the People of the Community, in the shortest possible time.” But has it occurred to our heads that if they have so advertised the incompetence of the Secretariat over these last many months, that investors and donors would be willing to sit down and dialogue with representatives of that same, currently headless, Secretariat which is currently being reviewed with the intention of reform?
But thirdly, of course it is this very reform of the Secretariat that is taken as an excuse for not making a decision on a new mode of governance for the community. As they observe, “they reaffirmed the decision taken at their Inter-Sessional Meeting in Grenada in February to await the completion of the current review of the CARICOM Secretariat, before taking any firm decisions towards the establishment of the Permanent Committee of CARICOM Ambassadors.”
And finally, they top off their meeting with a display of circularity and dilatoriness that currently characterizes their decision-making with the beautiful sentence, that “they agreed that the persons short-listed for the position would be subjected to further processes,” with a view to the taking of a decision in July. But would it not have been, to say the least, courteous to the applicants if they were told there and then that they do not suit the bill that the heads are making up?
It would be interesting to find out what Prime Minister Tillman Thomas thought of the outcome of all his preparatory work, focused, according to Mr Rickey Singh’s report, on governance in the form of what is called “executive management,” economic integration with a focus on agriculture and food security, a proposal for an “automatic six-month stay” by nationals in a member state, and on an “immediate action plan” with the cooperation of the business sector and the Caribbean Development Bank – all of this worked out with “a selected team of Caribbean scholars, diplomats and officials.” How does the response of his colleague heads square with the pre-retreat statement attributed to Thomas that “we can no longer afford the luxury of postponing the implementation of consensual decisions…”?
And how was all of this to be achieved with the apparently unanticipated absence of the Prime Minister, or any representative, of the Government of Trinidad & Tobago, whose economy is one of the major movers and shakers of the region? Those in and outside of the region concerned with the progress of economic integration and its role in economic development in this turbulent period in world affairs, will surely recognize the retreat for what it was – an exercise in marking time that has become characteristic of so much of our heads’ decision-making on regional affairs. Come again, gentlemen, come again.