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Caricom’s survival challenges

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THE FIRST in a series of planned consultations, across this region, for introduction of a “Five-Year Strategic Plan for Caricom”, had a low-profile start in Barbados last Wednesday.

First official news on the beginning of the consultative process came from the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat and, at best, media coverage over was quite patchy or, worse, absent. 

No surprise, really, as the original decision to have the national consultations came at the last July’s Heads of Government Summit in Haiti amid lingering cynicism and disenchantment pertaining to the administrative structure and governance system of the 15-member Community faced with a serious implementation deficit challenge in this its 40th year of existence.

Nor was it surprising to learn that with arrangements underway for next month’s summit of the Caricom leaders in Port of Spain, it was considered expedient to kickstart the “consultations” process in Barbados. 

It is the member state whose Head of Government—irrespective of Prime Minister— has lead portfolio responsibility for implementation of plans for the realisation of a seamless regional economy, as promised with the CSME.

As previously reported by this columnist, the stimulus for the five-year “strategic plan” is largely located in a report by the UK-based consultancy Landell Mills Ltd with funding from the European Union (EU).

 Those who care to remember may perhaps be wondering why major recommendations outlined in the far-reaching “Time for Action” report by the high-level West Indian Commission—including the urgent need recognised for a new governance architecture—never got the desired responses required under changing member governments.          

Now, 21 years later, and before another annual Heads of Government Conference, the first of new regional “consultations”  has been launched with official information, wrapped in curious language, about a “change facilitation process” intended to take shape under the guidance of so-called designated “Change Drivers”. 

However, while this “change-facilitation process” is being “driven”, fundamental challenges continue to be ignored for required collective priority attention.

 Just think, for instance, of developments when a scheduled meeting of the Community’s ministers responsible for regional air and maritime transportation took place in St Vincent and the Grenadines—took place ahead of the back-to-back visits in Port of Spain of, first US Vice-President Joe Biden and, secondly China’s President Xi Jinping.

Amid continuing political song and dance about the subsidy being provided to Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) by its owner, the Trinidad and Tobago government, the general intention was to find practical commonalities on the way forward for at least regional air transportation, even as  CAL itself sorts  out its  own recurring heavy, financial losses and keep changing its board of directors.

The Vincentian Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, invariably viewed as an ‘Anancy’ politician, but also recognised for his often well articulated commitment to the advancement of regional economic integration, came up in Kingstown where he hosted the air transportation meeting with a surprising disclosure:

He said that while in Port-of-Spain for Vice-President Biden’s visit, he had requested a special “90-minute bilateral meeting” with the T&T Prime Minister—host for next month’s Caricom Summit—to discuss not just the controversial question of the subsidy to CAL, but wider matters pertaining to regional air and maritime services including  a much talked about regional fast-ferry service.

Desirable as a one-on-one meeting between Prime Ministers Gonsalves and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar may be, there must clearly be a preference for regional air and maritime transportation to be treated as a top priority agenda issue, possibly as a special session of all Heads of Government and delegations.

And moreso in view of growing region-wide concerns over increasing problems relating to air transportation—including recent suggestions that it should be treated as “an essential service” in a Community with economies highly dependent on such a service to sustain the vital tourism sector as well as being keen to produce and market food to replace foreign imported products.

Further, since the initial signal of her own government’s interest in the inauguration of an intra-regional fast-ferry service to complement efficient regional air transport, no new initiatives have come from Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar.

Now that she will formally become the new chairperson of Caricom, with the holding of next month’s summit in Port of Spain, it is to be hoped that the Prime Minister would appreciate the value of a special session of all Heads of Government to treat both regional air and maritime transportation as a top priority issue.’

Along with, of course, discussion on the persistent, dreaded social plague of endemic gun-related  killings and other worsening acts of spreading criminality.  

Like for example, recurring reports of rape of women and children and armed robberies; sickening crimes about which there are plenty talk and hands wringing within officialdom, but no known new collective strategies to arrest the tragedies and raise hopes for solutions in any of the more seriously affected jurisdictions.

In the circumstances, rather than verbal swipes at critics, or opponents,  in relation to doubts and frustrations over the persistence of a serious widening implementation deficit of decisions unanimously endorsed for regional action, it is felt that our Heads of Government should come forward next month with some new ideas to help restore needed confidence in the wayforward for Caricom.

They can perhaps do themselves the favour of ticking off the road not taken in implementation of decisions collectively approved, and be prepared to come forward with a Communique on their 2013 Summit in Port of Spain that can possibly stir hopes among citizens of our Community for a new dawn in the fulfillment of promised policies and programmes for “One Community, One People”. 

It cannot be beyond our Heads of Government to do so, considering that they, as well as less disillusioned critics, and most certainly an admirable cadre of Caribbean experts ever willing to be of service to this  region, are quite aware that there cannot now be any turning away from the original vision that gave birth to Caricom at Chaguaramas some four decades ago. 

No, not in the face of an increasingly globalised environment. Indeed, to reflect the sentiment of the West Indian Commission’s seminal report of 1992, it is felt that now is no time to evade hard choices; nor to be in a so-called “pause” mode. 

Rather, it’s more than high time to cut the rhetorical and ceremonial frills and, instead, be in readiness for biting the proverbial bullet in favour of decisions unanimously taken. 

Let next month’s Caricom summit in Port of Spain, therefore, sparkle with some of the passion and vision that had resulted in the historic inauguration on July 4, 1973, in Trinidad and Tobago, of what’s officially recognised, warts and all, by the world today as our regional economic integration movement. It is a movement that, for all its real and imagined weaknesses, cannot afford failure to survive.