Sunday, July 11, 2010

Caricom's 'Governance' Dilemma

By Rickey Singh

THE 31st annual Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) concluded in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Wednesday, July 7 with little hope of any progress being made by the 37-year-old regional economic integration movement in the immediate future.

Hopes raised midway the four-day event for a new approach to ensure realistic and appropriate management of today's challenges, caused by the global economic and political crises, were dashed when the leaders backed off at the close of the conference.

Not surprisingly, they have scheduled another "special meeting", for September this year, to consider likely alternative governance models for better management.

In its normally lively 'discussion forum', the BBC Caribbean Service has been encouraging responses to the provocative question: "Does Caricom have a future?"

This discussion took place while the Community's Heads of Government were still wrestling with the cynicism and disenchantment their inactions have spawned over repeated failures to implement decisions, unanimously taken, for progress towards the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).

While the official communiqué was not available to the region's media at the time of writing (Thursday, July 8), the comments that flowed at an end-of-summit press conference on Wednesday made it sufficiently clear that the elusive governance issue had once again proved a barrier the leaders were still unprepared to scale.

Diminishing credibility

It is a failure that could only deepen concerns over Caricom leaders' credibility and commitment to make the Community's flagship project -- a single economic space in a region that constitutes a microcosm of the world's peoples, cultures and varying levels of social and economic development -- a reality either in this decade or the next.

Often viewed by Latin American, African and Asian blocs as a cohesive and productive experiment in regional economic integration, Caricom has done reasonably well in terms of functional cooperation and foreign policy coordination.

However, when it comes down to implementation of decisions on major issues involving critical segments of its treaty-based arrangements for inauguration of a single market and economy, therein lies the rub.

Their failures, which are rooted in a lack of collective political will to overcome parochialism and a narrow sense of nationalism in favour of a shared vision of "one people, one market, one Caribbean", continue to afflict Caricom. Consequently, a sense of alienation and defeatism, if not the "despair" alluded to in the BBC Caribbean discussion forum on "Caricom's future", has spread.

The announcement by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in his capacity as Caricom's new chairman, that a committee of prime ministers has been identified to make proposals for the forthcoming "special meeting" of heads in September to address alternative forms of governance cannot be considered as anything of significance.

The Community has gone that way before with "Prime Ministerial Working Groups" and high-level committees of regional technocrats. The upcoming September meeting seems destined to do what Trinidadians call "spinning top in mud".

Amid the expanding "word game" on Caricom's future governance, more and more Heads of Government are pushing for more action and less talk. They are simply reprimanding themselves, but given the current circumstance, it is an appropriate rebuke.

Ironically, in rushing to announce a prime ministerial committee to consider a new 'governance' architecture, leaders present in Montego Bay seem to have forgotten to include the prime minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, who holds lead responsibility on governance and justice in Caricom's quasi-cabinet system. Or did he decline to serve?

July 11, 2010