Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don’t abandon Caricom, fix it

jamaicaobserver editorial:

THE one thing everyone in the Caribbean agrees on is that the regional grouping, the Caribbean Community (Caricom), has been an abject failure.

The process of regional integration has stalled in most respects, notably the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and is in reverse on many other areas such as freedom of movement of Caricom citizens. The inability to accomplish freedom of movement is a classic illustration of the failure of the grouping.

Ironically, during the colonial period people were free to move from one colony to another. But immediately after the attainment of political independence, governments began instituting a system of work permits.

While welcoming tourists with only a driver's licence, immigration officials subject passport holders from other Caricom states to hostile interrogation. In the Bahamas and Barbados, citizens of Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti are treated as personas non grata.

The state of Caricom is the equivalent of a bankrupt company that has been losing money for well over a decade. But since there are still obvious benefits to be realised from regional integration and cooperation, abandoning Caricom is the option of the faint-hearted. The only viable course of action is fixing it.

A diagnosis of the cause of the malaise reveals myriad problems, some natural and some anthropogenic. The natural barriers, such as the lack of a contiguous land mass and the separation by hundreds of miles of sea can be rendered manageable by better logistics and modern communications. The several centrifugal tensions such as the lack of a genuine sense of community and petty nationalism can be mollified by leadership.

The crisis of Caricom is a crisis of leadership, the essence of which is a lack of vision and an incapacity for mobilisation of the people of the region in support of lucidly articulated strategy. This crisis of leadership exists at two levels: the political and the managerial.

The political leadership is comparable to the board of directors which sets goals and approve broad policy on the advice of management. The current heads of government are not without ability, but they lack unity without the keen intellect of Mr Owen Arthur and the calm statesmanship of Mr P J Patterson.

In addition, they have avoided addressing the unpleasant issue of not holding management responsible for its failure to implement their instructions.

The real problem of Caricom is the comprehensive failure of the management, specifically the leadership of the Secretariat. The performance of the Caricom Secretariat over the last 10 to 15 years has happened on the watch of the current secretary-general and whether it is his fault or not, the record points to the need for a change of leadership. This is what would be done in any bankrupt company or non-performing organisation.

The heads of government abhor the unpleasantness of changing a manager but, in any event, we would prefer to see the manager opting to resign. There is nothing dishonourable in resigning, especially if one has served well beyond normal retirement age. Caricom, we believe, is an indispensable cause but no one is indispensable to that cause.

This newspaper salutes the selfless work of the current secretary-general, however, his resignation now at the heads of government meeting in Montego Bay, would dramatise the need for a fresh start, without which Caricom will drift aimlessly on to certain death.

July 06, 2010

jamaicaobserver editorial