Sunday, July 24, 2011

Old problems for Caricom's New Secretary General of the Guyana-based Secretariat... Irwin LaRocque

Old problems for Caricom's New SG

‘Cool’ guy in a ‘hot’ seat


LAROCQUE... Caricom’s new secretary general

THE formal appointment of Irwin LaRocque as the new secretary general of the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat is expected to be completed this week with a letter from current Community chairman Dr Denzil Douglas, the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis.

For almost six years, starting in September 2005, the Dominican-born economist has been functioning as one of three assistant secretaries general of the 38-year-old Community. His chief responsibility was Trade and Economic Integration.

At 56, LaRocque's choice as SG has come as a surprise to officials of various regional organisations, who prefer not to be quoted, as well as to the Community Secretariat staffers, who prefer to comment more on his "politeness" and "respect for procedures" within the administrative structure than on other factors.

He was chosen from a shortlist of five candidates, submitted by a "search committee" that was established by the Heads of Government last August following the decision of Edwin Carrington to retire at the end of 2010 after 18 years as secretary general. That development itself took place against the backdrop of what some have euphemistically termed a " very frank dialogue" in Jamaica involving Carrington and then Caricom chairman Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

So, after some ten months of work by a "search committee" whose terms of reference, including the required skills and expertise of a new secretary general, were never clearly outlined as public information, the five shortlisted candidates were interviewed by the Caricom Bureau and, finally, by a process of telephone conversations, LaRocque was announced as the new secretary general.

As some highly respected and experienced regional technocrats and thinkers see it, Caricom's 15 Heads of Government now have a new SG on board in the person of an "in-house" appointee, but are still far removed from dealing with the pivotal factor to which they themselves have often referred -- the urgent need for a "comprehensive review" of the structure and functioning of the Secretariat.

Comprehensive' change

Although they had at their disposal a range of mandated studies and reports by reputable West Indian thinkers on how to make governance of the Community relevant to current regional and international demands, the Caricom leaders simply failed to pay heed to recommendations and opted instead to appoint a United Kingdom-based consultancy firm, Landell Mills Ltd, to provide them with a report on what should be done.

The three-member team comprised two foreigners -- Richard Stoneman. 'management consultant'; and Hugo Inniss, 'financial management expert' -- with Duke Pollard, retired Guyana-born jurist of the Caribbean Court of Justice and former Caricom official, as the third member.

Their terms of reference require the development of a "set of recommendations that would, when implemented, secure the comprehensive restructuring of the Caricom Secretariat and enhance its capacity to carry out its administrative, technical and other functions as prescribed by the Revised Treaty" of the Community.

The jargon is familiar -- in usage for at least a dozen years -- but it may be revealing to learn who participated in shaping the terms of reference of this latest "review team" on the future structure and functioning of the Community Secretariat, which continues to limp along, year after year, with policies neglected and programmes/projects deferred.

Both the new secretary general as well as the current Community chairman, Prime Minister Douglas, who has glowingly declared LaRocque as possessing "the requisite skills of visionary leadership, courage and commitment to guide the Community at this time of change and uncertainty", would be fully aware of the harsh realities that have been affecting the governance of Caricom's affairs these many years.

General 'ineffectiveness'

This ineffectiveness which would be intolerable for any serious management structure in the private sector is spread across the operations of Caricom and include the declining efficiency and required commitment to creative initiatives from the Community's primary organ -- the Heads of Government -- to its Directorates (Foreign and Community Relations; Regional Trade and Economic Integration and Human and Social Development).

When LaRocque formally assumes duty as new secretary general, his post will become vacant. The post of assistant secretary general for Human and Social Development has been vacant for some months now, and soon too will be the assistant secretary general for Foreign and Community Relations post.

In short, the Caricom Secretariat is lurching from one set of management problems to another as its political directorate makes good on talk, but acts poorly in carrying out policies and programmes.

It was inevitable that someone had to be chosen to replace Edwin Carrington. LaRocque is that choice. But the major problem continues to stare us all: a Secretariat clearly adrift in a sea of management problems and a regional integration movement beset by political leadership in dire need of re-energising.

As a journalist of the Caribbean region, sharing the hopes of committed professional colleagues, it is left for me to also extend best wishes to LaRocque whose "politeness" and capacity to "be cool", at times of tension and excitement, I also recognise. Time will tell how comfortably he occupies the SG's 'hot chair'.

LAROCQUE... Caricom's new secretary general

July 24, 2011