Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome to the new secretary general of the CARICOM secretariat

By Ian Francis

Ambassador La Rocque’s appointment as secretary general of the CARICOM Secretariat is welcome news and is worthy of my support. I have no doubt that he will serve the secretariat and regional governments in a deserving manner. While his appointment is a boost for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), his presence as a senior sailor on the ongoing turbulent ship of the Secretariat cannot be ignored. He opted to say aboard and as a result he has now achieved the task of being at the helm. So what next, Ambassador?

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at info@visminconsultancy.caWhat can the new secretary general do that will not only impress his Council of Ambassadors but also the diverse populations and institutions in the region. Many suggestions and ideas have been expressed in the past but apparently fell on deaf ears. It is sincerely hoped that Ambassador La Rocque has re-tuned his GSP and will listen to the growing cries for radical reform within the Secretariat.

There is no doubt that the new secretary general and chairperson of CARICOM share similar vision on the need for change and renewal in the organization. However, this is not enough as the chronic problem lies within the inability of other regional heads to seriously embrace change and move forward. Without their concurrence and engagement for renewal within the organization, it will be extremely difficult for the secretary general and chairperson to implement anything new that will allow the organization to move forward. Let’s not ignore the possible existing reality that many regional heads may not be interested in any form of organizational tinkering.

At the inter-sectional meeting in Grenada a few months ago, regional heads arrived and left with a newly coined term of “Council of Ambassadors:” Since then little has been heard about the Council of Ambassadors. Recently, at the annual July pow-wow held in St Kitts, there was no mention of the Council of Ambassadors in the final communiqué of the pow-wow. This begs the question, has the concept of the Council received its burial certificate or is the wake still in progress? Answers are needed so the population of the region can understand what is taking place.

Returning to the challenge of the new secretary general, it is felt that there are a number of administrative and operational matters that he can immediately tackle. There must be a halt to the growing gravy train within the Secretariat. No multilateral agency should become so dependent on project funding, especially when such funding becomes self seeking and is geared to support certain staffing measures. It is an early warning; however, the Secretary General must recognize it will become crashing one day.

Recently, there were some sobering comments by Barbados Prime Minister Stuart with respect to the Secretariat’s reliance on foreign funding, which makes up 57% of the Secretariat’s operational budget. He suggested that other ways must be examined in order to enhance the Secretariat’s ability in decreasing its dependence on foreign donors.

Prime Minister Stuart’s comments are very reassuring; I have always felt that CARICOM’s inability to assist member states had nothing to do with technical capacity but rather being encumbered in a grantsmanship survival mode. Donor funding for irrelevant projects became the norm in order for the Secretariat to be maintained administratively. In spite of the vulgarity of this approach, some understanding and support must be afforded to the Secretariat because there is no way that CARICOM members can mobilize sufficient financial resources to support the Secretariat. If some member states cannot even meet a timely and consistent method for disbursing operational funds to their foreign missions, then how on earth can they adequately maintain the Georgetown outfit?

It is fully recognized and expected that the CARICOM Secretariat will continue its grantsmanship strategy to ensure protection of staff and friendly consultants. However, with fairness and sensitivity to the ongoing needs of member states, the Secretariat ought to be doing some more planning with member states about the type of projects that funding is being sought for. It is essential that member states be the beneficiaries and outcomes are filtered down to populations. Too often, there is a tendency for the CARICOM Secretariat to be engaged in initiatives that member states know little about.

So, Mr Secretary General, your tasks are clearly defined and it is hoped that you can get to work quickly. Here are some of my suggestions that should be placed on your priority list:

-- Urging of member states to appoint diplomatic representatives to the Secretariat so there is a collective grouping that you can interface with regularly, in and between ministerial and Council of Ambassadors pow-wow. .

-- Address overstaffing and incompetence within the Secretariat. There must be some trimming and streamlining done immediately.

-- Reviews, reorganization and elimination of some of the unproductive regional institutions that fall under the ambit of the Secretariat.

-- An immediate resolution of the internal administrative problems at IMPACS. A swift resolution could bring immediate relief to the suspended former executive director. Also, a full and urgent review of this agency is required to determine its future operations and mandate.

-- The ongoing saga pertaining to the lack of membership in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is a burning issue that should not be ignored. A political strategy or mechanism must be put in place to ensure membership of all CARICOM members.

Finally, good luck in your new endeavours and I sincerely hope that the leaders of the regional agency will function as a timely and serious governing body.

July 25, 2011