Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making the case for Caricom 'priorities'

By Rickey Singh:

AGAINST the backdrop of the recently reported "crisis" assessment of the Caribbean Community outlined in a document currently engaging attention by our Heads of Government, Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque now speaks of the region's economic integration movement in terms of being at the "crossroads" and of "a critical juncture" in its 38-year history.

Clich├ęs? Not really. In his own manner of "telling it like it is", LaRocque, who has been secretary-general for just about six months — though he previously served as assistant secretary-general for trade and economic integration since 2005 — has chosen to share an optimistic vision for Caricom's future.

It's a vision that calls for an end to the setting of unrealistic goals and perceived slothfulness in implementation processes of decisions unanimously adopted; and with arrangements and mechanisms in place to effectively "meet the legitimate expectations of the people of our Community..."

The 56-year-old Dominica-born economist, who last year succeeded the retired Edwin Carrington from Trinidad and Tobago who served for 18 years at the helm of the Georgetown-based Caricom Secretariat, chose the event of a business luncheon, organised by the Guyana Manufacturing Association (GMA) as his platform last Wednesday to do more than correct what he views as some wrong perceptions of the Community.

Simultaneously he sneered at policy-making decisions that contribute to some of the cynicism and frustrations across the Community by the setting of unrealistic goals — most significant being target dates for attainment of a single market and the envisaged seamless regional economy.

LaRocque also challenged the Guyanese business leaders and, by extension, the regional private sector in general, to become more involved in partnership with governments, the Secretariat and related agencies and institutions to make a reality of the primary objectives of Caricom as outlined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

Facing the challenges

It is not without significance that LaRocque's address to the Guyanese business representatives came a week ahead of the two-day Inter-Sessional Meeting of Caricom leaders that begins this Thursday in Suriname with the future administrative architecture of the Community Secretariat as a major work agenda issue in facing up to the challenges confronting the region's integration movement.

Let me share with readers some highlights of his address:

It must be recognised that "meeting the legitimate expectations of the people of our Community has become more challenging at a time when the effects of the global economic crisis and financial crises, first felt in 2008, are still reverberating...

"I am not all suggesting that the malaise in which we find ourselves is only and totally due to the global crises; but it certainly has exacerbated it. Also, it certainly has brought to the fore the need, once again, to take stock of what we are doing and how we are doing it; how effective we are, and are we delivering..."

Conceding that the Community "is not without a vehicle" for realising the legitimate expectations of the region's people, LaRocque contended that the CSME still remains as relevant today as when the idea was first conceived in Grand Anse (Grenada) in 1989.

"It still represents tremendous potential to achieve the goals of growth and employment and to provide business opportunities... But the CSME continues to be a work in progress which has been characterised by some as being slothful."

'No business as usual'

In recalling what he said last August in his inaugural address as secretary-general, LaRocque emphasised that "it could not be business as usual... this dictum applies not only to the Caricom Secretariat but to the entire Caribbean Community, in other words, to all stakeholders.

"This view has (now) been supported by the report of the team of independent consultants... There is just so much that can be done, given the realities (an allusion also to human and financial resources), and the time has come for us to cut our suit to fit the cloth with which we have been endowed...

"The Community needs to prioritise", he stressed, recalling that at their special retreat in Guyana last year the Heads of Government had agreed to do so with an approved list of priorities..."

LaRocque, who did not consider it prudent to give some idea of the "list of priorities", and may even be accused unfairly of attempting to rationalise perceived shortcomings of the Secretariat and Community's political directorate ahead of this week's meeting of Heads of Government, was emphatic in declaring that the current mode of trying to get everything done at the same time is inefficient and contributes to gridlock, the so-called implementation deficit... The role of the Secretariat in all this will be determined in large measure by the response of the Heads of Government to the report of the independent consultants...

"However," he stressed, "the view that all things Caricom are within the purview of the Caricom Secretariat is erroneous. There cannot be responsibility without authority."

A harsh reality

"A critical element in going forward, therefore," LaRocque contends, must be a clear understanding that the Secretariat can no longer be all things to all persons. If we are to be more effective, we must be focused and adequately resourced to play any role that is envisaged by our Heads of Government. Or, to repeat, we must prioritise in keeping with the resources available.

Well, so far as his argument that "there cannot be responsibility without authortity" is concerned, LaRocque, the seventh confirmed secretary-general of Caricom, would know that the West Indian Commission had offered specific recommendations to overcome such a problem in their 1992 report, and principally the proposal to have a management mechanism with "executive authority".

That harsh reality was confronted some 20 years ago. Since then, there have been numerous reports, as mandated by the Community's leaders, with specific proposals to enable the region's integration movement to achieve its defined goals. No luck for implementation.

Last year, as LaRocque has recalled, the leaders came up with a list of "priorities" for action, in the context of prevailing resources. Instead, having effectively placed the flagship CSME project "on pause", it is doubtful that they will come forward at this week's meeting in Suriname with a much-needed positive response on "priorities" to arrest the spreading "crisis" situation in which the Caricom Secretariat seems to be functioning.

March 04, 2012