What future for Caricom?

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 By David Jessop

CaribWorldNews, LONDON, England, mon. Sept. 13, 2010: What future for Caricom? Recent developments in the form of concern about Trinidad`s commitment to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the appointment of a new Secretary General, suggest that the coming months may well determine the regional body`s future trajectory.

Very soon Caricom Heads of Government will have to decide who will take charge at its Georgetown headquarters. Whoever this is will at the very least have to audit, restructure and decentralise the institution, making much better use of new technology so that it is fit for twenty first century purpose. 

Whether a new Secretary General is able to do much more, will depend almost entirely on the will of Caricom heads to signal that they have an intention over time to cede a measure of national sovereignty so as to provide the body the executive power necessary to create a viable single market and economy.

Unfortunately there is evidence otherwise.  Caribbean Heads meeting in Grenada in August to discuss improved regional governance indicated a reluctance to provide any such remit when they chose to establish one more layer of non-executive bureaucracy in the form of a committee of ambassadors able only to review the implementation of their decisions.

What one concludes from this is that despite paying lip service to deeper integration, Caribbean Heads have accepted in private that there is no longer any near-term basis for revitalising Caricom. So much so that they appear to be suggesting that a consensus on significant change is improbable in the foreseeable future; that Caricom is going to be ever less likely to achieve the growth and competitiveness from well managed economic integration; and that the region is in danger of losing sight of the need to inspire young people to believe in a Caribbean identity.

Who the successor to Dr Edwin Carrington will be or who of any stature might now want the role has almost become a regional parlour game. Up to twenty names are in circulation. They range from individuals who sit within the Caricom establishment, to Caribbean citizens who are international civil servants; they include Ambassadors in regional and international institutions; and embrace outside-of-the-box thinking that argues for one or another of the region`s leading businessmen taking the helm.  Irrespective, the identity whoever is finally chosen will send a clear message to the region and the wider world about the value Caribbean Heads place on their regional institution.

As if all of this was not enough there is now pan-Caribbean concern that some in Trinidad may be attempting to dismantle the regional structure by attacking one of the institutions intended to enable closer integration: the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The issue had been simmering since early August when Trinidad`s TV6 carried an informed news item suggesting that the new Trinidad and Tobago Government was reviewing its commitment to the CCJ.

In brief, the story questioned the regional body`s value to Trinidad; suggested that Trinidad had funded the court to `the tune of millions of dollars`; that the CCJ did not serve most Caricom nations; was a vehicle of the Republic`s opposition party having been located and established in Trinidad during their time in office; and argued that it was not Trinidad`s final court of appeal.

So regionally significant was this unsourced story – which seems to have had its origins in racially based politics and with certain local business interests – that five of the region`s most respected statesmen Sir George Alleyne, Nicholas Liverpool, Sir Alister McIntyre, P J Patterson, and Sir Shridath Ramphal, each holding the region`s highest honour, chose to make a public statement at the end of August on what had been written.

Referring to `studied distortions in the media` regarding Trinidad`s financial obligations to the CCJ and `related innuendos about the country`s withdrawal from the process` the five noted that Trinidad had fought forcefully for the headquarters of the court

Dismissing the issue of cost they noted that Trinidad was not carrying a disproportionate amount as the running costs were paid from the annual income of a Trust Fund of around US$100m raised by the Caribbean Development Bank with national contributions being based on the well established regional principle of size of population.

The statesmen warned that while any attempt to create a climate of hostility to the court by distortions in the country of the court`s location was serious in itself, when accompanied by suggestions of creating a National Court of Appeal, the implications for the people of Caricom became `stark and troubling`.

In unusually serious language suggesting that such a move by Trinidad could be as damaging to the region as the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies in 1962, their open statement warned against such developments `which, as in an earlier era, could bring down the structures for advancing the interests of the people of Caricom`.

`The CCJ is an indispensable pillar of its structure. Were it to crumble, the structures of unity it supports would be imperilled. The Single Market and Economy would become an improbable dream, and the chances of the people of Caricom to maintain their identity and safeguard their autonomy in the global community would be endangered`, the five holders of the Order of the Caribbean Community argued.

It is hard to overemphasise the importance of this. The suggestion is that some in Trinidad are seeking to establish institutions independent of the rest of the region and that by threatening  a changed relationship with the CCJ are intentionally undermining  the Treaty of Chaguaramas` which observes that the court is essential for the successful operation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

Despite this and public calls for the Trinidad Government to distance itself from what was reported, Trinidad and Tobago`s Prime Minister, Mrs Persad-Bissessar, when recently given the chance to make a definitive statement to the contrary, offered no official position.

All of which ought to set alarm bells ringing, especially among those who believe that without a unity of vision and purpose, the Caribbean would become a significantly poorer place.

Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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