CARIBBEAN: Regional Integration Stalls over Governance

  • by Peter Richards (st. george's, grenada)
  • Monday, February 28, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

The two-day gathering here last weekend was intended to agree on mechanisms to govern the regional integration movement that the leaders have always touted as being one of the oldest in the world. But when they emerged from their closed door-huddle, there was little, or as some commentators have observed, no progress to announce.

They did not even name the successor to Sir Edwin Carrington, the Trinidad and Tobago-born veteran regional public servant who retired at the start of the year after 18 years as secretary-general of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping.

His retirement had long been signaled. At the end of Caricom's summit in Jamaica last July, Carrington - no doubt aware of the private comments about the need for a new head at the top, and in some instances, newspaper editorials urging him to call it a day - made it clear that he never came to the job with the intention of staying forever.

There are at least six people vying for the post. Grenadian Prime Minister and Caricom Chair Tillman Thomas says the exercise to replace Carrington is 'a work in progress' and the new top public servant would be selected through a transparent process.

His Jamaican counterpart, Brice Golding, said they hope to have a new secretary-general in place by the time the leaders gather in St. Kitts in July for their annual summit.

'One has to be careful you don't preempt the outcome of those interviews, we just have to wait for that process to be completed. We would have expected to receive the report of the interview committee and to have deliberated on that by that time [July],' he added.

But as they wing their way to their respective Caribbean countries, regional leaders have done little to alter the growing public perception that Caricom is failing in its mission.

Acting Caricom Secretary-General Lolita Applewhaite admitted that the integration movement has 'fallen short in a number of areas' and that it was important for the leaders to make a 'determination of our priorities which would give a clear indication of the focus and direction that the integration movement must take'.

Prime Minister Thomas concedes that many Caribbean people are somewhat fed up with the state of 'implementation impotence' - particularly as it relates to the march towards the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, services, skills and labour across the region.

When they emerged from the two-day huddle, the new Barbados Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart, who replaced his late predecessor David Thompson as the regional leader with the responsibility for the CSME within Caricom, said that foreign ministers have now been asked to come up with a 'realistic date' for the implementation of the single market component of the CSME.

Stuart said the leaders had acknowledged that the original deadline of 2015 could not be achieved in the context of the challenges being experienced globally and also by individual member states. But he insisted that there has been 'a reaffirmation of faith' by the region to the initiative.

At the end of their summit in Jamaica last July, the regional leaders said that the Caricom sub-committee on governance would examine the proposals that have been put on the table with regards to a new governance structure. But Golding acknowledged that the long mooted idea of an executive-level commission that would have the power to take decisions within the Community has been rejected by the heads.

When he addressed the opening ceremony of the inter- sessional summit here over the weekend, Golding said it is no 'easy task to coordinate the engagement of 14 sovereign states and 14 sometimes contentious heads of government'. Various mechanisms have been proposed but 'none has found unanimous acceptance', he said.

'We face the real danger that if the people of the Caribbean do not see in Caricom the fulfillment of their hopes and aspirations, the solution of some of their most persistent problems, they will look beyond Caricom for their salvation,' he cautioned.

This is the message that the leaders will have ringing in their ears when they gather in Guyana, at the request of the outgoing head of state, Bharrat Jagdeo, for a two-day retreat where the sole agenda item will be the direction of the regional integration movement.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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