More mature regionalism needed -PM Gonsalves

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states would find it harder to tackle social and economic challenges unless a more profound regionalism is embraced, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves has said, even as he hailed the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) decision in the Shanique Myrie case and its implication for regional integration.

Ralph Gonsalves
Ralph Gonsalves

“It is evident to all reasonable persons of discernment that our region would find it more difficult by far to address its immense current and prospective challenges unless its governments and peoples embrace strongly a more mature, more profound regionalism,” he said on Tuesday, speaking at the Distinguished Open Lecture series hosted by the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad. “That ought to be a noise in the blood, an echo in the bone of our Caribbean civilization,” the PM and Chairman of Caricom said.

Gonsalves explored the topic, “Free Movement of People, Shanique Myrie and Our Caribbean Civilisation” and reviewed the Myrie case in the context of community law for CARICOM and the CCJ as envisioned by the 22nd meeting of the Conference of Heads of State.

The CCJ last year awarded Jamaican Myrie Bds$75,000 (or J$3.6M) in damages after finding that she had been wrongfully denied entry into Barbados, while upholding the right of CARICOM nationals to enter member states without harassment. Myrie had instituted proceedings in May 2012 alleging that Barbados had violated her right to free movement within CARICOM. She also claimed that she was subjected to discrimination on the ground of her nationality when Barbadian officials refused her entry into Barbados on March 14, 2011.

The CCJ ruled that Barbados breached Myrie’s right of entry without harassment or the imposition of impediments. The right was breached by the denial of entry, the treatment to which she was subjected, the conditions under which she was detained and her unjustified deportation, all of which contravened the 2007 Conference Decision in conjunction with Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).

Gonsalves yesterday recalled that the 2007 Conference allowed all CARICOM nationals an automatic stay of six months upon arrival “in order to enhance their sense that they belong to, and can move in the Caribbean Community, subject to the right of Member States to refuse undesirable entry and to prevent persons from becoming a charge on public funds.”

“My reflections lead me to conclude that many governments, individual ministers of governments, and immigration officials across the CARICOM region do not as yet appreciate the significance of the Myrie judgment to the freedom of movement of Community nationals and the CSME,” Gonsalves said.

The Prime Minister pointed out several implications of the Myrie judgment. Among these was the acknowledgement that decisions of Conferences heads are now explicitly accorded the status of being a vital part of Community law and therefore Conference decisions, particularly those which touch and concern the rights of Community nationals, must be carefully formulated.

He also said that CARICOM governments have an obligation to ensure that domestic law be put in conformity with Community law since, should there be inconsistency on any relevant matter, Community law would prevail. “Immigration and other border control officials must incorporate the Myrie guidelines provided by the CCJ at the points of entry to Member States of CARICOM. Immense education of these officials and alterations of pre-existing domestic regulations and procedures to confirm with Community law, are urgently required,” Gonsalves asserted too.

He also noted the implication of the Myrie judgment for Haitians seeking entry into other Member States and said that this is yet to be satisfactorily addressed by the governments.

“The Myrie judgment opens up the CARICOM’s Member States to all Community nationals, thus giving life and meaning to regional integration. It is this fact which has excited many who had hitherto considered CARICOM a jaundiced entity in which only especial categories of persons are privileged,” the Prime Minister asserted.

“There is a controversial and problematic legal issue of the machinery for the enforcement of the decisions of the CCJ, although I am of the view that the solution already exists in our legal systems,” he added.

Gonsalves said that the Myrie case as well as the case of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) and TCL Guyana Incorporated (TGI) v Guyana in 2009, demonstrated the activist and purposive orientation of the CCJ. “The reasoning of the CCJ in the Myrie Case on the applicable Community law, the substantive and procedural components of the right of “definite entry” in the context of the provisions of the RTC and the 2007 Conference of Heads’ decisions, is impressive and path-breaking,” he said.

In relation to TCL, the CCJ ruled in August 2009 that the Government of Guyana was in breach of the RTC by failing to apply the Common External Tariff (CET) on cement and therefore ordered that within 28 days from that date, Guyana implement and thereafter maintain the CET in respect of cement from non-CARICOM sources. TCL and TGI had accused the Guyana government of breaching the RTC by unilaterally suspending the CET on cement imported from countries outside of CARICOM and was later granted leave to sue the government after approaching the CCJ. The court in its ruling on August 20, 2009 held the view that TCL and TGI are entitled to the benefit of having the CET maintained.

The Prime Minister also asserted that the issue of “contingent rights” within CARICOM for children and spouses of skilled Community nationals is an unresolved problem of immense importance. “Similarly, the practicalities of the issuance of “Skilled Nationals’ Certificates” vary from Member State to Member State in CARICOM. And although there is a CARICOM passport issued by each Member State of the Community, it has no significant meaning beyond the symbolism of a consciousness of Community. Community nationals are not permitted to travel to other Member States with only a picture identification, except of course in the case of OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) nationals of Protocol Member States within the OECS Economic Union,” he said.

Gonsalves stated that despite the limitations in the functioning of CARICOM, the supranational CCJ has offered immense possibilities further to ennoble Caribbean civilization. “Still, while celebrating the role of the CCJ and its path-breaking judgments in its original jurisdiction, including the Myrie case, we ought to be careful not to go overboard. The CCJ has shown that it will hold governments of Member States accountable for any failure to observe the requisites of the RTC and decisions of the Conference of Heads. The CCJ has clearly been creative in plugging loopholes in the RTC and to fill the lacunae within the framework of the purposes of the RTC and regional integration generally. And we must ensure that the gains secured through the CCJ and other organs of CARICOM be not eroded,” the Prime Minister declared.

He said that nevertheless, the CCJ cannot do what the people of the Community and their duly-elected leaders “fail and/or refuse to do, that is, advance and strengthen the governance arrangements at the centre, perhaps by creating a CARICOM Commission so long advocated by Sir Shridath Ramphal and the West Indian Commission (WIC) Report of 1992, and to push more assuredly for a deepening of regional integration through each of the four pillars: Functional cooperation, coordination of foreign policy, coordinating national and regional security, and extending economic integration, including the deepening of the CSME.”

Gonsalves noted that the Caribbean has taken a battering on the social and economic fronts largely on account of the continuing global economic downturn which began in September 2008, the frequency and severity of natural disasters, and the self-inflicted homegrown challenges arising from the regional insurance and indigenous banking melt-down, and unacceptable levels of serious crimes. It is evident to all reasonable persons of discernment that the region would find it more difficult by far to address its immense current and prospective challenges unless its governments and peoples embrace strongly a more mature, more profound regionalism, he declared.

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