Clearly the debate on the extent of the efficiency of the decision-making and implementation structure of Caricom will not go away. Some weeks ago, giving the Patrick Emmanuel Memorial Lecture at the Cave Hill Campus, former Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony referred to what he perceived as a slowdown in the implementation of the CSME process and called for something to be done. The region seems to have taken Dr Anthony’s words seriously, which is not surprising since he is himself a former General Counsel of the Caricom Secretariat as well as having held the portfolio of Prime Ministerial responsibility for Governance until his departure from office at the end of 2006.

Last week, two UWI academics, Professor Norman Girvan of the Institute of International Relations, and Dr Tennyson Joseph of the Cave Hill Campus, have also given vent to their views on the evolution of the CSME, pinning the blame, in part, on what they perceive as lethargy in the implementation of the new regime on the structure of political decision-making itself, and on what we may call a placing of square pegs in round holes, as far as the allocation of prime ministerial portfolios is concerned. Dr Joseph has argued that the enthusiasm and diligence in pursuing the implementation of the CSME which was apparent in former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s handling of this matter, is not being seen in the new holder of the post, Prime Minister David Thompson. And he has further argued that this suggests that an automaticity in the allocation of these posts should not be the rule when one prime minister of a country loses an election and is followed by another. Joseph’s view is that both interest in the subject matter, and a certain competence in dealing with it, should be among the criteria for selection.

Almost simultaneously, President Jagdeo has asserted that the manner of proceeding followed by the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery in undertaking international trade negotiations on Caricom’s behalf was not satisfactory. He paints a picture of the CRNM as something of a wild card, paying scant regard to the wishes or directions of the political directorate – perhaps what he really wanted to say was that the CNRM paid attention to some members of the directorate and not others. But whatever the case may be, this will be seen as a hangover from the President’s vigorously expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Cariforum-EU-EPA negotiations.

Here a little history is perhaps relevant. For in response to all of these claims about the Caricom machinery and modus operandi, it would not be unfair to say that what has now come out into the open, reflects a number of sotto voce assertions of dissatisfaction that have been made over the years since 1992. Then, the heads of government at their conference in Port of Spain rejected the recommendations for a new political and procedural decision-making and implementation machinery for Caricom after the presentation by Sir Shridath of the Report of the West Indian Commission. The mandate to take a new look at this machinery given to Sir Shridath and his group in 1989, was in response to a recognition that the movement from a Common Market to a Single Market and Economy would require a new institutional response.

As has often been observed, the West Indian Commission’s recommendation proved too much for the heads, and, it has been argued, the leadership of the Caricom Secretariat itself, to swallow. An alternative institutional approach of a system of prime ministerial responsibility for various subject areas, or ‘portfolios’ as they came to be called, was put in place, followed by a reorganization of the ministerial committees. With specific relevance to economic integration and international negotiations, ministerial responsibility for both was given to the now established Council on Trade and Economic Development(COTED); and a specific Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee for External Relations, chaired by a “Lead Prime Minister” was established for international trade and other external negotiations. Simultaneously, a Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee was established with regard to the bringing into existence of the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

At the time, those who were dissatisfied with this resolution of the institutional problem saw it as an inappropriate second-best solution, and to some extent this proved to have some validity. For as preparations were being made for the negotiations with the EU for the Economic Partnership Agreement, and after they were commenced, there were rumblings that the ministers of the COTED were dissatisfied with their role in the process. The division of authority between the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committe and the COTED seemed unclear. Secondly, by the beginning of the decade of the new millennium (work being actively pursued by 2000), the prime ministers made a decision to review the decision-making process again. This initiative, initially taken on by a selected group of prime ministers themselves (Manning, Gonsalves, Arthur) was then passed to a grouping chaired by Professor Vaughan Lewis.

But once again, this new initiative faltered, for its key recommendations, containing the structure of prime ministerial governance and of a revamped Caricom Secretariat  were found unacceptable by the heads. In one of those mandates of ‘physician heal thyself,’ the secretariat was then itself asked to make new proposals for reorganization, though to insiders this had a certain logic, since Secretary-General Carrington had, in the course of time, pursued changes which had found approval from the heads of government. And there the matter rests, as of now.

It has been, however, the disputes arising from the EPA process, and then indications from both Jamaica and, in some measure Barbados, of specific concerns about the CSME which have brought the matter back to the fore. First, Prime Minister Golding publicly posed the issue of the implementation of a Single Economy as a challenge to the sovereignty of Jamaica; and then following his own election, Prime Minister Thompson raised the question, in effect, of the extent to which the free movement of labour, as part of the CSME, is a realistic goal.  In return, many are prone to view Prime Minister Manning’s decision to seek economic and political union with certain OECS states, as his way of indicating his dissatisfaction with the way in which the integration process has been proceeding over the years.

Critics of the manner in which these announcements have been made – that is, outside the forums provided by Caricom’s own institutions for the expression of disagreements and hesitations about decisions by states − now seem to feel free to air their own dissatisfactions, following the modus operandi of the heads themselves with their ever-readiness to hit the airwaves..

Things are now getting mixed up with each other, as indicated in the statement of the, up to recently, Foreign Minister of Barbados, Mr Chris Sinkler, intimating that none should criticize Barbados’s views, since some have sought to dally with Venezuela and the Trinidad initiative towards the OECS. And in the OECS itself, there are mutterings about whether Mr Thompson’s “managed migration” is all that they should expect from the CSME.  No doubt Mr Sinkler will have been irritated by the return to the debate on institutions and their policy consequences by Professor Girvan, who had been fiercely critical of the EPA. Girvan was, of course, the prime author of the supporting document on a “development vision” prepared to accompany the decision to proceed to the CSME, under the direction of then Prime Minister Arthur.

Some might see these various expressions as typical of tendencies in the Caribbean politician’s inclination to erupt into noisy criticism of each other, and of “the intellectuals” as Sinkler has referred to Girvan and others, from time to time. But it could also be that, at this time, there is a certain nervousness all around about the general orientation of Caricom states’ development, and the prospects for real growth in the current global economic environment, an environment in which also, Caricom states feel somewhat isolated in terms of future sources of real assistance at a difficult time. An indication of this is the muted queries as to whether the CSME can be of any use in the pressures now being forced on Caricom states.

Caricom governments also must know of the disappointment on the part of the EU, more discreetly referred to, in respect of both the stop-and-start Caricom approach to institutional change since the now twenty years of the Grande Anse Declaration, and to the noisy turn which the EPA negotiations took.

Would it not be now useful for the heads of government to get together, and devote some unpressured, informal, discussion of the state of things at present, in an attempt to synchronise their approaches to some of these issues, and to make a collective clarification of where exactly we are with the CSME (notwithstanding the apparently firm 2007 decisions), and with the issue of where their injunction to the Caricom Secretariat to come to grips itself with the institutional restructuring now stands? After the grand meetings in Santiago de Cuba and then in Salvador de Bahia, can they not find some time to huddle at home?

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