Kamla shakes up Caricom

(Trinidad Guardian) – Her girlish flowered dress, pink mini-sweater and white wedge-heeled sandals gave no impression on Tuesday that she had come to cut big men down to size. Financially speaking, that is. But new Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar apparently succeeded in doing just that—and then some—at the recently concluded 31st Caricom summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Indeed, summit host, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who whirled Persad-Bissessar round the dance floor at a post-summit reception on Wednesday night said he had run against many people, but not against anyone like her. Golding remarked he was glad he didn’t have to.

That the 31st summit was going to be different was evidenced not only by the presence of the freshman Prime Minister from T&T, but also by the reduced number of leaders attending the caucus at a time when Caricom has come under fire for lapsing on its mandate. Enter Persad-Bissessar and her People’s Partnership Government’s mantra of change. At exactly a time which Caricom chairman Golding on Sunday had urged should be a turning-point for the 37-year-old regional body which so requires overhaul that—on his admission—is still behind on its signature Caricom Single Market and Economy system. From the time she arrived last Sunday (from Miami), Persad-Bissessar’s utterances to local reporters signalled it was not going to be summit business as usual on several scores.

Persad-Bissessar kicked to the curb the previous Manning administration’s “godfather” policy where the region was concerned, promoting a revamped hardline position on regional funding citing local financial constraint. Nor was her dissatisfaction over Caricom’s current state any less. Persad-Bissessar who was accompanied on the trip by her (lookalike) sister and a line of male aides, emerged on the first working day in an olive-green pants suit, looking little different from the rest of her suited male colleagues. On the day she undertook the tough job of chairing the region’s National Security Committee—and revealed T&T would not be funding further regional programmes—Persad-Bissessar, however, had dressed in girlish pink.

Though making her presence felt in Caricom’s wallets, nobody muttered anything (much) about iron ladies or the name of former UK PM Margaret Thatcher. But Persad-Bissesar’s position was clearly not well received by all. St Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas pointedly refused to comment at a media briefing on Persad-Bissessar’s stance that T&T’s financial constraints could not accommodate expansive regional assistance.

But Douglas strenuously lobbied for continuation of a regional lab facility that had been promised by the former Manning administration. Grenada and other states also called for T&T to go forward with the radar/patrol boat system proposed by the PNM. It must have been to her satisfaction that summit’s end brought agreement for some states to cough up arrears on certain programmes and for the floundering regional movement to try to regroup under direction of a permanent council of leaders (Persad-Bissessar included.)

If Persad-Bissessar’s musical renditions at the end of Wednesday’s post-summit reception were anything to go by, regional heads shouldn’t really “Worry about a thing,” but probably get down to working out the various issues. She might not necessarily have been influenced by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who quoted Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up…” at the opening function last Sunday.

(Much to the audience’s glee, the UN secretary general had intoned stiffly, but gamely: “I will get up. I will stand up. And I won’t give up the fight.”) On Wednesday, Persad-Bissessar’s attempt at Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” was much smoother than his, after she intercepted the band’s microphone and launched into song, encouraging fellow heads to join her onstage, singing.

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