Caricom’s latest governance conclusions

Responding to much expression, through the media, of public concern about the direction of Caricom, the Heads of Government once again committed themselves, at their recent 37th Meeting, to seeking to find a more appropriate form of governance than presently exists. This time they have appointed themselves to find a solution, rather than any group of technocrats on whose proposals they would rule. Though the Committee of Heads established to look at the issue of management intends to co-opt some technocrats to assist them, their decision makes it clear that they feel that if the buck stops with them, they might as well cook it themselves on this occasion. And no doubt they have become sensitive to the clear fact that they are the ones being blamed by public opinion for the persistently tardy manner in which this issue of governance has been dealt with.

The matter has, of course been in train since 1992 – eighteen years ago – when the West Indian Commission made its recommendations on governance in anticipation of Caricom’s transition from a Common Market to a Single Market and Economy. Following their rejection of that Commission’s proposals, they seemed eventually to come to some agreement on the basic principles on which a governance framework might be constructed at their 24th Meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica in July 2003. For in their so-called Rose Hall Declaration on Regional Governance and Integrated Development, taking the name of the place to which they returned on the 4th of this month – seven years later, they seemed to have somewhat reversed themselves in tackling the subject once again.

That Rose Hall Declaration indicated that the Heads of Government were agreed on one underlying principle that should guide the construction of a governance system – that “CARICOM is a Community of Sovereign States…and …the deepening of regional integration will proceed in this political and juridical context”. Since 2003 this statement of principle, suggesting to most observers that the West Indian (Ramphal) Commission’s was seen by the Heads to have breached it, nonetheless maintained the Commission’s recommendation that the central instrument of Caricom Governance should be a CARICOM Commission, which the Heads now agreed should guide a “system of mature regionalism” in which “critical decisions taken by the Heads of Government …will have the force of law”.

All subsequent proposals for a form of Caricom governance have maintained this proposal and institutional arrangement proposed in it. The arrangement, according to the Declaration, gave the power to the Commission “to exercise full-time executive responsibility for furthering implementation of Community decisions” – these decisions being made either by the Heads themselves or their Ministerial Councils. And indeed subsequent Committees established by the Heads, including the last Technical Working Group on Governance which reported in 2007, have maintained it, tweaking here and there. Yet it is apparent that the notion of a Commission provided with the authority to, effectively interrelate with the national or state arrangements, in order to ensure the implementation by the national legislative and administrative organs of decisions made by the Heads at Caricom level in a timely manner, has stuck in the craw of one or another Head whenever decision time about a Caricom structure has come.

It appears that whatever happened at the recent 37th Heads Conference, whatever report that was made to them, was still unsatisfactory or could not receive consensus. But the Heads, sensitive to widespread criticism, from within and without their ranks, about what has appeared to be their persistent trawling in the water without ever reaching port, have now decided to take what must now be one last opportunity to arrive at some agreement on this issue. They do so in the context of an increasing awareness by Caricom and private stakeholders in various spheres that the present institutional arrangements for decision-implementation are hindering the construction of an effective Single Market and a Single Economy. And secondly in the context of promptings by OECS leaders, that in their attempt to create an Economic Union, they have apparently found the holy grail – an institutional arrangement that satisfies the requirement of recognition and maintenance of national sovereignty, while being capable of ensuring collective implementation of regionally-taken decisions (though the proof of that pudding will be in the eating).

Yet, still proceeding with what would appear to be hesitation, our Heads seem to have given themselves the limited mandate that they would “conduct a review of the proposals on the table with regard to this issue”. Yet a mandate not dissimilar to this was given to President Jagdeo during the last Heads meeting in Guyana. So citizens of the Region are still left to wonder what would happen if, having deliberated on the proposals at their Special Meeting in late September this year, when they report as promised to their Intersessional meeting in February 2011, the “proposals on the table” are found wanting by one or other of the leaders.

Nevertheless, optimists might conclude from this meeting that the Heads have decided that what is required is no longer any technical wizardry created by diplomats and technocrats, but rather a hard political bargaining session among themselves in which concessions can be made towards eventually coming to a conclusion on this matter. There are signs that Prime Minister Golding, now Chairman of Caricom, has cooled down somewhat on his initial strident declaration, soon after his elevation to office,  that if the “E” in CSME meant any diminution of Jamaica’s sovereignty, then his country could be counted out. There are signs too, from the recent Heads meeting, that the Prime Minister may feel that there are grounds for finding a solution to the governance problem with what appears to be a sympathetic Prime Minister of Trinidad (in spite of her ATM talk”) in the wider context of finding a resolution to the problems of trade, and the terms of production, claimed to exist by Jamaican entrepreneurs against Trinidad.

Who knows? It is really not being cynical to say that there is no point, after all these years, in speculating. We will just have to wait till next February.

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