Caricom states 2010-2011: progress or regression?

As 2010 recedes, there can be little doubt that much that was hoped for, by way of economic and social performance in most our Caricom countries, has not seen the light of day. From the north, the assumption that Prime Minister Golding’s Jamaica Labour Party government, elected in 2007, would by now have placed a positive footprint on Jamaican affairs, has virtually disappeared, as Prime Minister Golding has contrived to get himself embroiled in the so-called ‘Dudus affair.’ His eventual decision, under immense popular pressure, to permit the extradition of Dudus to the United States, has been followed by controversy over the pattern of his behaviour on related matters. And it has certainly weakened his authority in the course of this year. Indeed, his government’s achievement in arriving at an innovative approach to resolution of its debt problem, has been well overshadowed by the complexity of the political problems deriving from the Dudus issue, which he continues to face at home.

The difficulties of Jamaica had a signal consequence for Caricom in the sense that Jamaica in the course of this year assumed, and has held the chairmanship of the Community. Yet a country, and a Jamaica Labour Party which has always prided itself on maintaining good relations with our largest near neighbour, the United States, found itself the subject of harsh judgement by the government of that country, led by the newly elected President Obama. For the US, the government’s actions concerning Dudus did nothing less than raise “serious questions about its commitment to combating transnational crime.” With his domestic preoccupations, an issue which Prime Minister Golding seemed anxious to resolve when he assumed the chairmanship of Caricom, that of the governance of its institutions, including the efficiency of its implementation of decisions, remains unconcluded as he leaves the post at the end of this year. And from a Caricom point of view again, the Prime Minister appears to have put the cat among the pigeons with his recent statements casting doubt on the suitability of the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final court, just as it seemed that there had been an evolution of pro-CCJ opinion in that country.

At the other end of the island chain, it is apparent that the new Peoples Partnership Government of Trinidad & Tobago, whose electoral majority indicated much hope on the part of the electorate and their desire for a new approach to governance, has seemed to stumble on too many occasions. As December 21, the first anniversary of the PP’s election, came upon that country, there was an appearance of indecisiveness in governance and policy-making. From a Caricom point of view, Prime Minister Bissessar’s statements indicating a certain scepticism of the benefits of assistance to various member states startled many in the region, necessitating an eventual  partial withdrawal of her remarks. Then suggestions that Trinidad had perhaps done what it could in relation to regional security increased scepticism; and finally an initial throwing of doubt on the viability of the arrangement arrived at on the acquisition of Air Jamaica by Caribbean Airlines (CAL), led to concern about the government’s understanding of the intentions of both the previous Manning government and the Government of Jamaica.  These incidents and the extended attempt to come to terms with the CLICO issue, as well as the governance structure of Caribbean Airlines itself, have suggested an instability in decision-making within the Cabinet.

In the middle or Eastern Caribbean section of the region, the death of Prime Minister David Thompson occurred before he could give a decisive indication of his approach to Caricom integration. His early statements on the migration of other Caribbean nationals to Barbados had surprised many citizens of the Eastern Caribbean, who wondered whether his approach to the issue was genuine, or merely a function of the to and fro of Barbadian party politics. Knowledgeable persons were well aware that Barbadians had long come to the conclusion that the country’s agriculture required external workers. But the issue had become one in electoral contention, leading to some negative sentiment in the Eastern Caribbean and Guyana about a country which, for so many years, had been an exporter rather than an importer of people to the region.

Many persons in the region were also anxious to see whether the commitment showed by previous Prime Minister Owen Arthur to force the pace on implementation of the Single Market and Economy would be pursued with similar vigour by the Thompson administration. But some doubt arose about that too. The fact of the matter is that Prime Minister Thompson inherited the effects of the recession in the Western world, and as with so many other governments, his was constrained to direct attention inwards, a preliminary outcome of which has recently been seen, after Thompson’s death, in the Budget statement presented by the new Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler.

From the perspective of the Eastern Caribbean, declining trends in agricultural exports to the United Kingdom under the post-Lome arrangements, and similar trends in the widely accepted substitute, tourism, have increased pessimism about the prospects for sustained growth in the face of the present North Atlantic recession. On the positive side, the benefits of sub-regional integration were demonstrated by the urgent action taken by the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority under the authority of the sub-region’s central bank, partially staunching immediate anxiety about the possible blood-letting from the CLICO and Stanford affairs. Centrally directed cooperation with the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados in that regard sustained domestic confidence, and enhanced, in the minds of the public and decision-makers, the virtue of sub-regional integration. This led to reinforced attention to the upgrading of the OECS into an economic union, providing a new framework for coping with the difficulties for these micro-economies deriving from the changing of the world economy as they had known it. It is left to be seen whether the pace of actual implementation of the proposed economic union can be sustained, an innovation in that regard being new arrangements for governance of the sub-regional integration process while Caricom continues to ponder.

But for all countries, the central issue, in a sense surpassing the economic one, and inducing uncertainty in the performance of the national governance institutions, has been the crime wave sweeping the region. It has raised real doubt among national populations as to whether many governments are either fully committed, or when committed are demonstrating any capability to cope. In many quarters today, citizens are expressing concern that governments themselves have been penetrated by a number of purveyors of the number one determinant of the crime wave, the trans-country movement of drugs. And in many Caricom member-states, governments have been unable to be persuasive about a positive answer. Clearly the evolution of this issue, will determine whether 2011 will be a year of progress or regression for our Caricom states.

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