Let us not fool ourselves: the expectations surrounding this weekend’s 32nd regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in St Kitts and Nevis are not great, given the recent record of procrastination and prevarication by our regional leaders.
At the risk of being accused of flogging a dead horse, we nevertheless believe that it behoves us to remind the Heads of some of the general concerns of the region and the anxieties of their people.
The current challenges facing Caricom are well known but bear repeating. Our small countries are institutionally weak and limited by their size. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to external economic shocks, including but not limited to volatility in energy prices and the loss of preferential markets for primary products. Regional economic activity is suffering from a lack of competitiveness and productivity. The transnational threats of organised crime, especially the illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons and people and the flows of dirty money, are undermining our systems of governance, our economies and the security of our citizens. Nor should we forget the associated threats of corruption and inefficiency. Climate change is also a clear and present danger for our small island states and low-lying coastal areas. And our societies, buffeted by the winds of change, are themselves changing, as migration continues, traditional values are eroded and the increasing proportion of young people contemplate a horizon on which opportunities do not appear to meet their ambitions and aspirations.
Of course, our leaders are quite aware of these challenges, in addition to their own domestic issues, but what are they doing collectively to confront them? For our small, developing states, there is no other option but to find strength in unity. Yet, the regional process appears to have stagnated, with a few countries seemingly prepared to make their own way, when clearly we need, nay, we are crying out for a regional approach to solving the region’s problems.
So, let us reiterate: we need to accelerate towards the long overdue establishment of the Caricom Single Market (the more ambitious Single Economy need not be a priority at this stage); we need to revisit the strategy of integration of production and to develop economies of scale, even as we pool our limited human, financial and technical resources; we need to share information and technology in order to be more innovative; and we need to enhance cross-border cooperation to tackle cross-border problems. Moreover, even as we turn again to each other for mutual support and our collective advancement, we need to be more strategic in the leveraging of external assistance in support of home-grown solutions.
These truths have been self-evident for some time now but our leaders do not seem ready to grasp fully the nettle of collectivism and pooled sovereignty, with all that is implied for the ceding of some aspects of sovereignty for the common good.
We are not sanguine that there will be an epiphany in St Kitts. But even as we call again for bold and visionary leadership and a clear sense of direction, we would remind our leaders that to continue to avoid taking decisive action on the most pressing issues of the day – including a new architecture for implementation of their own mandates, with the Single Market an obvious priority and with the full incorporation of civil society to make the regional integration process genuinely people-driven – would be to make a tacit admission that Caricom has reached the limits of its possibilities, at least in the context of its current governance structures and their vision. At this stage in the region’s history and development, it is with great regret that we use the latter term advisedly.