Int’l financial slump could bring down Caricom, report warns

-says movement risks losing members over slow progress

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) is at risk of being “brought down quickly” if the international financial situation worsens, according to recent review that also warns of the real possibility that member states could walk away over the movement’s slow progress.

The January 2012 report, ‘Turning Around CARICOM: Proposals to Restructure the Secretariat,‘ which has been seen by Stabroek News, says that Caricom is in a fight for survival and its future is in jeopardy unless fundamental changes in operations and structure, including delivering on practical benefits in the short term, are urgently made.

“CARICOM is in crisis… The crisis is sufficiently severe to put CARICOM’s very existence in question,” the 157-page report proclaims, saying that in addition to the danger of a loss of funding, there is evidence that that over the next few years some of its 15 member states, frustrated by the pace of progress, could begin to “vote with their feet” and leave the community.

“Longstanding frustrations” at Caricom’s progress rate, a “serious weakening” in its structure and operation over the years and “continued economic retrenchment” since the 2008 global financial crisis are blamed for the situation in which the community has found itself. In order for Caricom to survive and eventually prosper, the report identifies the need for full and unequivocal support from member states; a focus on delivering a narrow range of specific, practical and achievable benefits over a reasonably short time span; and a credible reorganisation and strengthening of the movement, including the Secretariat and regional institutions. Once these conditions are successfully met, it recommends “a major relaunch” of Caricom to be aimed at the general public in member states and the international community.

The report was submitted by Landell Mills Ltd, a UK-based consultancy contracted to conduct an organisational review of the Caricom Secretariat. The project, funded by the European Develop-ment Fund (EDF) and approved by heads of government, is to assess the effectiveness of the Secretariat’s current organisational structure and identify the constraints to deepen regional integration within Caricom.

Immediately, the report highlights the intense pressures that the world financial crisis has placed on Caricom. “There is a not insignificant risk that CARICOM could be brought down quickly if the international economic situation deteriorates further,” it warns, while explaining that many member states are highly-indebted and further financial downturn this year could realistically see significant funding for the Secretariat and regional institutions cut off at short notice.

The report’s authors, Richard Stoneman, Justice Duke Pollard and Hugo Inniss, say Caricom’s difficulties are significantly multiplied by the continuing economic crisis. Caricom’s Secretariat has lived “from hand-to-mouth” in budgetary terms for most of the last decade, they note, while adding that with member states, in particular, now having to make savings wherever they can, the Secretariat has come under mounting financial pressure, affecting its functioning and weakening the entire Caricom structure.

They further add that the Secretariat and Caricom institutions are not strong enough to cope with any major shortfall in funding and they urge in the report that contingency plans be developed for both the Secretariat and the region to guard against dire economic predictions for this year. They also note that the European Union’s ability to overcome the current economic crisis it currently faces is crucial to Caricom’s prospects this year.

‘Implementation
deficit’

In addition to the immediate pressure brought to bear by the international financial situation, the report warns of the more likely possibility that without fundamental change Caricom “will expire slowly” over the next four or five years as member states grow weary over its slow progress. Caricom’s operation and structure have been weakened over the years, the report argues, making it unable to achieve the positive results that would be needed to turn around its reputation.

The authors say that they have no doubts that Caricom is essential to the region’s future and to the prosperity and welfare of member states. They argue that it remains the only viable option for realising substantial regional benefits. “There is no dispute that significant benefits can be had from regional cooperation and integration,” the report says. However, it adds, “The problem is the realisation and delivery of those benefits, as the debate over the so-called “implementation-deficit” makes clear.”

According to the report, the overall construct of Caricom has been under “unprecedented attack” in the media. It adds that Caricom is also regarded as having failed by the man in the street, that is, if he is even aware of it at all. Further, alongside the public perceptions of Caricom, it says some of the international community see the regional body as increasingly irrelevant and are often reluctantly trying to work around it. “The common verdict on CARICOM can be summarised by the ‘implementation deficit.‘ CARICOM is widely regarded as having achieved little and of being incapable of delivering long-promised benefits,” it says.

The report explains that an important way of tackling “growing disillusion” is for both Caricom and member states to be much clearer about the benefits of the community and when they would be delivered. “The general problem here is that in a regional body that was born in idealism around the time of independence, the tendency has always been to announce decisions over new initiatives as if full implementation were imminent and to oversell the timing and benefits of implementation,” it explains. The authors reason that while this was understandable during the early flushes of regionalism, it is not understandable in the second decade of the following century. “Its cumulative impact has been disastrous for CARICOM with part of the ‘implementation deficit‘ being a direct result of serial overselling over many years,” they say, while adding that judging by media reports the new Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque seems determined to be clearer and more realistic about what Caricom is trying to deliver and by when.

In emphasising the need for support from member states, the report notes that although many maintain a serious commitment to regionalism in principle, many of their decisions, practices and actions have often inadvertently “undermined and weakened” Caricom in reality. “This must change,” it says. “In particular, it is essential that the region settle on clear priorities as to what it can and cannot do. Stakeholders and informed commentators are increasingly unanimous that the longstanding habit of the region attempting to take on a never-ending wish list of priorities means that nothing is a priority in practice,” it adds, saying that heads of fovernment recognition of this at their retreat in Guyana last May could prove an historic turning point in this respect.

The report adds that for Caricom to be turned around successfully, both stakeholders and interested parties, particularly the international community and its constituent aid donors, need to become more realistic about the constraints of geography, lack of size and complexity faced in developing a successful regional construct in the Caribbean region. “Whilst these constraints impose limitations on what can be done and the speed at which it can be done, the fundamental challenge is to address the plethora of weaknesses in the CARICOM construct that have prevented it making acceptable progress over many years,” it says.