Vague mandates, poor implementation retards Caricom – report

Too many mandates, institutional weaknesses, and a lack of implementation at the level of member states are among the internal problems that have retarded the progress of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), according to a recent review.

“The reality is that current difficulties have been building up for years,” says the January 2012 report, ‘Turning Around CARICOM: Proposals to Restructure the Secretariat,’ which notes that although the problems have been triggered by the economic climate, the “crisis would have come sooner or later in any event.”

The report, which has been seen by Stabroek News, is authored by Richard Stoneman, Justice Duke Pollard and Hugo Inniss, and was done by Landell Mills Ltd, a UK-based consultancy contracted to conduct an organisational review of the Caricom Secretariat. (The project, funded by the European Development 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.)

It lists “internal sources of frustration,” saying that while they are not comprehensive, they have rendered Caricom “increasingly dysfunctional.” Among these are the many mandates and the decisions that Heads of Government and other community meetings have tasked the Secretariat with advancing. “It became apparent to us that the problem runs deeper. Mandates are often vague and there is no system for cross-referencing them with earlier mandates,” the authors write, adding that follow-up seems dependent on “chance factors,” including if the Secretariat has staff in the particular area of expertise. At the same time, they point out that Article 27:5 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which stipulates that the financial implications of decisions should be drawn out before any decisions are made, is rarely, if ever, invoked.

The lack of prioritisation is highlighted in the report as well. It says there is no regular or structured prioritisation of Caricom activities at the community-level, giving rise to “serious concern from time-to-time, as CARICOM becomes increasingly rudderless.”

Also listed as internal constraints are the lack of a strong overarching structure linking Caricom institutions and organs of the community falling into disrepair. On the latter, the report explains that several organs were not being operated as set out under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. “At meetings through the region, we heard how several organs have degenerated into talk shops known for a mixture of indecision combined with the same issues coming up at meeting after meeting,” it says. The report also notes “a widely shared concern” about the Community Council being perhaps the biggest source of weakness of those Councils that are fully functional. Although under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas the Council has crucial functions pertaining to strategic planning and coordination, the authors report that they have been told that the functions have fallen into misuse and the Council’s main role has become a filter for matters going to full Heads of Government meetings. They also note that the Council of Finance and Planning rarely ever meets.

There is also the problem at the level of member states, which have not been implementing Caricom decisions. “Very few decisions have led to functioning arrangements on the grounds that have produced real benefits,” the report says, while noting that the difficulties arise from several areas, including technical and resource difficulties. “In addition to these technical, resource and priority problems, there are serious issues that could be described in terms of ‘when is a decision really a decision’,” it explains, saying that decisions at the Caricom level can unravel in member states for any number of reasons. According to the report, “A decision made in principle can look very different when its implications are examined in practice. At the same time, getting a CARICOM decision ratified and put into action is usually much more than a question of parliamentary approval.”

Additionally, owing to constraints of its operating environment, the report says the Caricom Secretariat has become weaker over the years.

It blames the gradual squeeze on the Secretariat’s budget over the years, the lack of direction about Caricom’s goals, among other things. “These problems are exacerbated in a Secretariat that is long on traditional civil service and technical skills, but exceedingly short of modern management skills,” it says, noting that the Secretariat is not set up to deal with the minutiae of coordination, follow-up, monitoring and evaluation crucial to achieving Caricom’s goals.

Meanwhile, the external problems highlighted in the report are geography, market size and the complexity of integration. “These crucial constraints tend to be forgotten in the midst of frustrations at the lack of results,” it explains, adding that they are rarely considered when ambitious programmes are set. “The international community is often at fault here when it regularly fails to distinguish how much can be achieved by a large country over a period of time compared to a small Caribbean community.”

The report notes that 12 of the 15 member states being islands spread over roughly 60,000 kilometres of the Caribbean Sea, which has an area of 2.75 million square kilometres; the other three member states are on landmass, of which only two are contiguous. “In other words, a little of 2% of the CARICOM area is land in an overall area that is nearly three-quarters the size of the European Union’s 27 Member States combined,” it emphasises.

It highlights the case of Belize to illustrate the situation, noting that no matter how well integrated Caricom becomes, it will always be “quicker, easier and cheaper” to drive a truckload of goods across the border to Mexico from Belize than to export them anywhere in Caricom. It adds that this situation is not limited to Belize and that the problems of moving between any two Member States, except Guyana and Suriname, provide a binding constraint and often prohibitive financial cost to integration. “This issue of geography neither prevents integration nor is an argument against it. But it inevitably makes integration more difficult and, unless recognised as a binding constraint, leads to destructive frustration,” it further says.

Despite its geography, Caricom’s total population is estimated at around 15 million, with over half being made up by Haiti. Further, the report notes that the Caricom Single Market, from which Haiti is largely excluded in practice, covers six million consumers. In comparison, it points out that the Luxemburg, traditionally described as the minnow of the EU, has a population of 500,000, which represents 0.1% of the EU’s 500 million. “The point here – and it is an important one – is that CARICOM has serious limitations in what it can achieve over any given period,” it says.

The report argues that “the problem of size leads straight into issues of complexity,” while pointing to the inherent complexity of creating a single market.

It highlights the EU’s struggle to deliver a single market in the 1980s and notes the innovations introduced to speed up the process. “As complexity provided a serious challenge for the EU when it was introducing a single market, it should be no surprise that CARICOM has struggled,” it says, later adding, “The issues of complexity do not, of course, provide CARICOM with an excuse for lack of progress or diminish the realities of the ‘implementation deficit’. Rather they raise the question of how to deal with the complexity, not least in light of CARICOM’s binding constraints of size and geography.”

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