Consultations reveal desire for supranational authority – Caricom SG

Consultations in Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries have revealed that there is a consensus that “some form of supranational authority must be kept alive”, according to Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque.

However serious challenges have to be addressed if the integration process is to move forward and made more meaningful to the people of the region, he said.

LaRocque was delivering a lecture on the status of the Regional Integration Process and Vision for the Future of Caricom.  A release from the Caricom Secretariat said that LaRocque’s lecture in early October was the first of a series at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, focusing on Caricom: exploring its usefulness to the region and its future on its 40th anniversary celebrations.

Irwin LaRocque
Irwin LaRocque

Conferring supranational authority on the Secretariat for it to make decisions and implement has been a longstanding problematic for the community. It had been addressed in the seminal West Indian Commission Report of 1992 and in the Rose Hall Declaration of 2003.  The problem remains that regional leaders have been unwilling to cede any of their powers or authority to the Secretariat and this has been seen as one of the reasons behind the poor implementation of Caricom decisions.

According to LaRocque, “…we must reach to the realisation that our national growth and development is inextricably tied to regional growth and development.”

The Secretary General opined, “Instituting change is never easy and is more difficult if it is attempted in the face of entrenched attitudes and structures. That notwithstanding, the Community is engaged in a three year reform process that encompasses every facet of its operations.  In short we are changing the way we do business. Heads of Government agreed in March 2012 that since ‘form followed function,’ it was necessary to re-examine the future direction of the Community and the arrangements for carrying this forward. This includes the role and function of the Caricom Secretariat and the Institutions of the Community. “Critically, it will also address issues of implementability including the roles and responsibilities of all participants in the Community architecture: namely the Conference of Heads of Government; the Ministerial Councils; the Bodies, such as the Committee of Central Bank Governors and the Budget Committee; the Caricom Secretariat; and the Institutions; as well as issues of governance, institutional and operational arrangements and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.”

He stated that a change facilitation team had been recruited to assist with this transformation and was currently undertaking consultations in Member States for the first ever Strategic Plan of the Community. He added that with eight consultations completed so far, it was clear that the people of Caricom remained committed to realizing the potential of an integration movement.

Common themes emerging include: The need to address economic recovery and growth as a core strategy over the next five years; The need to strengthen governance and decision-making arrangements, beginning with the Heads of Government Confer-ence, to secure a more effective Community; The need to solve the challenges with inter-regional transport, the free movement of persons including hassle free travel, as critical success factors for regional integration.

LaRocque stated, “It is clear from the consultations, that the people of Caricom remain committed to realising the potential of our integration movement, our single but diversified space, and even eventually our “United States of the Caribbean” as it has been described in some of the consultations.”

He said that this reform process was central to the future of the integration movement and Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s call for a “big conversation” could not be timelier.  It would be “an opportunity to chart a new paradigm for growth, review the role and performance of our regional institutions to determine how they can help in these times and better assist us to restore growth to our economies.”

The Secretary General opined, “In joining that conversation we must be prepared to examine every aspect, principle and underlying philosophy that has guided this integration movement.  Should we seek to widen our fold and embrace more of our Caribbean neighbours or should we concentrate on deepening our arrangements? Can we achieve both at the same time? …”

LaRocque stated, “For Caricom, enhancing competitiveness and expanding trade are crucial for improving the welfare of the Region. However, small developing economies like ours have structural and institutional characteristics, which affect the process of economic growth, constrain their ability to compete internationally, increase their vulnerability to external events, and limit their capacity for adjustment.

“It is clear that faced with those realities, there is an imperative to come together, rather than looking inward, to be better able to meet those challenges. Our path to regional development is premised on the commitment by our Member States, to promote initiatives aimed at achieving a coordinated and strategic approach through the pursuit of increasingly coordinated policies and the combined use of the resources and capacities of the Region.”

 

Theoretical

According to the SG, “We probably have adopted a too theoretical model of economic integration. Our regional economists have long called for us to focus on production integration and on the competitiveness of our economies.”

He cautioned that “Production integration can only be achieved through the full involvement of a competitive private sector. To facilitate the private sector involvement we must address the ease of doing business across borders and within the CSME, as a whole. There is also an urgent need to strengthen the institutional capacity of private sector support organisations.  These institutions are vital to give the private sector a cohesive voice at the table of decision-making in matters of interest to their members.

“In the final analysis, focus must be on increasing production in order to generate income and address the standard of living in our various Member States.  Key to increasing production is agriculture, export services and manufacturing.  The success of these sectors is of course underpinned by affordable energy and affordable and reliable transportation services.”

LaRocque said, “Further, the governing arrangements for the CSME have become bureaucratic, unwieldy and lethargic and we spend more time and resources discussing the same issues rather than making decisions we can effectively implement. There is need for more care and attention in the decision-making process, including an effective consultative mechanism.

“I believe we have reached the stage where we must ask fundamental questions about the efficacy of the governance structures outlined in the Treaty and of the Treaty itself.”

He stated that the Treaty, as it now exists, may be limited as a tool to advance the integration movement as it is basically trade-based with insufficient attention paid to the Single Economy.  He said that whereas there are clear obligations under the Treaty with respect to the Single Market, for the most part, the provisions relative to the Single Economy can ideally be described as “best endeavours.”

However the Secretary General stated that this issue is among the areas of priority being considered by the reconstituted Inter Governmental Task Force which is working towards making recommendations for further Revising the Treaty. Two of the areas are Governance of the Caribbean Community and Related Issues and the Working Methods of the Various Organs and Bodies of the Caribbean Community.

He said that the fundamental issue is how to balance that reality against the need for an effective system of governance to allow for efficient and timely implementation of decisions.

LaRocque suggested that targets be set which take into account not only the necessity and urgency of achieving the goal but equally important, what it takes to get there, and the resources and capacity of the entire Community to do so.

The SG highlighted that one of the unintended side effects of the concentration on trade and economic aspects of the integration movement has been the tendency to judge the success of the entire movement by the efforts in those areas. He said that in some quarters, the effectiveness of Caricom is judged on issues related to the movement of persons or merchandise trade balances. According to LaRocque, “This view is at odds even with the economic reality, given the important contribution that trade in services is making to the Region.

While these issues need to be addressed, it is unfortunate that these are the criteria often used in the court of public opinion, since so much else has been achieved in the past 40 years. It has also had the effect of minimising the important role of human and social development in our societies. There have been several notable achievements in this area.”

He highlighted that functional cooperation in the important area of health led to the establishment of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development which in 2007, made the point that “a healthy population is an essential prerequisite for the economic growth and stability of the Caribbean” and stressed the importance of health to achieving the goals of economic development as enunciated in our Treaty.

LaRocque noted that the serious implications of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were pointed out by the Commission which identified one Member State in which the combined cost of dealing with diabetes and hypertension, two of the NCDs, amounted to more than US$58 million annually, an indication of the economic burden that these diseases place on our countries. It was due to leadership by Caricom, that the ravages of the NCDs commanded global attention and action, prompting a UN High Level Forum on the issue in 2011.

The SG stated, “The Youth of our Community deserve special attention. Following the Report of a Caricom Commission on Youth Development in 2010, a five-year Caricom Youth Development Action Plan (CYDAP) has been created to give expression to the six Caricom Youth Development Goals which underpin the Paramaribo Declaration on the future of youth in the Community.”

He noted that the Action Plan spans the areas of: education and economic empowerment; universal access to secondary education by 2016; reshaping of national education policies to reflect the life cycle approach to learning; and the establishment of integrated programmes providing employability skills, transition skills and entrepreneurial skills for youth in and out of school.

The other area of success he highlighted was foreign policy co-ordination which he said could be used to address regional and national problems.

LaRoque said, “To make optimum use of such opportunities, the Community has established and identified the basic principles as well as the operational modalities to inform the conduct of its foreign policy coordination. One of the fundamental principles is that the pursuit of our development goals and interests must shape our external outreach. Also of importance, is that in today’s fast paced and globalized world, foreign relations are no longer the preserve of Foreign Ministries. Community foreign policy coordination therefore requires the harmonisation of messages and policies at the national level between Foreign Ministries and line ministries.”

The SG stated, “Ideally those issues that are important to the people of the Community would have been resolved. I speak here of hassle free travel, free movement, currency convertibility, and contingent rights. We have to create a Community in which the people have tangible proof that integration is working for them and that their domestic space extends from Belize in the west to Barbados in the east, from Suriname in the south to The Bahamas in the north and all in between. This would mean being able to travel freely, change their currency and have the families who move, treated to all intents and purposes, as citizens of their adopted country.”

As part of his vision for the Community, he stated that he would like to see foreign policy co-ordination strengthened as a means of achieving development goals.  He also expressed the desire to see the Caribbean Court of Justice embraced by all Member States, in both its jurisdictions, as a step towards completing the circle of sovereignty for the Region.

LaRocque pledged, “I intend to deliver a Secretariat that is strategic in outlook and efficient, effective and responsive in serving the needs of its Member States and providing leadership to the integration arrangements.”

 

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