By Clinton Urling
The regional private sector movement is near death, on minimum life support and no amount of bandages and doses of dubious medicine can resuscitate it. I have chosen the words carefully, avoiding the phrase “bring it back to life” because it is questionable whether it has ever had life-sustaining vigour in its entire existence.
That notwithstanding, the current effort by some private sector leaders around the region to revive an institution called the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) is a commendable one. However, I hold little faith in the effort gaining success. From the outset, there is a 4,000-kilogramme elephant in the room that many have avoided deliberately; and that is the decision by the major private sector organizations in Trinidad and Tobago to publicly disassociate themselves from the CAIC and its current resuscitation efforts. This is a significant hurdle to overcome. If this project is to have any chance of achieving its goals, its current leaders might want to make the mission of convincing the region’s largest economy to come back on board its immediate priority. Anything short of this will be an exercise of futility.
For the regional private sector movement to work, it must become, simultaneously, regional in scope while remaining fiercely committed to its local purview. There should be a centre/periphery relationship structure. At the centre there should be a Caricom Private Sector Commission (CPSC) and at the local level, the respective private sector agencies in each country should be consolidated into one group (akin to our Private Sector Commission).
For the CPSC, the individual private sector agencies would comprise the board of directors taking on a supervisory role while its administrative functions are carried out by a commissioner empowered to represent the regional private sector at the highest decision making level of Caricom. To make this role fully legitimate, this should include a seat at the Heads of Government table. It is baffling to think that the CSME is supposed to be an economic programme which should be led and executed by the private sector but, in reality, politicians always have determined all of its major decisions and timelines. Some might say this is wishful thinking. However, if we seriously want to establish a strong regional economic space, it’s about time the respective Heads of Government view the private sector as an equally important partner at the most senior level of regional economic decision making.