Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart yesterday underscored the need for key regional organs to meet as intended in order to support Caricom’s push towards realising the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
“We made an intervention… to explain that one of the biggest problems we have in terms of the functioning of the organs of the community… that would facilitate the achievement of the goals we have set for ourselves, as far as the Single Market and Economy is concerned, is that some of the organs on which you are relying do not even meet,” Stuart told reporters at the end of the first half of yesterday’s session of the 37th meeting of Caricom Heads of Government at the Pegasus Hotel, in Georgetown.
Stuart singled out the Council of Finance and Planning as one such organ. “This is usually Ministers of Finance, most of whom are heads of government,” he said, while adding that Barbados had to present to the full heads of government meeting, in the session that had ended earlier, a report of the Commission on the Economy, which should have gone to the Council of Finance and Planning but “because that does not meet we had to come straight to the heads with it.”
Stuart added that the Legal Affairs Committee, when it meets, “you cannot get a quorum. Even by video conference, you can’t get a quorum sometimes.” He explained that this is the committee of Attorneys General, who are supposed to study, analyse and advise on the instruments that are drafted for final signature by heads of government so that there can be onward movement with the decisions taken.
“We (Barbados) spoke very strongly on these issues this morning and I think that we were very clearly understood. In fact the position we took was respectfully received and endorsed. So, I think that going forward we should see some improvement in these areas,” he said.
According to the Prime Minister, a lot of the problems that the region has been faced with stem from the fact that “organs needed to ensure that the machinery is well enough oiled to push things forward have not been meeting…if you have a Council of Finance and Planning made up of Ministers of Finance… not meeting and also a council that has to give advice and provide guidance for regional central bank governments and that is not meeting, then the kind of movement you need on pursuing the goal of a single economy will necessarily be impeded,” he said.
Recently-elected Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet also said that in order for the CSME to better function, the many sub-committees of the programme needed to start meeting.
Chastanet said that it should be understood that CSME is an internal market that has implications on the outside. “Sometimes when the world changes, it causes us to have to change… so it is being able to put mechanisms in place that allows us to adjust on a much quicker basis,” he noted.
“I think the caucus… would be for working out the modalities for us to ensure that CSME and all of the other Caricom processes move ahead more quickly,” President David Granger said, moments after stepping out of the Pegasus Hotel’s conference room.
While Granger said that there is no obstacle or roadblock to the process, Stuart said that at the next inter-sessional meeting, to be held in Guyana next February, they will address where the blockages are and what “steps need to be taken to accelerate the process.”
Committed to free movement
Meanwhile, within the single market, Stuart also acknowledged issues with the free movement of people among member states.
Among the features of the CSME is to allow the free movement of nationals but some have argued that it has not been fully implemented as nationals of some member states continue to face difficulties when entering some territories. Recently, Jamaican citizens have voiced complaints about the treatment meted out by Trinidad and Tobago’s immigration authorities, prompting Kingston’s private sector to call for a boycott of Trinidadian products. Guyanese have also long since faced difficulties entering Barbados and to a lesser extent Trinidad and Tobago.
“We are all committed to freedom of movement. The cases where a few persons may have had difficulties at our borders have attracted more attention than the thousands that have no problems at all,” Stuart noted.
He said the heads were expected to discuss the issue more fully during yesterday afternoon’s caucus because there are member states that have specific concerns with regards to freedom of movement. “We will have a chance to see what the problems are and whether the resonance given to the problems is justified by actual statistical information of people who move through the region,” he added.
In 2011, Jamaican Shanique Myrie successfully sued the Barbados government over her treatment by the country’s immigration authorities. Myrie had said that on March 14 of that year, upon her arrival at the Grantley Adams International Airport, she was sexually assaulted by a female immigration officer, badly treated, and then denied entry to the island. She took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which ruled in her favour and awarded her damages.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said his country has always been at the forefront of the integration movement and it continues on this road and to be part of the decision-making process to influence the growth and development of Caribbean integration and to make sure “that we play a pivotal role in this construct that we are quite sure that would… benefit of all Caribbean countries.”
While agreeing that there is some “level of lethargy,” Browne said it does not mean that the regional integration system is not working for the Caribbean. It has and continues to work, he asserted, while conceding that there are some areas in need of further examination to ensure that there is greater commitment and discipline.
Browne also said there is need for both meetings and decision-making on a timelier basis. “I do accept that there are some weaknesses but it is for us as leaders to continue to recommit to ensuring that Caricom and an economic and even social construct continue to work in the best interest of the Caribbean people,” he added.
Browne described his country as one of the “most generous countries” in the region in terms of the free movement of people. “We have gone beyond the treaty to allow for the free movement of skilled nationals; we have allowed unskilled nationals to live and work in Antigua and Barbuda. So we have gone way beyond the call of duty to facilitate the movement of Caricom people,” he said.
Further, he said the country also engages in a significant amount of trade by importing a lot of products from various Caricom countries and therefore its commitment to the regional body is very strong and could be seen in very tangible ways.
Asked about the contribution of the large number of Guyanese living in Antigua and Barbuda, Browne said that it has been significant to the advancement of his homeland as many of them took skills and capital.
“Generally speaking, they have been law-abiding citizens. There might have been one or two…who have violated the laws of the country,” he said, while adding that Guyanese represent at least 15 to 20% of the population, including the immigrants and those who would have been naturalised along with their children.
Browne said it means that Guyanese are a well-integrated part of the country’s population and continue to make their contributions in various sectors of the economy. “And we are very appreciative of the level of their cooperation as they continue to work with indigenous people of Antigua and Barbuda…,” he added.