Silence at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference

The thirty-eighth regular meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) was held last week Tuesday to Thursday (July 4-6) in Grand Anse, Grenada. At the end of the conference, the standard communiqué, with the traditional photograph featuring all the Caricom Heads of Government or the representatives of Heads, was issued by the Caricom Secretariat.

The communiqué presents a summary of the matters discussed and the decisions arrived at, and includes the usual suspects: awards, signings of agreements to establish a new entity or committee, treaties and other instruments, discussions on Regional security, the Caricom Single Market Economy, tourism, air transportation, the single Information Communications and Technology Space, financing for development, reparations for native genocide and slavery, the border controversies of Belize-Guatemala and Guyana-Venezuela, future post-Brexit relations with the United Kingdom, ACP-EU relations and the situation in Venezuela. There is no mention of the topic of West Indies cricket, although the subject was tossed into the wind at the meeting.

At the opening ceremony on the Tuesday evening, Grenada’s Prime Minister and incoming Chairman of the Heads of Government, Dr Keith Mitchell, raised the topic when he addressed the gathering. “It is, therefore, greatly disheartening to me, and several other colleague heads, that after Caricom had taken common positions to assist in addressing the crisis of West Indies cricket, certain member governments thereafter publicly adopted different positions,” the past head of the Caricom sub-Committee on Cricket observed.

The host was of course referring to the U-turn taken by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne after the twenty-seventh inter-sessional Meeting of the Caricom of Heads of Government Conference in Belize in February last year. Dr Mitchell was under the impression that they had arrived at a unanimous decision to endorse the Barriteau Report which had stated, “It is now past the time to accept that the current government structures [of the WICBC] are obsolete.” The report had suggested that the members of the current board resign and the board be dissolved and a “new governance framework” be installed. The members of the board of course have steadfastly refused to comply with the recommendations, even labelling the dissolution call as “an unnecessary and intrusive demand.”

The leader of Antigua and Barbuda departed after the opening ceremony to attend to an emergency at home, and issued a statement to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) the following day, defending his government’s position on non-interference “in the internal affairs of institutions and governments that are governed by democratically elected officials.”

It is felt in some quarters that the Antigua and Barbuda head had changed his mind after allegedly receiving a supposed threat from the West Indies Cricket Board President Dave Cameron that if Antigua and Barbuda did not withdraw its support for the Caricom decision, he would move the regional cricket board’s office from St John’s, Antigua, where it has been located since the 1980s.

On Friday, July 7, in a CMC report emanating from St George’s, Grenada, site of the Caricom meeting, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves questioned the authority of Cricket West Indies (the new name for WICBC) to control the regional game, especially since it claimed to be a private organisation. Dr Gonsalves, a lawyer by profession, was quoted as saying, “But the question is: cricket is a public good. Can a private entity run the public good and that question has been determined in another jurisdiction in India, so that’s a separate question. I’m not interested in the dissolution of the West Indies Cricket Board.

“All I am saying [is] how have you gotten the right as a private entity to run and manage a public good to the exclusion of everyone else? No, that can’t be right so that’s the fundamental question which I raise,” the current chairman of the Caricom sub-Committee on Cricket further queried.

On Saturday evening, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who back in April had lamented that “Caribbean cricket had been hijacked by a small clique who were hell bent on destroying Caribbean cricket,” joined the fray, and made several revealing statements whilst speaking on the radio programme I-Sports.

The first thing he noticed was the absence of the subject of West Indies cricket on the agenda of the Heads of Government meeting, and when he raised the matter of putting it back on the table, to quote his own words, “…after I spoke, not another sound was made at the table.”

“Not another sound.” Silence. Absolute silence.

“The subject has become one that threatens our very unity among us on the table, not a single person leading our territories joined and as a result of it there was no comment on it,” Dr Rowley observed. “Isn’t that interesting?” he mused, whilst noting that the subject of Venezuela had also been omitted from the agenda, and was only added after he raised the matter.

“What you are saying is that the Caribbean leadership is not able to deal with the issue, and therefore they [Cameron and Co] are on their own and as long as they lay claim to West Indies cricket unchallenged because of the fracturing of Caribbean leadership they can go and do this for as long as they want,” the Trinidad and Tobago leader lamented.

It appears that only Drs Mitchell and Rowley are willing to prescribe the medicine required to challenge “the clique that has hijacked West Indies cricket.”

It is indeed a very sad state of affairs when our elected leaders are displaying visible signs of weakness – avoiding difficult subjects as is clearly the case here – especially in the current circumstances where our cricket continues to slide into oblivion. How long will they continue to lay the blame on the players? Their silence can now be viewed as an act of complicity on their part and an unwillingness to take responsibility and take the bull by the horns.

Their next scheduled meeting is February in Haiti. What should we expect to hear?

Silence.

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