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Sunday, January 15, 2006 

Moving beyond the rhetoric of integration
Rickey Singh

Sunday, January 15, 2006

In this column last Sunday, under the title "Caricom's journey to the future", I sketched some of the challenges facing the region's economic integration movement and the frustration that has often resulted from failures to move in harmony in implementation of major decisions unanimously taken.

Today I wish to expand on this situation with, among other issues, a specific focus on a project that seems to have disappeared from the work agenda of our Community leaders: a high-level commission with executive authority.

The start of a new year is a good time for general stocktaking in the regioin's private and public sectors. In doing their own, the heads of government of our Caribbean Community should remind themselves of what went wrong in follow-up action on important issues like, for instances, the promising 2003 "Rose Hall Declaration on Regional Governance and Integrated Development".

As was to be expected, regional media coverage this past week have been dominated with reports on the launch of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM). Six countries initially came on board to be followed by another half a dozen between the end of March this year and before the 27th annual Caricom summit in July.

But problems being encountered in the process of readiness for the realisation of a single regional economy, hopefully by 2008, make all the more necessary why our Community leaders should engage in a critical assessment why the "Rose Hall Declaration", released at Montego Bay two-and-a-half years ago, is gathering dust, if not missing from their files.

There is no point in lamenting failures to provide the acknowledged need for more relevant and effective governance of the business of Caricom while some leaders of the Community continue to refine the art of foot-dragging in towards achieve unanimously set common objectives.

FAILURES: For all their talk, an outstanding example is the failure to have in place the much-touted Caricom Commission, or another mechanism with executive authority, to work along with the Community secretariat in imaginatively and rigorously, pushing ahead policies and programmes, knowing that time is not on our side in dealing with the international community.

The idea of a three-member Caricom Commission first surfaced in the 1992 'Time for Action' report of The West Indian Commission. It was surprisingly quickly torpedoed at a meeting in Port-of-Spain by some leaders who allowed themselves the luxury of speculating on possible choices for the Commission, who they did not favour.

Consequently, they vacillated and then dropped the ball.They have been offering plenty of excuses for delaying the process, even after being presented in 2002 with a mandated 'Review of the Structure and Functioning of the Community Secretariat'.

Then came the 'Rose Hall Declaration on Regional Governance and Integrated Development', with the creation of the Caricom Commission, or some such mechanism, as a key recommendation.
A prime ministerial work group was established under the chairmanship of Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to pursue the "Rose Hall Declaration", assisted by three committees comprising some outstanding technocrats of the region.

This work group has not only failed to have more than two structured meetings, but the entire political directorate of the Community appear to be missing in action when it comes to carrying forward the process of 'regional governance and integrated development', as it was so encouragingly articulated in the 'Rose Hall Declaration'.

A significant feature of the debate on the establishment of the Caricom Commission, with an eye on how Europe is faring with the European Commission, has been the issue of the national sovereignty and the need to cede some authority to a commission in the process of operating the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) while Caricom remains a "Community of sovereign states".

The "sovereign states" reaffirmation in the "Rose Hall Declaration" perpetuates the scenario of member countries continuing to expediently throw up hurdles that militate against the march towards the envisaged seamless regional economy.

It is a goal that requires, in the thinking of some well-known regional economists and political scientists, the pursuit of political integration. But there is the rub.

The lack of political will for such a course remains a glaring weakness of Caricom, now moving into its 33rd year of existence. EXAMPLES: That's why, for all the rhetoric, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated last year as the court of last resort for just two Caricom states, with a few having lingering concerns about its original jurisdiction in resolving disputes in the functioning of the CSME.

Absence of that political will also explains why so many member countries are still pitifully clutching on to Britain's Privy Council and marching to the drum of an old-style monarchical governance system in this first decade of the 21st century, instead of moving on to republican status, with or without an executive head of state.

It is this same political timidity that would also explain why the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP), inaugurated in 1994 with much fanfare as a new institution for improved democratic governance, is yet to make any impact whatsoever in the consciousness of the region's people.

It is an institution in limbo. The recommendations enshrined in the report of one of the three technical committees set up to assist the work of the prime ministerial work group, following the "Rose Hall Declaration", are simply being ignored.

If there is a growing sense of frustration among the region's technocrats, who, over recent years, have been mobilised to come forward with recommendations on how best to give substance to some of the more far-reaching decisions of the Caricom political directorate, they need to know that there are people across the Community who empathise with them.

In this context we anxiously await the fate of the July 2005 report of the blue ribbon 'Caribbean Commission on Health and Development; when it comes to phased implementation of the wide-ranging recommendations.

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