CARICOM: Time for action has passed
It is significant that CARICOM Heads of Government have just concluded their Twenty-ninth Inter-Sessional Meeting in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 26 – 27 February 2018, and the process and results of that meeting appears to be business as usual. Not unusual.
Based on the communique released at the end of the meeting there were, apparently, no alarm bells about a just-released damning report on CARICOM's performance by a Jamaican commission headed by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
The 144-page March 2017 report entitled: Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica's Relationships within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks" gives the regional body five years to get its act together or Jamaica would "JamXit" from the regional arrangements especially the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
According to the report: "CARICOM's share of world trade has fallen, growth in its output has been anemic and too many of its people remain poor, jobless and hopeless. Jamaica is more than a microcosm of that underachievement. Many of us are inclined to blame it on our "failed marriage" because we were led to believe that integration would have been good for us and would have created opportunities and provided benefits that we would not otherwise have been able to secure.
"But something cannot be said to have failed unless it has been tried. The single market and economy that we so often declare is not working cannot, in reality, be expected to work because it has not yet been functionally established. The decision we made to build one, however sincere that intention was, has not up to now been carried through. So much time has elapsed and so much that should have been done has not been done that we are in danger of succumbing to "integration fatigue" without having actually integrated and we are having difficulty sustaining or renewing our commitment to the process".
The "Golding Report" states emphatically that CARICOM is an arrangement in which "authority and responsibility are not aligned for accountability and failure is immune to embarrassment". Saying that it is "no quantum physics" to identify the reasons for CARICOM's failures, the report points to "'implementation deficit' about which so much has been spoken but so little done".
According to the report: "It is distressingly noteworthy that our deliberations took place a quarter of a century after the report of the West Indian Commission was presented in 1992. We raise the question whether the "time for action" that it so loudly proclaimed has passed".
Quoting renowned regionalist Sir Shridath Ramphal, the report said: "We have crept through the fractured promises of the Treaty of Chaguaramas and Declaration of Grand Anse and through innumerable pious declamations, affirmations and commitments. The roll call of unfulfilled pledges and promises and unimplemented decisions is staggering and shameful."
The Golding Commission clearly acknowledges that Jamaica cannot continue to be part of a dysfunctional CARICOM and the governments must take steps, urgently, to make the organisation sustainable.
"What is not sustainable," the report said " is the pretense that we are building a single market and economy while busy marking time, justifying our own procrastination, unwilling to let go of our insular and protectionist predilections yet constantly reciting clichéd declarations of commitment to the integration effort".
But the report is not all CARICOM bashing. It contains, in the words of the authors, proposals to rectify the structural and organizational deficiencies in CARICOM. "We have suggested ways of securing implementation and compliance that fall short of a supranational authority but respect the concept of a 'Community of Sovereign States' while providing a means of enforcement and accountability."
The Golding Report makes similar observations that Vincentian Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves' wrote a couple years ago in an eight-page letter to CARICOM, in which he expressed his frustrations with the regional institution.
In his correspondence to the CARICOM secretary general, Irwin LaRocque, which was copied to the heads of government, Comrade Ralph, as he is affectionately called, accused the Community of "sliding backwards" and of dealing with key issues in "a piece-meal, ad hoc or disconnected manner". Gonsalves, a true integrationist, has never been shy to speak his mind on matters of regional interest. But the share exasperation displayed in this letter, and the forcefulness of his words, suggest that this is a man who is at his wits end.
Since the Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community was signed on 4th July 1973, the world has seen the development of everything from personal computers to laser printers, personal stereos to iPhones and iPads. What has CARICOM achieved since? To say that it has achieved very little is generous. Considering the laundry list of complaints from the Vincentian leader, who also accused the regional body of "ducking" the issues, we are confident that our assessment is spot on.
The people of the Caribbean have been demanding action on regional integration matters for much too long. We have had nothing but talk and broken promises for much too long. And while the region demands action to back the rhetoric, CARICOM, through its political leadership – and through no fault of the professionals at the secretariat – continues to reel to and fro, staggering like a drunk who has gone several bottles past his drinking limit. Ralph Gonsalves and now the March 2018 Golding Report have said "enough is enough". We strongly agree.