PM outlines position
BASSETERRE – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart says while Barbados remains committed to the goals and ideals of the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy (CSME) it would not do so to the detriment to the island’s future socio-economic development.
Stuart, in his maiden address at a CARICOM summit, said that in the recent past Barbados has been harshly criticized for stepping up its surveillance regarding the free movement of people, which is one of the characteristics of the CSME.
But he said he was satisfied that despite “insurmountable odds, we can be satisfied that we have also made significant headway on the most complex, painstaking and perhaps the most misunderstood part of the integration project, the Single Market and Economy (SME)”.
He said the SME remained a work in progress and that while recent negative events have revealed the high degree of financial interdependence that already exists in the region “we cannot pretend that our efforts at macroeconomic convergence have reached the point that would allow us to create and, more important, to sustain a Single Economy.
“The current turmoil in the Eurozone and elsewhere has injected a dose of sober realism into our discussions. Ultimately we have come to accept that the existing timetable is not achievable. For Heads of Government to set yet another tenuous deadline in so volatile an environment would be highly irresponsible and an insult to the intelligence of our people,” he added.
However, he said that “by no stretch of the imagination should this decision to postpone be interpreted as an abandonment of the ultimate goal,” noting that the move by the sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) towards an economic union should help “contribute significantly towards our wider effort within the CSME”.
Stuart said while the structure of the Single Market was firmly in place and operational in terms of the rights of establishment and the free movement of goods, services, capital and the ten categories of skilled persons “the matter of freedom of movement has had the unfortunate tendency to inflame passions throughout the region”.
“Of late Barbados has been at the receiving end of much of the emotive and highly inaccurate rhetoric on this issue. I am therefore glad for the opportunity to bring some perspective to bear on this important subject.
“First let me restate that Barbados is fully compliant with its CARICOM obligations with respect to the free movement of the 10 categories of workers specified in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and subsequent decisions of Heads. This is not my subjective view. Rather it is based on the findings of the Secretariat Appraisal Report.
“We are one of only three members which have thus far set up the required National Accreditation Councils to certify and verify the requisite skills,” he said outlining the number of Caribbean nationals who have acquired the CARICOM Skills Certificates in order to work and live in Barbados.
“Barbados is committed to the smooth and transparent operation of this vital regime. At the same time, however, we insist that its rules must be scrupulously applied, both to facilitate those legitimately eligible to benefit from its provisions and to ensure that the criminal and fraudulent elements of our societies are not given free rein to manipulate the system, to the detriment of all.
“We are frequently criticized for the rigour of our checks, and while I will accept that there are sometimes instances of duplication and delay, which we are working to correct, I cannot in good conscience abandon the principle of due diligence on which Barbados’ reputation for order and probity has always rested.”
Stuart, who replaced the late David Thompson as head of the Barbados government last October, said that it was because of due diligence that it had been able to stop scams “by putative free movers, the most notorious of whom was detained as a guest of Her Majesty’s Prison in Barbados.
“The sobering aspect of his case is the fact that the bogus credentials he carried – in medicine believe it or not – had been duly certified by an official agency in his home country, whose irate communications and charges that Barbados was harassing its skilled nationals were naturally the subject of some considerable embarrassment after the fact.”
The Barbados Prime Minister said there was also a lack of operational clarity on the Rights of Establishment regime “which leaves it open to exploitation by those who might not otherwise qualify under the skills criteria”.
“For this reason we do not believe it prudent to grant indefinite stay to this category of persons until proof is provided that a business has in fact been established and is operating from a fixed location.
“Barbados has been totally frank with our CARICOM colleagues in assessing that while we support the ultimate goal of complete unrestricted freedom of movement, we can only hope to attain it through a phased and managed approach which does not strain the absorptive capacity of those countries which are the principal recipients and produce severe skills deficits in those which are the principal exporters.
“We have also been frank in our concerns about the matter of contingent rights, the absence of the notion of bilateral reciprocity in the discussions thus far, and the need to recognize that the lack of standardization of offer with regard to social services is a major difficulty.
“We are very aware of the experience of other jurisdictions where rights-shopping is a growing phenomenon, and where location choices are heavily influenced by the level of state subsidy and the calibre of the social services offered to the skilled worker and his family.”
He said that in CARICOM’s case it was not even a proven assumption that increased economic activity through wage earnings, spending and taxes would offset the social outlay of the recipient country.
Stuart said that early trends suggested that the greatest movement was taking place among the lower skilled, lower paid wage earners.
“If the regime is to work, and to work well, how we address these disparities in the contingent rights debate and how we monitor the socio-economic consequences for both sending and receiving states will be crucial.”
But the Prime Minister said he remained “very optimistic about the future of our Community” and that the teething problems in the CSME were not unexpected, neither were they insurmountable “as long as we communicate frankly and honestly about our individual and collective challenges in a spirit of mutual understanding and support”.
“It is only through dialogue that we will find common sense solutions,” he said, adding that “ I for one do not believe in shouting across the Caribbean Sea, nor in getting angry. I believe in polite and civilized discussion, held preferably in private.
“Above all I believe in listening. Hearing all points of view creates understanding. And understanding leads to wiser decisions that are closely in tune with reality,” he told his regional colleagues during the five and a half hour opening ceremony Thursday night.
“We must all accept that the regional integration effort is an evolutionary process. Its momentum varies according to the terrain that lies ahead. It falls to us as leaders to judge the pace and move accordingly, to focus on what is presently achievable, and then act to get it done.” (CMC)