Skerrit speaks on region
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has said despite efforts to strengthen the regional integration movement, Caribbean people are still not convinced that enough is being done to make the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) “a truly viable enterprise”.
Delivering the first David Thompson Memorial Lecture here on Thursday night, Skerrit, who praised the former Barbados leader for his commitment to CARICOM, said It may be useful to remember that CARICOM is not only about economics.
“It is about improving the quality of life of the citizens of 15 countries which are engaged with the organization at different levels. But to be fully supportive of this enterprise our people must see some positive signs of progress.
“ Sadly, it appears, that in spite of over 40 years of work by governments and a generation of CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Area) and CARICOM officials, enough progress has not been seen to be done so as to convince the mass of our people that this is a truly viable enterprise,” Skerrit said.
“This means that the tripartite link between governments, the CARICOM bureaucrats and the mass of the people, has to be strengthened. If this is not done, CARICOM will remain, for the average Caribbean citizen, a vague entity floating somewhere out there in the Caribbean Sea; something that they only hear about during news broadcasts reporting on yet another conference or meeting.”
The Dominican Prime Minister said that the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat cannot continue to be seen as a moribund bureaucracy.
“Physically it may be located at the extreme southern end of the community, but idealistically it must be there in the centre, at the heart of the region. New vitality and dynamism must be injected. This must be initiated from the top, and I see it as important that we institute a set term for the post of the Secretary General. I would recommend a limit of two terms lasting four years each,” he said.
Skerrit said that in addition, there needs to be a new mechanism by which leaders can communicate and interact more regularly and meaningfully.
He said the success of the efforts in the 1960s and 70s was born from the friendships that existed among that generation of leaders, who were friends and contemporaries “who believed in what they were doing.
“We must rebuild the bonds of trust. We must convince everyone that this is their mission. We have to get across the point that pooling our sovereignty is not necessarily giving up our sovereignty.
“There are many examples where a regional policy in our single economic space is more effective than an insular national policy. This is so whether it relates to access to our fisheries resources or how we treat the issues of energy or environment across the region. Agreement on these regional policies and regimes has been long delayed,” he said.
Skerrit gave as an example, the lack of Caribbean countries to join the appellate jurisdiction of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice that was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court of appeal.
He said participation in the CCJ “would strengthen and develop our Caribbean jurisprudence by increasing access to justice with our very own highest appellate court in our own community. This would be a court that better reflects our laws and social norms and by its very existence, proclaims our independence”.
The Dominican Prime Minister said it was also important for the region’s private sector to fully embrace the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and skills across the region.
But he acknowledged that “in many ways the private sector has been more advanced in the integration movement than the governments themselves” establishing over the past decades, networks of trade and investment in each other’s territories.
“Leading Caribbean businessmen have a network of friends and regional contacts which rivals that of the Heads of States! We want them to take full advantage of the opportunities open to them by CSME.”
Skerrit said that at the retreat of regional leaders in Guyana in May, there was consensus on the need to prioritize the focus and direction of CARICOM, noting that this was necessary “because greater opportunities for development have arisen since we started the process”.
But despite the criticism of the CSME by some within CARICOM, Skerrit, who has lead responsibility for free movement of labour within the quasi CARICOM cabinet, defended the initiative, noting notwithstanding the somewhat slow pace of implementation, “our development partners and the multilateral financial institutions have stressed the importance of deeper regional integration to economic prosperity in CARICOM”.
He said perhaps the most controversial aspect of CSME is the commitment to the free movement of persons across the region and reminded his regional colleagues that “if the decisions to support and promote intra-regional travel are to make a difference, it is absolutely critical that they be implemented as intended”.
Among the decisions, is the granting of a definite entry of six months, irrespective of purpose of visit, into member states.
“This has the benefit of enabling CARICOM nationals to become familiar with other member states of the Community, since many persons still don’t know much about other countries in the Community,” Skerrit, said urging also that countries accept the CARICOM Passport as a “defining symbol of regionalism and
(that) all member states should have effective common lines for CARICOM nationals.
“I am aware of the complaints of CARICOM nationals that far too often the line for CARICOM nationals is the slowest moving line and this is a matter, which we continuously must address as Heads of Government,” he said.
Skerrit also urged member countries to ensure that the legislative and administrative framework is in place to deal with the free movement of eligible skilled CARICOM nationals, the free movement to exercise the right of establishment and the free movement to provide services in the Single Market.
“Member states should not continue to hold on to unreasonable fears or hostility towards other CARICOM nationals,” Skerrit said, noting that the statistics reveal an unexpected picture.
He said a comprehensive migration and free movement study conducted by the CARICOM Secretariat in the period June 2009 to June 2010 showed that approximately 4,500 persons moved under the Skills regime in the period 1997 to June 2010.
“In spite of these low figures there are persistent rumors that countries are being flooded by skilled CARICOM nationals,” he said, adding that the same study proved that in the period 2000 – June 2010 an estimated 85,000 work permits were issued by member states, of which 63,750 were issued to nationals on CARICOM countries.
“These findings clearly highlight that the main movers in our community in the past decade have been non CARICOM nationals.
“So foreign nationals are finding and creating job opportunities for themselves in our region while our CARICOM citizens do not appear to be taking full advantage of the opportunities open to them in this regard.”
In a lecture that covered various aspects of the integration process, Skerrit said the future of CARICOM is also being threatened by the escalation of crime and violence across the region.
“He said regional governments have taken several steps to address the crime and security situation including new institutions and institutional arrangements.
“As a major tourist destination, in a world where everyone can be an instant worldwide reporter with their cell phone camera and social network site, bad news can spread fast. In such circumstances the reduction of crime is crucial for our economic as well as our own social well being,” Skerrit said.