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Coming to grips with Caricom’s growing crisis

Rickey Singh

Coming to grips with Caricom’s growing crisis

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THIS DOES NOT SEEM a season for good news for the Caribbean from either the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) – the region’s premier institution for financing economic development – or the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as it struggles to manage our economic integration movement.
Earlier this month, within a week of each other, CDB president Dr Warren Smith pointed to a “high level of uncertainty” in regional prospects and policies amid new threats of “credit downgrades” facing some of its borrowing member countries; while CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, through a report to the heads of government, called attention to a deepening “crisis” that threatened the survival of the Community.
Later, a letter from St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to LaRocque identified as a “central failure” of CARICOM its evident weakness in functioning as a “people-centred” movement. He specifically referred to an “in-built lethargy in our collective political leadership” and “bureaucratic inertia” that could no longer be tolerated if the Community was to survive.
The report by the Secretariat relates to a study on CARICOM’s future by a team of experts that candidly declared that the economic integration movement was “in crisis” and referred to three reasons:
• longstanding frustrations with its slow progress;
• a serious weakening in its structure and operation over a number of years;
• and continuing economic retrenchment since the 2008 financial crisis and risk of a further downturn in 2012.
Urging member governments to hastily pursue “fundamental changes” in the operations and structures of the Secretariat, the experts make it clear that unless such changes occur, then “CARICOM could expire slowly over the next few years as stakeholders begin to vote with their feet”.
What a gloomy forecast from experts! They have proposed that a “change office” be established temporarily, pending “fundamental” changes to transform the Secretariat by equipping it with modern technologies, thereby enabling it to grapple with today’s regional and international challenges.
Gonsalves, in his timely critical analysis of the state of CARICOM, told Secretary General LaRocque that the immediate challenge facing the Community was “for us, the heads of government, to move resolutely . . . in integration”. He added that “talk of pausing” was “but a euphemism for standing still which, in a dynamic world, is sliding backwards”.
The report by the team of experts will be a major issue for deliberations by the heads at their forthcoming Inter-Sessional Meeting on March 8-9 in Suriname.
Gonsalves may have to contend with some candid rebuttals to his criticisms about “in-built lethargy in our collective political leadership” and “bureaucratic inertia”. However, if in the end the spirited discussions result in the changes deemed urgent, then they can only be to the benefit of the people of CARICOM.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.