Deal with vital matters
IT IS AMAZING that in the face of very serious economic issues confronting Barbados, such as the embarrassing withdrawal of the bond offer, the confusion over the recent tax policies and that Barbados is the only Caribbean country not expected to record economic growth this year and next year, that Prime Minister Stuart’s silence is broken over the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Since he has “no choice” but to respect, if not accept, the ruling of the CCJ, his apparent grouse is that an automatic six-month stay for CARICOM nationals visiting Barbados would attract the unemployed and the criminals. It may surprise readers to learn that on entering the United States with an ordinary B1/B2 visa, the visitor is entitled to stay for six months. To imply that the period of stay given to the visitor has something to do with whether or not the travel is “hassle-free” is intellectually deceitful. Being allowed to stay for a six-month period in a country ought not to have anything to do with the immigration officer’s discretion in questioning a visitor; the two are poles apart.
When one visits the United States, immigration officers are empowered to question you on reasons for your visit along with any other probing questions. By the way, Barbadians are also allowed to stay six months in Britain, with the right to apply to the Home Office for an extension.
Certainly, the court’s reference to hassle-free travel in CARICOM cannot be interpreted so loosely “that people can walk through the airport without anybody asking them anything” for fear of being sued. This has to be the proverbial red herring that was not caught in the legal fishing expedition.
The discretion which is so evident in United States and British immigration officers cannot be denied to the Barbados immigration officers, if not size or money once again becomes the basis of sovereignty. It is inconceivable that the Revised Treaty Of Chaguaramas intended to deny immigration officers of their discretion. Furthermore, if it were the intention of the leaders in CARICOM, why would they have chosen certain categories of community nationals for the right to seek employment across the community?
The very fact that the community leaders limited the movement must imply that they appreciated the concept of different degrees of freedom, even in movement. By their nature, societies are vulnerable to unplanned, excessive, sudden changes which include population movement – moreso whenthe change in population imposes a burden on a society’s limited resources, the natural reaction is negative. Freedom of movement is inherently contradictory; since it has to be limited. To believe otherwise is to be deceitful.
Consider that the community leaders agreed to allow university graduates, media workers, sportspeople, artistes and musicians to travel and work, but gave the others less than six months to stay in member states. The overlooked clause in Article 46 of the Treaty Of Chaguaramas states: “Nothing in this treaty shall be construed as inhibiting member states from according Community nationals unrestricted access to, and movement within, their jurisdictions subject to such conditions as the public interest may require.” The public interest is the interest of the domestic politicians, which is eternally protected within the barriers of sovereignty.
Therefore what was the real intent of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government in 2008, when an amendment was sought to recommend an automatic three-month entry for CARICOM nationals, with a further three months once all the necessary requirements were met? These requirements would have had to be related to the desire of the community nationals to be employed or the potential to be involved in criminal activity.
This amendment would have come after the DLP fought an election on the number of Guyanese residing in Barbados. The Guyanese left in droves, yet the country’s unemployment rate has risen significantly, reflecting the wrong-headed fiscal policies of the Government, not its immigration policy.
It is time for the Government to get serious about what matters most; if not, other member states will have to become concerned about Barbadian immigrants coming in droves in search of employment. On its current economic trajectory, the Government will not have to worry about anyone coming to find employment that does not exist. There is only one game in town and all the red herring in the world cannot mask its scent.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email [email protected]