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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Good use of resources?


Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Good use of resources?

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Well, another Caricom Heads of Government Conference is over and no doubt a good time was had by all, judging by the fresh, relaxed appearance of the participants seen nightly on CBC-TV. And why wouldn’t they – living in the lap of luxury, certainly not seeming to have been affected by their claimed drop in standard of living.
But what did it accomplish, millions of dollars later? Probably nothing significant, like all the others over the years. But, as usual, we, little struggling Barbados, “played big” and sent eight representatives, according to media reports.  
I believe that CARICOM has, and will always have, the same problems. As the IDB CARICOM Report No. 2 2005 noted, “member states have been reluctant to cede any sovereignty in the national policymaking process to a centralised regional institution . . . . The process of crafting a common negotiating agenda among member states with disparate interests is extremely challenging”.
I believe this year, there were discussions on a common approach to business, but I doubt that will ever materialise. In my experience, Barbados usually tries to toe the line while others seem to do as they please.
Experience should have taught us that we must look after ourselves first. This so-called cooperation doesn’t seem to work in our favour. Hence the lack of a fishing agreement with Trinidad and Tobago and what seems to be unfair trading with St Lucia, Trinidad and Jamaica, not to mention the seeming lack of support with our important rum issue. Ask Minister Inniss!
CARICOM is a cumbersome animal with probably more organs than the human body but not nearly as efficient. There is the secretariat, and the prime ministerial sub-committee among many other sub-committees. Then there are four ministerial organs – the councils for finance and planning, trade and economic development, foreign and community relations and human and social development, complemented by three committees – legal affairs,  budget and central bank governors. It was somehow envisaged that this structure would result in enhanced decision-making, fewer meetings and consequent saving to member states in terms of overseas reps at CARICOM meetings.
Doesn’t seem so to me. I wonder how much is spent on all the various committee meetings, and you know what they say about committees? (“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it” – Charles Kettering.) But seriously, if they must have these committees, why couldn’t each use teleconferencing, produce a simple report of its recommendations, and put those to the Heads who would then ratify and oversee implementation? Progress would then be reported and further recommendations made. Why is all the expensive fanfare necessary?
Of course more recently, another layer of “organs” was added with the recruitment of a change facilitation team, and the appointment of change drivers in member states, to guide the process of re-examining the future direction of the Community and the arrangements for carrying it forward via a strategic plan. As is usual with anything involving governments, there have been the variety of drafts, coming I assume, at great cost.
The government station, CBC-TV 8, has put quite a bit of emphasis on the conference, but it seems that the rest of the media is quite rightly more focused on the Barbadian taxpayers’ concerns with the municipal solid waste tax which, as usual, doesn’t seem to have been well thought out and is not logical in a number of areas.
Granted, we’re treated nightly to a series of short post-conference interviews which are supposed to let us know what has been achieved, but I doubt the majority of people could glean anything useful from these snippets. We’re left to wonder what progress (in simple understandable language) each of these committees and councils made during the last year which could be reported in a similarly crisp manner to the taxpayers of the various countries. Nothing that I’ve heard so far convinces me that anything tangible has been done. I could be mistaken, but I believe I even heard that the Committee for Finance lacked a quorum and therefore the Heads would have to wait for their report. Shocking!  
We, the people of Barbados, demand a full, understandable list of  conference achievements and costs. If Government doesn’t respond, Caswell Franklyn will surely inform us.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.

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