OUR CARIBBEAN: Caricom’s welcome work mood
Last week’s 35th regular annual summit in Antigua and Barbuda may well have written a new chapter in the 41-year history of the economic integration movement to better cope with recurring global and regional challenges.
While it could be wishful thinking to expect applause from CARICOM’s entrenched critics and, worse, opponents, a willingness to objectively assess the more significant decisions taken over the four days should prove profitable in understanding the new course being charted for longevity. It suggests goodbye to “pause” in preference for “action”.
A random reflection on the wide-ranging issues addressed and decisions taken should confirm that CARICOM leaders may have opted to shift gear on implementation of policies and programmes in favour of a vigorous pursuit of what needs to be done, even as they contend with detractors who wrongly think that this region could do without its economic integration movement.
Foremost among new decisions taken last week was the unanimous approval of a five-year Strategic Plan (2015-2019) with the building of economic, social, environmental and technological resilience as critical priorities. Hopefully, it would replace sloganeering in favour of properly formulated policies and well executed programmes.
In the works for over two years, with valuable contributions from regional experts in economic, fiscal, social and human resource development, and in collaboration with regional and international financial institutions that are traditional partners in the Community’s progress, this first ever five-year “strategic plan” is located in a second report from what’s designated as ‘The Commission on the Economy’.
Not only did the leaders of the 15-member Community revive the feature of a scheduled dialogue with leading representatives of the vital private sector during their summit meeting that was once the norm for this annual event. They also took two important related decisions to demonstrate perhaps a new commitment on a work plan that, hopefully, would contrast with their abysmal decision of two years ago to place on “pause” mode the once promising plans for a seamless regional economy, as envisaged via the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and which currently attracts much cynicism among disenchanted citizens.
Two proposed initiatives involving, among others, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and University of the West Indies (UWI) – both firm pillars of support for CARICOM – call for a “regional fiscal sustainability framework”, within six months and, secondly, the design of a “regional debt management mechanism”.
As if to further demonstrate a new sense of commitment for getting things done within scheduled time frames, the Community leaders also agreed to appoint a CARICOM Debt Advocacy Team. Its mandate would be to advocate, on behalf of ALL member states, by collaborating with “development partners in appropriate debt relief, and/or debt amelioration arrangements for the highly-indebted CARICOM states”.
The bottom line seems to reflect appreciation for the sentiment of one of the Caribbean’s greatest poets, Martin Carter: “All are involved, all are consumed . . .”.
Further, in recognition that access to development resources were proving “a binding constraint to catalysing growth” in member states, CARICOM leaders decided to pursue what they identified as a resource mobilisation strategy.
That pursuit would be based on approaches to “non-traditional sources of financing” and to promote public/private partnerships for development of the region’s economic infrastructure with technical advice from the Inter-American Development Bank, CDB and the World Bank.
Additionally, the Heads mandated the CARICOM Economic Commission to consider the regulatory framework to promote “venture capital” and other new financial products as well as innovative financing schemes which could support a “growth agenda” that includes the particular needs of small and medium-sized businesses in the Community.
And consistent with an earlier pledge, they also agreed to establish a Regional Commission on marijuana. Its mandate is to conduct “a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the region”.
The commission is also expected to advise whether there should be a change in the current “drug classification of marijuana to make it more accessible for a range of users”.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.