OUR CARIBBEAN: Hopes for new dawn on free movement
Faced with the challenge to secure a realistic compromise with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) over a threatened US$42 million lawsuit against the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), the decision-makers of our Caribbean Community are, encouragingly, also revealing a new zeal to inspire popular confidence in the future of the region’s economic integration movement.
At the core of new initiatives to stir region-wide optimism is the removal of lingering bureaucratic paralysis and other hurdles that continue to fester disenchantment in the critical area of free intraregional movement for CARICOM citizens.
Free or unrestricted movement of nationals across borders has been and remains a core feature of the European Union (EU).
CARICOM governments, organisations and nationals would do well to familiarise themselves with the policies and protocols governing cross-borders movement by European citizens for either private visit, doing business, or the right to live and work.
And more so at this period when tensions are developing among some EU member states and the United Kingdom over increasing flows of European migrants into Britain, a former colonising power of the independent English-speaking states of CARICOM.
One particular irritating problem for CARICOM that continues to stick out like a sore thumb is the recurring failure by governments to inform and sensitise citizens on the modalities of intraregional free movement consistent with the objectives and programmes of the still emerging single market and seamless economy (CARICOM Single Market and Economy – CSME).
Six CARICOM states ceremonially signed at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies on January 30, 2006, to adopt the CSME – Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. OECS member countries had pledged to do so by the end of that year.
A consensual inauguration date for the CSME remains elusive – after two projected dates failed to materialise. Nevertheless, there has been a growing sense of increased awareness of the importance of the CSME in the face of the challenges posed by a widening globalised economy and the evident interdependence of CARICOM states for survival with dignity.
A fortnight ago, secretary general of the 41-year-old Community, Irwin LaRocque, chose to further stir optimism – amid recurring pessimism in some quarters across the region – on the way forward for CARICOM.
Addressing the 48th convocation and graduation ceremony of the University of Guyana, Mr LaRocque noted that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas provides for the free movement of skilled Community nationals and the first category identified was that of university graduates.
“That’s why,” he said, “the Community remains dedicated to achieving the objectives of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, notably the free movement of skilled people, providers of services, the self-employed and those establishing businesses.”
Conscious of prevailing cynicism, Mr LaRocque nevertheless admitted to being “acutely aware” of the difficulties still being experienced at ports of entry in some of our member states by those who seek to exercise their rights to hassle-free, intraregional movement.
He explained that there were categories of eligible citizens who also had the right to work and live in any participating state, in addition to those eligible to the “right of an automatic stay of six months – subject only to circumscribed exceptions”.
He pointed to new educational initiatives soon to be announced to better inform CARICOM citizens on their rights in relation to free intraregional movement. These would include online access of CARICOM skills certificates – currently a recurring problem – in order to seek professional opportunities.
LaRocque said that some 14 000 such certificates had already been issued to Community nationals. And, without attempting to minimise or rationalise problems being encountered by nationals at some ports of entry, he observed that it should also be appreciated that with respect to hassle-free travel, “the vast majority of persons travel throughout our region every day without problems”.
We look forward to the unfolding of Mr LaRocque’s promised new initiatives to sensitise Community nationals on their rights to free intra-regional travel without the recurring examples of unnecessary hassle, and worse, at some ports of entry.
Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.