February 21, 2012
Regional leaders chided for ‘insufficiency of political will’

Regional political leaders have been given a call to action by one of their own.{{more}}

In a strongly worded letter to Irwin La Rocque, CARICOM Secretary General, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines declared that the integration process in CARICOM is at a standstill, and the reason for this is the insufficiency of political will among regional leaders.

The letter, titled “On Strategic Directions for CARICOM”, and dated February 9, 2012, was copied to the presidents and prime ministers of CARICOM and the Director General of the OECS.

In his missive, Gonsalves endorsed the call made by current Chairman of CARICOM President Desi Bouterse of Suriname, for there to be meaningful change in the functioning of CARICOM. He, however, acknowledged that “breaking through the morass of an in-built lethargy in our collective regional political leadership, bureaucratic inertia, and public cynicism will not be easy.”

He pointed to the advances being made in other regional integration movements, including the economic union of the OECS; the recent decision of ALBA-TCP (People’s Trade Treaty of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) to advance its integration towards a single economic space; and the determination by the recently formed CELAC (Community of States of the Caribbean and Latin America) in December 2011 to “embrace more decidedly political, trading and functional cooperation between member-countries”.

In summing up the relationship of the individual member states to CARICOM, Gonsalves was particularly critical of Trinidad and Tobago, which he said has not been playing the leadership role it should.

“Trinidad and Tobago, in most recent times, does not evince a practical enthusiasm for a deeper CARICOM union and has all but abandoned leadership responsibilities in Project CARICOM!” he declared.

Historically, he said, Belize and Suriname have been on the margins of Caribbean integration, though recently, they have moved towards its centre stage.

For the last four years, “Jamaica, being pre-occupied with its own internal challenges and a restricted engagement in CARICOM, conceptually and practically, was less weighty in regional affairs than hitherto.”

He also lamented the fact that economic integration, which is one of the four pillars on which CARICOM’s mandate rests, is being “undermined daily”.

One example of this, he said, is “the unfairness of effective subsidies granted on fuel to the producers of goods and services in one CARICOM member-state.”

In relation to the “wider economic issues of critical importance”, such as the freedom of movement of persons and attendant contingent rights, “the twists and contradictions are yet to be satisfactorily resolved,” Gonsalves said.

He noted that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARICOM and the Dominican Republic has introduced a new strategic element in the regional integration process, which possesses implications for CARICOM, including free trade. Competing and crisscrossing with the EPA, he said, is the deepening ALBA-TCP and special trading regimes to emerge between Canada and CARICOM and the USA and CARICOM.

Gonsalves therefore asks: “Is CARICOM interested in placing itself strategically at the confluence of these economic and trading tributaries? If so, how and when?”

These issues, he said, “demand urgent reflection and appropriate policy responses, regionally.

“One thing is sure: CARICOM cannot continue ducking these burning questions or addressing them in a piece-meal, ad hoc, or disconnected manner. Our intellectuals, social partners, regional institutions and governments must place these matters at the centre of their public policy concerns.”

In his letter, he also touched on the free movement of people in the union, the concerns of the OECS, governance and administration of CARICOM and the CLICO and BAICO issues.

Despite the serious challenges facing CARICOM, Gonsalves expressed the view that the obstacles and limitations could be overcome “through a deeper and better integration.

“As a region, we possess enormous strengths and possibilities which can be enhanced for the greater good.

“Each of the queries or challenges raised herein is capable of amelioration or resolution. Technical answers are available. The insufficiency of political will is the real, unbecoming deficit.”

In ending his letter, Gonsalves acknowledged that he may have written too candidly, and in the process, offended some.

“I truly intend no offence, but I believe that after almost 44 years as a political activist in our Caribbean, including eleven years, and continuing as Prime Minister, I have earned the right to speak and write plainly and freely.

“At this moment of urgent reflection, let us be truly critical and self-critical in our quest to do better collectively. I urge that we act swiftly. Time is of the essence…. The clarion call of old is still relevant: ‘Time for Action’.”

SEARCHLIGHT tried to reach the Secretary General for a response, but were informed that he is out of the office on travel duty.