CARICOM -SINGING FROM SAME HYMN SHEET?

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Some concerns of 2008
But a new general election is still far away in 2011 and currently President Bharrat Jagdeo who, constitutionally cannot seek a third term, continues to dominate the local political scene, primarily by the positive performances of his administration.
It would be surprising if an independent professional pollster should find that he does not have the top rating.

BASED on some public statements and posturings in 2008, it seems that while, officially, our Caribbean Community Heads of Government remain committed to the creation of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME),  there are governments of our economic integration movement that are not singing from the same hymn sheet.

If the long overdue inauguration of the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) was one of the few encouraging developments, the reality is that the list of unfinished business to move from a single market to a single economy remains quite significant.

Even in relation to the prospects for the EDF, there were expressed concerns by the end of 2008 that the Trinidad and Tobago Government may have to review in 2009 its commitment of US$1 million per annum as its contribution to the fund due to losses in oil revenue.

The promise made at last July’s Heads of Government Conference in Antigua for a special stakeholders consultation on the CSME in Barbados was unfilled; and even in the face of growing concerns about the likely negative consequences from the international financial crisis, CARICOM leaders have not considered it necessary to hold a special summit, or extraordinary meeting.

They seem to be quietly disposed to waiting until their scheduled 20th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize in March, if not February, to deal with this challenging issue, along with a range of other matters, CSME-readiness among them.

At the sub-regional level, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) may have underscored its own uneasiness, or disappointment with the pace of progress for the CSME’s scheduled inauguration in 2015 by the decision of its 48th summit in Montserrat to press ahead towards its planned Economic Union in 2009.

Trinidad and Tobago has been committed by Prime Minister Patrick Manning -without any prior consultation with the parliamentary opposition or private sector and labour movement stakeholders – to be part of this economic union, with some adjustments.

Its citizens still have time to be better informed on how and why this union must take place ahead of an even more challenging process, namely a regional political union embracing Trinidad and Tobago and the OECS, without provoking fractures with the rest of CARICOM.

The report from a group of experts, established under the chairmanship of  Dr Vaughn  Lewis, to examine and make recommendations for the OECS/Trinidad and Tobago economic union with an eye also on political integration, should be useful for public information. But the OECS countries have already target 2009 for the realisation of their proposed economic union.

The initiatives for economic and political integration by the OECS and Trinidad and Tobago are encouraging but there lies problems ahead for lack of appropriate  consultations with national stakeholders.

It is also quite ironic that while enthusiasm is being inspired for economic union, the OECS bloc of countries, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, are yet to unveil any clear action plan to access the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their final appellate institution and put an end to the old colonial link with the Privy Council in London.

The OECS countries will also be aware of the reservations held by the Bruce Golding administration in Jamaica about the CCJ as its final court, as well as any firm commitment to a new and empowered administrative structure for the CARICOM Secretariat that may conflict with its own notions of sovereignty.

For its part, Antigua and Barbuda government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is heading towards new general election while the St. Lucia Labour Party of Kenny Anthony is becoming increasingly militant in pressurising the lack lustre administration in Castries of Prime Minister Stephenson King, clearly with an early national poll in mind.

Guyana scene
Here in Guyana, party politics took a bad turn for the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform, (PNCR) with the explosion of internal differences that towards year end had deteriorated to open calls for the resignation of its leader Robert Corbin.

Not unexpectedly, Corbin was quite dismissive of such a call and has vowed to remain at the helm as he continues to keep hope alive for a return of his party to the power lost in 1992 after some 28 years in power.

That is an optimism not widely shared, even by those outside of the PNCR’s fold who nurture their disenchantment and disagreements with the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that is perceived as having some of its own internal leadership tensions.

But a new general election is still far away in 2011 and currently President Bharrat Jagdeo who, constitutionally cannot seek a third term, continues to dominate the local political scene, primarily by the positive performances of his administration.

It would be surprising if an independent professional pollster should find that he does not have the top rating. While heavy rains and the recurrence of flood waters may have spoiled its parade  last month, the Jagdeo administration could point to very significant developments during 2008, with the inauguration of the very modern Skeldon sugar factory and the realisation of the bridging of the Berbice River  topping the list of achievements.

In Trinidad and Tobago, for all the reported unpopularity of Prime Minister Manning–currently recuperating after kidney surgery in Cuba–repeated failures by the opposition parties to effect a unity platform feed cynicism about threats to continued governance by the incumbent People’s National Movement.

Manning, of course, seems the least bothered about the politicking of his opponents and is set to maintain an even higher personal profiler in 2009 in the full glare of media publicity as he hosts, first the Commonwealth Summit in April, and then in November the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

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