CARICOM's 'buck-passing' culture
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-joking around on governance

THE LATEST example of amusing buck-passing, or how to avoid taking political responsibility as leaders for advancing the goals of the Caribbean Community, emerged from a meeting in Grenada last Wednesday of five CARICOM Prime Ministers and two Foreign Ministers.

Comprising a committee mandated to deal with the critical issue of improving governance of the affairs of the 37-year-old Community, the participants were mindful to reflect customary caution in decisions taken for expected endorsement next month by the wider body of Heads of Government.
The committee’s mandate flowed from last month’s 31st CARICOM summit in Montego Bay, where the Heads of Government of the 15-member Community had once again shied away from any consideration to introduce an empowered management structure that could have the effect of diluting, in some aspects, their domestic political authority.
Even if such a course could result in satisfying, to some extent, their own often claimed commitment to achieving what’s good for the regional economic integration movement as a whole, and knowing that it would require a sharing of some defined measures on sovereignty, it is the reluctance to manage national sovereignty in the interest of the declared concept of  ‘One Community’ that surfaced in Montego Bay last month.
The customary rhetoric about ‘commitment to CARIOM’ (read CSME; functional cooperation; integrated foreign and economic policies etc) gave way to mild initiatives for tinkering with the Community’s prevailing governance status quo.
Consequently, the decision that came from last Wednesday’s meeting in Grenada on governance, plus another on a large nine-member ‘search committee’ to help find a new Secretary General for CARICOM with the retirement from yearend of Edwin Carrington.

Two decisions

Participating in the meeting were the Prime Ministers  of Jamaica (Bruce Golding, current CARICOM chairman); Grenada (host, Tilman Thomas); St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Ralph Gonsalves); St. Kitts and Nevis (Denzil Douglas) and Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit.  The two Foreign Ministers were Barbados’ Maxine McLean and Trinidad and Tobago’s Surujrattan Rambachan.
First surprise was the disclosure that a nine-member ‘search committee’, chaired  by Foreign Minister McClean, would begin the process of pre-selecting candidates for the appointment of a successor to Carrington.
The committee’s terms of reference, still to be formulated, will be determined by the Heads when they meet on the periphery of next month’s start of the annual session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The second surprising decision was even more baffling, in the sense that it offered neither anything new, in terms of a fundamental restructuring of the Community Secretariat; nor any creative initiative for improved decision-making and implementation processes to check the snail’s pace at which the CSME project continues to proceed.
The surprise came in the form of the announced decision to create a ‘Council of Community Ambassadors’. It would operate on a permanent basis from the respective capitals to help remove barriers, at national levels, that frustrate implementation of regional decisions, and to strengthen cooperation.
If, after all the research materials and range of proposals over the years on alternative systems for improved governance of the Community, CARICOM leaders are to now offer a Council of Ambassadors as a standing mechanism for improving ‘governance’, then they should not be surprised by an expected wave of cynicism and disenchantment across the region.
The Heads of Government may be scared of the politics of sharing a measure of sovereignty in the functioning of an empowered executive management structure, even though it is intended to function under their direct supervision and final authority.
How could it be explained — if it is not a case of unintended contempt for the region’s people — the Heads assumption of public acceptance of the proposed Council of Ambassadors as representing a creative effort for improved governance from the second decade of the 21st Century?

Not flattering

For a start, the proposed Council of Ambassadors should not be confused with what obtains at the Organisation of American States (OAS), or in relation to the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. For a start, such councils function from a common location — Washington (for OAS) and Brussels (for ACP).
For now, we are aware of examples of how senior cabinet ministers, and in a few cases at Heads level, have encountered difficulties in resolving sensitive bilateral matters and also failing to take advantage of the disputes settlement provisions located in the  revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
It would not be flattering for the Heads to hear criticisms of them ‘joking around’ on the governance issue. But it is quite disappointing to note, in 2010, that ours remain a ‘Community of sovereign states’ that has acquired a reputation for making bold, at times quite imaginative decisions, only to falter, too often, when it comes to implementation of unanimously approved decisions.
Examples abound, but a few should suffice for now, such as:
Failure to give legislative approval of the Charter of Civil Society — one of the core recommendations of the West Indian Commission that was released as a document of the Community since 1997. (Incidentally, ‘good governance’ is one of the Articles of the Charter that calls for establishment of a code governing the conduct of holders of public office and all those who exercise power that may affect the public interest.)
Policies requiring implementation would also include the sharing of external representation; pursuing, with vision and vigour, a common policy on regional air transportation;  the dismantling of barriers to free intra-regional movement of CARICOM nationals (currently some states are making things worse for nationals).
The question, therefore, remains: Who among the Heads of Government of the estimated dozen countries fully participating in the policies and programmes of CARICOM, are now ready to call a halt to the community’s governance system?
While they try to market the idea of a Council of Community Ambassadors that, in the final analysis, would be accountable to them, why this widening of a bureaucratic management system?  Is it really a plausible approach for changing the prevailing buck-passing culture that has been virtually institutionalised by a model of governance our Heads of Government — past and present — seem so loathe to change?

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