WHAT CARICOM IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT

PM Ralph Gonsalves

EXTRACT FROM  (SOME SALIENT ISSUES FOR RESOLUTION IN CARICOM BY PM GONSALVES)

CARICOM is designed as a “Community of Sovereign States” without any authoritative institutional arrangement of supra-nationality, save and except the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as exemplified in the Shanique Myrie case, among others, over the recent years.  CARICOM’s central mode of operation is by way of inter-governmental unanimity, profoundly respectful of each Member State’s sovereignty and independence.

Accordingly, there is no executive governance structure akin to the European Commission, a supra-national executive mechanism, which is mandated to compel obedience, through targeted sanctions of Member States should they fail and/or refuse to comply with their solemnly-agreed obligations. In CARICOM, only the CCJ, in its original jurisdiction, possesses a rule-enforcing authority available to nationals, companies, and governments of CARICOM Member States.  Interestingly, no CARICOM government, as yet, has taken another to the CCJ for any alleged breach of relevant provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas or decisions of a Heads of Government Conference, or a material aspect of community law.  Governments still seek to resolve problems the old-fashioned way, through dialogue and consensus in their intergovernmental arrangements.

So, CARICOM is seeking to implement the CSME but with a ramshackle governance and administrative apparatus.  The much-maligned CARICOM Secretariat can hardly do more than what it is empowered to do by the Treaty and the decisions of Conference of Heads of Government or meetings of the various Ministerial Councils or other organs of CARICOM.  And on the basis of the underwhelming results of CARICOM’s initiatives to alter its governance arrangements in accord with an efficacious “fit-for-the-purpose” principle, I am doubtful that an appropriate supra-national executive mechanism, an effective CARICOM Commission focused on CSME implementation, is likely to evolve in the foreseeable future.  “Islandness” and an addiction to the doctrine of the pristine Westphalian nation-state, inclusive of its adornments of sovereignty, in intra-CARICOM relations are likely to doom the realization of any executive CARICOM Commission.

In 2003, as a first-term Prime Minister, I was made Chairman of a Sub-Committee of the Conference of Heads of Government on the “Governance” issue with the mandate to reform the governance arrangements in CARICOM in order to give effect to the potentially transformative “Rose Hall Declaration” which emerged out of the Conference of Heads of Government held in Jamaica on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of CARICOM.  Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica, Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, Owen Arthur of Barbados, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana and I worked diligently on this exercise.  Our work was supported by three Technical Committees on “Governance”, “the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians”, and “Financing CARICOM” headed respectively by Sir Shridath Ramphal, Professor Denis Benn, and Professor Compton Bourne.  Our Committee duly reported to the Conference of Heads of Government.  A major recommendation was for the establishment of an Executive CARICOM Commission to push for, and superintend, the CSME; a similar, but not identical, body to the European Commission.

The Conference of Heads of Government respectfully received our report but kicked the decision-making can further down the road by appointing a Technical Review Group under the Chairmanship of Professor Vaughn Lewis to advise further on our Report. The Lewis Technical Group in due course, submitted its review; but the funeral rites on “the Rose Hall Declaration” and its attendant body of literature were by then summarily administered, without fanfare.  Every now and again, thereafter, CARICOM is roused by one of its “governance fits” and administrative reviews.  In their wake, the business continues as usual in CARICOM; important “ad hoc” work is being done but it inches ever so glacially, particularly in respect of the CSME.

The Golding Report is correct in its assessment that there is no appetite in CARICOM currently, and in the foreseeable future, for a political union.  I do not share its view, however, that the Report’s proposals regarding: declaratory provisions in the Treaty on the paramountcy of community law on certain matters; a corresponding articulation of sanctions for the certain willful non-compliance or flagrant breaches; a more effective functioning of the Quasi-Cabinet in CARICOM and the Permanent Committee of Ambassadors; a better functioning of the Ministerial Councils including the Council of Ministers for Finance and Planning; and an improved functioning of the CARICOM Secretariat will, in their composite performance, be able to oversee, and drive, adequately or at all, the full functioning of the CSME, particularly the Single Economy.  My friend, Bruce Golding, the principal author of the Report, is unrealistically optimistic that these bits-and-pieces measures would cure the central “governance” limitations in respect of the CSME.

Only a well-constructed, authoritative executive CARICOM Commission will be able to push and manage the CSME as a lived reality.  And I do not think, too, that there is a political market for such an executive CARICOM Commission.  I observe, only in passing, that many current enthusiasts for a centralised executive driver of CSME, were lukewarm to the idea when they were in office.  Then, the sacrosance of their respective national Cabinets and their vainglorious declarations of a vaunted sovereignty, restrained them from crossing the proverbial Rubicon of an executive authority in CARICOM.  The ghost of the failed federal venture in the West Indies is yet to be exorcised, not only in Jamaica but elsewhere too.

The existing governance arrangements in CARICOM are only able, partially, to deliver achievements on its four pillars: Trade and Economic Integration, Functional Cooperation, Foreign Policy Coordination, and Security Linkages.  Useful, productive work is being done on trade and single market activities and on functional cooperation; deliverables in foreign policy coordination and security are patchy at best; but there is hardly any credible advance on the single economy limb of the CSME.