Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Editorial | Holness must now give vision of CARICOM

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Even after Parliament has debated the Golding Report, this newspaper, as is probably the case with most Jamaicans, is none the wiser about what Jamaica expects from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), or wants it to be.

For while the report is, insofar as we can discern, to provide a framework for Jamaica to negotiate reforms to the Community, neither the Holness administration nor the parliamentary Opposition has identified specific matters to be addressed. And to the extent that they have commented publicly since the publication of Mr Golding's document several months ago.

This murkiness may well be deliberate. And it is perhaps a strategic development for Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who, at next month's summit of CARICOM, may begin a long, meandering waffle on the report that, as is often the case with matters of fundamental reform within the Community, goes nowhere.

For while the premise established by Golding for Jamaica's continued membership in CARICOM is within the parameters the Community had previously set for itself, we wouldn't be surprised if, on deeper analysis, the Government believes it is impractical at this time. Further, there is no sign that the report has been the subject of serious thought by the Opposition.

The invitation to Mr Golding, a former prime minister, to lead the review of Jamaica's relationship with CARICOM, is against the backdrop of Jamaica's historic ambivalence towards regional integration, especially during periods when the party of which both he and Prime Minister Holness are members form the Government. It has its history in Jamaica's withdrawal from the West Indies Federation in 1962 and exacerbated in recent time by its sense of victimhood in its social and economic relations with its CARICOM partners.

 

BAD DOMESTIC ECONOMIC POLICIES

 

On the trade and economic question, as Mr Golding noted in his report, the failures have been mainly Jamaica's, which, over decades, until the start of a turnaround recently, had bad domestic economic policies that made it less competitive than its partners. Mr Golding, however, concluded that CARICOM, as an economic unit, has underperformed.

His primary solution is a fundamental deepening of the integration process, although the intention is not articulated in those specific terms. The report calls for "effective steps towards macroeconomic convergence, including fiscal responsibility framework, debt-management strategy, abolition of exchange controls, and full currency convertibility".

It also proposes unrestricted free movement of labour in the Community, and a new governance structure, including, when the idea is stripped to its core, of the decisions of CARICOM leaders translating to community law that trump domestic legislation. Indeed, though Mr Golding stops just shy of proposing a single CARICOM currency, the suggestion would integrate the economies of the CARICOM 15 nearly as deeply as the Eurozone 19.

These ideas, with which this newspaper is philosophically in tune, would, when fully explained, not be readily digested in Jamaica. They are politically difficult. But Mr Golding had proposed a five-year timeline for implementation or Jexit - Jamaica's exit from CARICOM's economic arrangements.

Mr Holness has said that it was never his government's intention to leave the Community. Commissioning of the review "was to undertake a long-overdue forensic analysis of CARICOM's structure, procedures and practices with a view to maximising the benefits accrued at the national and regional levels", which was achieved.

So, what's next?

If the Golding task force's vision for CARICOM, against which there was already some regional pushback - especially relating to the elimination of carve-outs for the designated lesser developed countries - Prime Minister Holness should show Jamaicans a model of what he intends to present to his counterparts and perhaps aggressively articulate during his coming six-month chairmanship of the Community.