Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Editorial | CARICOM's information deficit

Published:Monday | July 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It's an old refrain of CARICOM's honchos that the Community's citizens are central to the concept of regional integration. Therefore, as the Golding Report recalled the former Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, as saying, the region's leaders shared "an inescapable responsibility to ensure that our people understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what are the concrete consequences".

That is the context within which this newspaper understands, and welcomes, the call by the heads of government, at the recent summit in Montego Bay, for at least an annual stakeholders' consultation, led either by the prime minister responsible for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and/or jointly with the Community's secretary general. Similar engagements, the leaders suggested, should be convened at the national level.

However, CARICOM - beyond the absence of, or weaknesses in, the institutional arrangements highlighted by the Bruce Golding-led task force that reviewed Jamaica's participation in the regional project - doesn't make people engagement an easy enterprise. Indeed, it can be rather difficult, starting with the simple matter of information on what people are expected to engage about.

Take, for instance, the Montego Bay summit and its outcomes. At that meeting, the heads of government reported in their communiquÈ that the leaders "adopted the Protocol on Contingent Rights, which will cover the rights of persons moving to another country under the free movement-of-skills regime, as well as the spouses and dependents of those who move to another country".

Six leaders, including Jamaica's Andrew Holness, signed the document, which, we have been told, means that persons who qualify to live and work in other CARICOM member states, because they fall within the recognised professional categories, can move their families with them. However, not only were copies of that protocol not publicly available in Montego Bay, but up to a week after the summit, its text couldn't be found on CARICOM's website.

The case of Shanique Myrie, the Jamaican whose refusal of entry into Barbados was litigated before the Caribbean Court of Justice, which established community law on the minimum of what CARICOM citizens should expect when they travel within the region and the obligation of states when persons are refused entry. There are complaints that the regime, sometimes, isn't adhered to.

The communiquÈ from the Montego Bay summit said: "Heads of government adopted the Procedures on the Refusal of Entry of Community Nationals and the harmonised form to be used by immigration when refusing entry and urged member states to implement the Procedures on Refusal of Entry of Community Nationals by August 1, 2018."

We expect that these procedures and the related harmonised forms are in the hands of national immigration agencies, including Jamaica's. But as with the protocol on contingent rights under the free-movement-of-skills regime, this newspaper was not able to find either sample document or explanations on the CARICOM site.


Major Global Issues


The use of marijuana and its potential medicinal and industrial value are issues of major global discussions, in which several CARICOM countries are in the thick of. Jamaica is attempting to build a medical ganja industry. Rightly, CARICOM commissioned a regional study of the ramifications of the drug, which was reviewed by the heads of government. Yet, the report of that commission appears not to be posted on CARICOM's website, and this newspaper was unable to find it anywhere online. We have no doubt that it is available to various experts and technocrats, but not yet to the ordinary people in whose name, and interest, it was commissioned.

These examples are not the full extent of the problem in the institution, too many of whose documents remain classified and where old, civil-service and bureaucratic notions of secrecy are resilient. CARICOM, in that context, applies a perverse interpretation of information's intrinsic value by obscuring its mission.