Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Ralph Gonsalves | Golding Report 'unworkable'

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Ralph Gonsalves
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles (second left), vice-chancellor, the University of the West Indies (UWI), has the attention of Bruce Golding (second right), former prime minister of Jamaica; Ambassador Byron Blake (right), former assistant secretary general and ambassador to CARICOM; and Richard Bernal, pro vice-chancellor, global affairs, the UWI, during the Vice Chancellor's Forum on the Golding Report on CARICOM-Jamaica relations. The forum was held on February 16.
Shanique Myrie (left) and her attorney, Michelle Brown, leave the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston in December 2012. Myrie won a landmark CCJ case after being subjected to inhumane treatment from immigration officers at Barbados' Owen Arthur International Airport.
1
2
3

This is an edited address delivered on February 22 at St Vincent and the Grenadines' Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Kingstown.

Although several aspects of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in respect of the single market have been put in place, the single economy is yet to be operationalised as envisaged. It is not that some progress has not been made, but the CARICOM Single Economy is still to be achieved.

To be sure, we have witnessed solid progress in trade facilitation, freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals, the establishment and functioning of the supranational Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its original jurisdiction, and the enhancement of functional cooperation in education health, security, and the coordination of foreign policy. Still, in each of the areas of progress, there is much that is yet to be accomplished. But more than all this, the core features of the CARICOM single economy are yet to be realised.

Although the recently published (March 2017) Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica's Relations within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks ('the Golding Report', called after its chairman, former prime minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding), has proffered an highly stylised and somewhat overblown critique of the lack of progress in the implementation of the CSME, there is much truth in its lamentation that:

"Something cannot be said to have failed unless it has been tried. The single market and economy that we so often declare is not working cannot, in reality, be expected to work because it has not yet been functionally established. So much time has elapsed and so much that should have been done has not been done that we are in danger of succumbing to 'integration fatigue' without having actually integrated and we are having difficulty sustaining or renewing our commitment to the process."

In the upshot, the Golding Report has staked out, not surprisingly, a Jamaica-centred perspective from which flows a bundle of 33 recommendations with suggested timelines for implementation. Many of these recommendations are relatively run-of-the-mill, sensible correctives to specific challenges or initiatives that have been canvassed repeatedly by this or that review, internal and external, of CARICOM. Some, though, are plain unworkable under the extant governance arrangements in CARICOM; and altered governance has been enduringly problematic.

However, the Golding Report's telling recommendation with undoubted far-reaching consequences for Jamaica and CARICOM is this: "There needs to be a clear, definitive commitment now from each member state to a specific time-bound, measurable and verifiable programme of action to fulfil all its obligations and complete all the requirements for the single market and economy to be fully established and operational within the next five years. In the absence of such a commitment and its diligent execution, it is our recommendation that Jamaica should withdraw from the single market and economy but seek to retain its position as a member of CARICOM in a status similar to that held by the Bahamas. It would then consider what form of trading arrangement it would wish to pursue with other CARICOM member states."

This recommendation is central to the Golding Report's menu of recommendations; its no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it "litmus test", in this regard, infuses and sprinkles, hither and thither, the tenor of much of the report's analysis and its gaze into the future of the regional integration movement. Under the rubric of this central recommendation, the Golding Report lists 22 must-do items for the CSME over the next five years, or else withdrawal by Jamaica!

We do not as yet know the position of the Jamaican Government on the array of the Golding Report's recommendations, especially that which occupies centrality. I suspect, though, that rightly or wrongly, a large body of Jamaican opinion may applaud, even if from the sidelines, given CARICOM's marginality to Jamaican political and economic discourse.

My purpose is not to review the Golding Report, although its ideas are an influential prod on the current working agenda of CARICOM and on the prospective way forward, strategically, for the regional integration enterprise.

Accordingly, I consider it opportune, on the eve of the 29th Inter-Sessional Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM scheduled for early this week in Haiti, to mark out some relevant territory on the salient issues at hand from the perspective of the member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), particularly that of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

 

WHAT CARICOM IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT

 

CARICOM is designed as a community of sovereign states without any authoritative institutional arrangement of supranationality, 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 intergovernmental unanimity, profoundly respectful of each member state's sovereignty and independence.

Accordingly, there is no executive governance structure akin to the European Commission, a supranational 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.

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 supranational 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 realisation of any executive CARICOM Commission.

In 2003, as a first-term prime minister, I was made chairman of a Subcommittee of the Conference of Heads of Government on the governance issue with the mandate to reform the arrangements in CARICOM in order to give effect to the potentially transformative Rose Hall Declaration that 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.

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 Vaughan 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 wilful 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.

 

A SINGLE ECONOMY FOR CARICOM?

 

It is doubtful given the current context of globalisation, the condition of the regional economies, the unequal yoking of the member states of CARICOM, and the highly unlikely attainment of an executive CARICOM Commission, that a single economy can be fashioned in CARICOM now or in the foreseeable future. If this assessment is correct, we ought reasonably to spend our time more usefully on the attainment of the goals resident in the other pillars of CARICOM's design.

In this way, our focus is likely to yield substantial results even on modest objectives, than to be in thrall of a permanent condition of dissatisfaction because of the elusive single economy, and its essential pre-condition, an authoritative executive governance apparatus.

From the standpoint of the OECS, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a single economy is a non-starter unless there is a special carve-out for the OECS member states within CARICOM. Thus far, at least three larger CARICOM member states are opposed to such a carve-out. I note that the Golding Report is recommending the elimination of the differentiation between the More Developed Countries (MDCs) and the Less Developed Counties (LDCs) in CARICOM, but the report calls for the retention of the provision in the Revised Treaty for special treatment of disadvantaged countries, regions, and sectors.

Jamaica is defined as a MDC, which denies it certain preferential treatment; but there are regions and sectors in Jamaica that may qualify as 'disadvantaged', and thus be eligible for special treatment under Chapter 7 of the Revised Treaty.

Undoubtedly, in the OECS member states of CARICOM, the small size of their domestic markets, the underdeveloped manufacturing sector, the absence of oil and mineral resources, the relatively weak condition of the financial sector, and the paucity of certain vital skill sets, place them at a marked disadvantage compared to the traditionally more developed countries in CARICOM (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago) - the recognised MDCs in the CSME. Further, in this era of debilitating climate change, the vulnerability and lack of resilience to natural disasters of the member countries of the OECS place them in an even more disadvantaged or precarious state than the other CARICOM member states.

- Ralph Gonsalves is prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.