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All regional states should review place in CARICOM - Chastanet

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2016 | 7:01 AMJovan Johnson

Georgetown, Guyana:

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) project could fail if there is no serious reorganisation of its functions to convince the peoples of the participating nations that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, St Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has argued.

Chastanet's assertions are not new, but the leader of the country of under 200,000 people says his colleagues from 14 other nations now meeting in Guyana for the regular heads of government conference must acknowledge that CARICOM "needs to work better".

It is in that context that the prime minister declared he "absolutely" supports the decision of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to review Jamaica's role in the 43-year-old organisation.

"I think everybody should (review). One of the things I've always preached is zero-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting is every year you don't build you budget from where you were last year, you go back to zero and you justify everything that you're doing," the St Lucian leader told The Gleaner.

"We are in a position where most of us are in debt. We all must respect the sacrifices that our citizens and our countries are making by participating in these meetings. Therefore, there's an expected rate of return on that investment, and that's the reality. It (review) needs to happen, and I don't think we're talking (about taking) a very long period of time. We will assess what are the things that are worth participating in and making that difference," he added.

 

LIMITED RESOURCES

 

According to Chastanet, who declared himself a "regionalist", CARICOM may have pledged to do too much with the few resources of the indebted countries of the region. It's why, he says, as part of the re-organisation, that the regional body should reduce its areas of focus.

"I'm a big believer in doing less, but whatever you do, do it well. In looking at it, it seems that CARICOM has a very wide agenda and I'm not so sure there are enough resources within CARICOM to deal with all the issues."

The St Lucian prime minister argued that he would like to see "a narrowing of the agenda".

Said Chastanet: "Some of the low-lying stuff - health care, education, security - are all areas, in which, if we collaborate with each other, it does not reduce the ability for us to compete against each other. In fact, it strengthens us in terms of competing against the rest of the world."

Of significance was the absence of economic and trade-related issues that continue to affect the relationships among some of the larger CARICOM nations like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Chastanet's views are similar to those of former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who has argued in the past that CARICOM needed to limit its focus to "functional cooperation" because, as he claimed in a 2015 Gleaner article, "regional integration, as conceived in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, is unworkable".

Golding was recently appointed chairman of Jamaica's CARICOM Review Commission.

Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie and his Grenadian counterpart, Dr Keth Mitchell, say Jamaica's decision to review must not be seen as "doom and gloom" for the regional project but as an opportunity for renewal.

Chastanet, who says other prime ministers have acknowledged the need for a "different way", insists that things must change in how CARICOM goes about its business, adding, "If families are not going to school, if people are not eating, if people are not able to build their homes as they want to because the country is using resources to attend regional meetings and we're not seeing the benefit, it's something I can say my government will not put up with for a very long time. It's not a threat to CARICOM; that's just what the reality is."

The questions about CARICOM's relevance comes against the background of the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union, which has forced CARICOM leaders to examine their own union, as well as the potential economic implications of Brexit.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com