Tue | May 11, 2021

Editorial | Discuss the Avinash Persaud report, PM Holness

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2021 | 7:34 AM

On the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) return to office in 2016, Prime Minister Andrew Holness seemed ready to ditch his party’s historic reticence towards Caribbean integration, or at least to position Jamaica to extract as much as possible from the economic version of it. In short order, the prime minister was making it clear that Jamaica, with a more than US half a billion trade deficit with its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, wasn't content merely to be a market for the community’s exports.

“We (CARICOM) are a common market …,” Mr Holness said at the commissioning of a factory owned by Jamaica’s Seprod Group. “Our entrepreneurs need to consider the Trinidad market, the Guyana market, as our market. And we are going to stay in the common market because it is ours.”

Soon thereafter, Mr Holness assigned Bruce Golding, his predecessor as leader of the JLP and a former prime minister, to lead a commission to review and make recommendations on Jamaica’s future role in CARICOM. Meanwhile, in several speeches, he urged his regional partners to fulfil their obligations to make the regional single market and economy a reality.

In the meantime, Mr Holness invited his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Keith Rowley, for a visit to Jamaica, during which they promised to work for the “reform process in CARICOM and in accelerating the implementation and use of the CSME, as well as to build competitiveness to stimulate growth and create employment”.

The Holness-Rowley summit, this newspaper hoped, would mark a big breakthrough for CARICOM, giving new impetus to the integration process. With Trinidad and Tobago as CARICOM’s economic muscle and Jamaica its most politically influential member, the desire was that, finally, as Germany and France had historically done in the European Union (EU), Kingston and Port of Spain, supported by Mia Mottley’s intellectual heft in Barbados, would reset, and accelerate, the integration agenda.

APPEARED TO WANE

Mr Holness’ interest in CARICOM, however, appeared to wane. Or, he became distracted. For instance, it took more than a year after it was submitted for the Golding Commission report to reach Parliament for a cursory debate. It wasn’t subject to robust review or analysis by any parliamentary committee. Neither are we aware that the private sector and/or civil society groups were seriously engaged in its findings.

The administration, we fear, may be making the same mistake with another report on CARICOM, although the latest one analyses CARICOM not from the narrow perspective of Jamaica, but with a broader regional frame and with the backdrop of the Caribbean’s deepening economic crisis. Commissioned by CARICOM’s heads of government, the report was produced by a commission chaired by the Barbadian economist and financial expert, Avinash Persaud, and included a stellar cast of international and regional personalities.

The Persaud Commission grappled with many of the same issues that have bedevilled CARICOM and arrived at mostly the same reasons for the region’s absence of a collective economic breakthrough, but drew different conclusions on the way forward. Their common theme is the failure of CARICOM to follow through on agreed initiatives, the community’s so-called implementation deficit. The Golding Commission would address this shortcoming by changing CARICOM unanimity rule for decision-making and establish sanctions for those countries that didn’t make good on agreed actions.

These sanctions would include:

– Loss of the right to vote at summits;

– Suspension of entitlements from CARICOM institutions;

– Restrictions on loans and grants from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); and

– Increased authority for members to take retaliatory measures for breaches that were injurious to the treaty.

The obvious implication of the Golding Commission’s recommendations of sanctions against CARICOM members who didn’t meet their obligations towards a seamless economic space is its belief in the concept and Jamaica’s participation therein. Indeed, as the report noted, there was no failure of the idea, for it, in fact, “has not been functionally established”.

FIND GREAT MERIT

This newspaper agrees with that characterisation of the fundamental state of the community. We, as said before, find great merit in the proposal by the Persaud Commission for breaking the logjam: that CARICOM be allowed to run on multiple tracks at the same time .

Said the Persaud Commission: “ ….We support a mechanism of ‘enhanced cooperation’ where a group of no less than five (5) member states can move ahead with closer integration on a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) matter, as long as the others do not object and are free to join at any point later. We believe that in the area of greater economic integration an ‘enhanced cooperation mechanism’ will overcome paralysis, where progress may be blocked by just one country or a small group of countries that may not be ready for an initiative, may need more time to prepare the public, or more time to ready implementation and would not be harmed if the others went ahead as long as they could join at their free will later.”

We expected that this recommendation would appeal to the Holness administration. For instance, Jamaica could determine the matters or issues of urgent interest to Kingston and create coalitions of the willing to proceed with them. This, of course, isn’t the only significant recommendation by the commission, but it is the one that, if embraced, is most likely to make CARICOM into a economically transformative union, by allowing member states to move at their own pace and to create examples in which others can join.

We are, therefore, surprised that the Government has neither tabled the report in Parliament for review by committees nor invited interest groups to discuss its recommendations. The document is to be reviewed at this July’s CARICOM summit. Prime Minister Holness should go to that meeting armed with the feedback of his Jamaican constituents.