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World View: Good News Or Bad - We Just Need To Be Told

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Sir Ronald Sanders

By SIR RONALD SANDERS

What has become of the report of a Jamaican Commission that reviewed the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM)? It has been almost nine months since the commission’s chairman, Bruce Golding, submitted the report to Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness on March 30. But, there has been silence ever since.

Maybe, the report can be delivered by December 30 when the period of expectancy will have gone its full-term.

The report is important. When Prime Minister Holness announced the formation of the Golding Commission in June 2016, he created a great deal of anticipation among supporters and detractors of CARICOM in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean Community.

Among the tasks given to the commission were:

• an evaluation of the effects that Jamaica’s participation in CARICOM has on its economic growth and development;

• an analysis of CARICOM’s performance against the goals and objectives outlined in the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and identification of the causes of its shortcomings;

• an assessment of the value of Jamaica’s membership in CARICOM on its influence in critical international fora and with third state trade and development partners;

• and an assessment of whether the CARICOM dispute settlement provisions provide realistic options for settlement of disputes for Jamaica.

While many of the undertakings assigned to the Commission were centred on Jamaica in CARICOM, a review of CARICOM’s usefulness was a good thing. No organisation should be left in existence without a regular review of its relevance and usefulness. And CARICOM is too important an instrument for the well-being of the people of its member-states in the global community not to evaluate it dispassionately from time to time.

That Prime Minister Holness appointed an impressive array of commission members from the private sector, academia, business, finance and trade unions, was all to the good. Especially helpful was that he entrusted the chairmanship to Golding, a former Prime Minister and seasoned politician, who had experienced the workings of CARICOM at the highest governmental level.

I, for one, welcomed the commission and its work. Whatever were to be its findings, my view was that its report would produce a body of findings, based on evidence given by a range of Caribbean experts, that would be worthy of a constructive CARICOM-wide conversation.

Indeed, the commission received oral and written evidence from many persons with considerable experience of CARICOM and of integration.

I was pleased to be among those who gave evidence and I know that the present and former Secretaries-General of CARICOM, including Jamaica-born Roderick Rainford; the Chairman of the 1992 West Indian Commission, Sir Shridath Ramphal; former Vice Chancellors of the University of the West Indies; and leaders of the Caribbean private sector also gave evidence.

Therefore, whatever its content, the report is a very valuable tool for Jamaica and for CARICOM. It ought not to languish in the Cabinet office of Jamaica, particularly after Prime Minister Holness publicly placed a great deal of aptness and contemporary relevance on its work.

At the time, the nationalists in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries wallowed in the belief that the report was commissioned as Jamaica’s “get-out” card from CARICOM, inured in the belief that regionalism is burdening national development.

Their sentiment was reminiscent of Sir Alexander Bustamante’s admonition to the Jamaica people, at the referendum on the West Indian Federation, that “if you federate, all these little poor people from the small islands will come to take your job in the cane piece”. As it turned out, far fewer “small islanders” migrated to Jamaica than the number of Jamaicans who migrated to the small islands.

But, as Michael Manley pointed out: “Fear is a huge force in politics. He who can manipulate fear has a huge weapon in politics.”

It is time to put the fear of CARICOM to an end, or, at the very least to debate it. That is why the Golding report should not be shrouded in silence and hidden from public discussion. Whatever it says, it should be placed in the public domain. The people of CARICOM have a right to know what the commission found. The Jamaican people particularly have that right since their taxes paid for it.

Like every other nation, Jamaica is a country of both small-minded persons and persons of great vision and even greater heart. As far back as 1947, Jamaica’s leaders were the fashioners of a Caribbean vision; no one more so than the legendary Norman Manley who, in that year, told the Caribbean Congress of Labour: “We must satisfy the growing ambition of our people for an area of action large enough for their creative energies. We must create a large enough area, small though it may be in the face of the colossal who bestride the world today, but a large enough area to give us a voice and pull and power over those international affairs which, in the long run, determine the peace and prosperity and the opportunity for happiness of the people of these lands.”

That 1947 admonition echoes with compelling meaning 70 years later as Caribbean countries are marginalised in global affairs; as the region confronts the relentless juggernaut of climate change and its ferocious and destructive storms; as large and powerful countries and regions dictate and impose terms in finance, in trade, in taxation and in investment.

In all of this, it is important to know what the Golding Commission found. Did it conclude that there should be a “Jam-exit” from CARICOM? Or did it reach the same conclusion that Caribbean leaders did after the collapse of the West Indian Federation which was: an arena of co-operation was essential between Caribbean countries if, individually and collectively, they are to command some attention and regard in the world.

And, if their conclusion is the latter, then what did they recommend should be done with the structures of CARICOM to make integration work, regionally and internationally, for the Caribbean people?

These answers should not be left blowing in the wind. The gestation period is over; it’s time to deliver the Golding report.

• Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own.

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