Address by PM Hon Kenny D. Anthony to The Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Regional Integration
CARICOM – QUO VADIS?
ADDRESS TO THE BARBADOS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY
Prime Minister of Saint Lucia
Dr. the Hon. Kenny D. Anthony
On REGIONAL INTEGRATION, MYTH OR REALITY?
Wednesday October 31, 2012.
Hilton Barbados Resort, Needhams Point, St. Michael.
THESE ARE REAL LANDS
Antillia, ladies and gentlemen, was known during 15th century Iberia, that is Spain and Portugal, as a mythical land far across the Atlantic. When indeed it was realised that this archipelago and land were real, it was a suitable term granted to our islands, the Antilles.
Since then and throughout our history, we have been faced with division. However, as migrants to these lands, we persisted, beyond the derision of our creole estates. And despite it all, we inherited, in some measure, from colonial powers some sense that we should be integrated, united. Moreover, we are in fact slowly reaching beyond the political and linguistic boundaries of the past to realise a much broader space about our Caribbean Sea.
This process of integration is now a mature one. Cultural institutions like the West Indies Cricket Team, similar to your organisation, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, came about in the 19th century. We formed our own regional university over sixty years ago. CARICOM will next year clock two decades since Chaguaramas. We have established institutions that do play a critical role in Caribbean livelihoods, many of which are based right here in Barbados. The Caribbean Examinations Council, the Caribbean Single Market & Economy Unit, the Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality, CROSQ, to name a few.
What, however, is more profound, though in truth more difficult to quantify is the long history of the integrating power of people across our region. It is something we cannot forget. It is the natural interaction of people. Our region has never been stagnant, as it should never be. We ought to have no place for second class citizens because we are one and the same. Put another way, the Guyanese who comes to Saint Lucia today may well be the descendent of a Saint Lucian who went to Guyana in yesteryear to look for gold.
The issue we face is that our institutions, whether at the level of the state or supranationally, have not kept up with the times. This is the reality check that should have hit us, thanks to 2008 and the World Financial Crisis. And again, if we are to observe and learn from another epicentre of integration, Europe, this process is no simple undertaking, but requires unwavering commitment. What was also clear from 2008 is that we were still spending too much time using our integration machinery dealing with our insularities instead of charting an outward response to the looming global realities.
Our initial reactions have been to cower and conceal behind national agendas and sovereignty; but the time has come for us to review ourselves and the way we do business, if we are to make our existence more firm, more congealed, more real.
I cannot and do not speak the language that CARICOM is all myth and not reality. It maybe dysfunctional, but it is real and it is alive. I accept, however, that all is not well.
It is often the case in this part of the world that we are not very keen on routine stocktaking. Many of us see such periodic assessments as unwanted interruptions in the normal traffic of life.
A CASE FOR ROUTINE STOCKTAKING
Nevertheless, if pressed, most of us will admit that the discipline of critical evaluation provides information and insight, both of which are critical to efficiency, to survival, and most important, to our relevance in this global climate of rapid and irrevocable change.
Still, until pressed to the wall, we tend to disregard this necessity and postpone the inevitable discipline, as if time with its penchant for impatience, will move at a different pace for us, in our sundrenched world; as if reality can somehow be discounted because we are small and charming and somehow immune from serious mayhem and misfortune.
If this was ever true, it certainly is no longer so.
Make no mistake about it. Our region is in the throes o the greatest crisis since independence. The spectre of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination. How our societies crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and high unemployment is the single most important question facing us at this time. Indeed, if CARICOM wishes to be relevant to te lives of the people of the region, then that issue should dominate its deliberations at the next summit. CARICOM cannot be seen to be impotent when societies and economies are at risk, on the brink of collapse.
AT CROSSROADS OF INDECISION
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Caribbean is, and has been for too long, stalled at a crossroads of indecision; stalled for so long that we are in danger of becoming anachronistic - literally out of time - and out of step with the rest of the world.
That danger arises out of our resistance to change, and our chronic discomfort with certain questions. And of those questions, allow me to suggest that the most vital, and therefore the most delayed, is that which we must now ask ourselves collectively: Quo Vadis? Where are we going, and equally important: How do we intend to get there? Clearly, we cannot stand still.
At an institutional level, we have been advised that our Caricom Secretariat lacks a structure which would enable definitive outcomes, and now requires stronger management and the prioritisation of what matters most. It is for us, the Heads of Government and Civil Society to do the necessary and correct this so as to safeguard the huge investment that we have made in our collective and individual futures.
We know that we have too often asked our Secretariat to perform miracles without even the requisite loaves and fishes. Unable to deliver miracles, decisive action has been replaced by documentation - mountains of it - which most of us have neither the time nor the appetite to digest.
A PENCHANT FOR FORM AND FORMALITY
In some quarters, we have been found guilty of substituting substance and delivery with form and formality couched in outmoded communication which defies decisive implementation. Whether this happens because of diluted commitment, limited resources, or deliberate avoidance, it produces a cynicism at home and abroad and undermines our credibility.
To change this outcome, we must address and take responsibility for the cumbersome processes here and at home and our frequent lack of responsiveness on critical issues.
The premise that we are running out of time is neither new nor difficult to support. There are several indicators that suggest a disconnection between economic reality and our ability to engineer necessary change.
For example, none of us would doubt that our traditional economies - once led by commodity export sectors - have significantly transformed. None of us would deny that investment, employment and growth in these new service economies are driven primarily by knowledge and education.
THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION
Yet, gross tertiary education enrolment levels in the region remain unacceptably low and vary widely between countries. This, despite relatively high proportions of national budgets spent on education. Similarly, though many of our schools have ICT enabled teaching environments, relatively few of our teachers have ICT training for educational instruction.
Consider also the sharp increases in national indebtedness which many economies in the region are experiencing. This, at a time when the regional balance of payments is under threat from declines in direct foreign investment, lower remittances from abroad, and shrinking bilateral and multilateral aid flows. How then to finance our own development but to build capacity from within, via investments in innovation, technology, competitiveness and the very education we just visited?
A VERY CIRCULAR IDENTITY
Thus, development like regional trade, is a very circular identity: a DNA of mutually reinforcing variables which must be contemplated in all its complexity.
I am reminded of the case where a domestic producer of a commodity in Saint Lucia objected vehemently to the presence in his market of a competing product from Trinidad & Tobago. The argument took on a whole new complexion when it was tactfully pointed out that the Trinidad product sold into Saint Lucia travelled in boxes made in Saint Lucia.
IS THE CURRENT STRUCTURE IDEAL?
Notwithstanding, one must ask whether CARICOM – in its current state – is up to the task. We must query, for example, if the current structure is an ideal one; question whether the old structural identities are still relevant; and if the directorates – drawn along sectoral lines like agriculture, trade, culture, education – still relate to conditions on the ground.
The simple truth is that decision making, especially in the all critical area of trade when time is of essence, has become cumbersome, layered, and bureaucratic. For instance, it takes months to get a decision from COTED and by the time the decision arrives the reason for the request ceases to be relevant, or the situation which necessitated the request has so deteriorated that the initial solution is no longer the answer to the problem.
Quite possibly, we need to reconfigure both our institutions and our thinking. We need to contemplate our economies laterally - across sectors - perceiving them as engines, driven not just by oil or tourism, but by information, innovation and creativity, investment and technology, human development and competitiveness.
As our economies have evolved in response to new economic and socio-political realities, so too must our institution; so that CARICOM comes to see itself increasingly as a catalyst and a facilitator, and less as a filter or arbitrator - or worse a prisoner - of divergent political positions.
In this spirit, it is imperative that the role of CARICOM evolve not only to keep up with the times, but to help shape the times in which we live. Both CARICOM and its constituent nations must now turn concerted attention to longer term strategic issues affecting the practical lives of real people in the region.
A CATALYTIC ROLE
If I may use a somewhat delicate example: the ongoing hiatus regarding the settlement of CLICO obligations in the Eastern Caribbean. We had hoped that following the relatively satisfactory outcome achieved in Trinidad and Tobago, there would have been greater impetus to resolve the OECS side of the portfolio. Indeed, for a while there appeared to be a particularly suitable window of political opportunity to achieve this.
It will be recalled also that there was the commendable suggestion of a government backed bond which appeared to be one possible route out of the current cul de sac. That approach has faltered as potential bond investors are nervous to place any value on sovereign guarantees in view of the current economic plight of regional governments. Perhaps CARICOM can take a catalytic role, using its neutrality, objectivity and supra-national reach to help engineer a suitable outcome.
While CARICOM must have its own momentum as a regional agency, it must also see its role as one of partnership, not just with constituent governments but with regional private sectors and civil societies across the region. This perception is vital to propelling the single market forward. It would also help to bring CARICOM into the mainstream of the regional economy in ways that would reinforce its presence in the daily lives of the wider population.
CUSTODIANS OF AN IDEAL
CARICOM’s presence as a development partner must be projected outward, to a whole new generation of Caribbean people who know nothing of Williams, Manley, Burnham, Bird, Barrow and Compton, so that in their young minds and hearts, CARICOM becomes less a set of arcane rules and regulations, and more the custodian of an ideal that transcends the small circumferences of individual islands.
When appropriate, CARICOM must have the power and the resources to lead, setting both the objective and the tone of the dialogue, followed by a greater intensity of action. This is especially true when new administrations come to the fore as is the recent case in Saint Lucia, Jamaica and, some time ago, Trinidad and Tobago.
NOT IN OUR COLLECTIVE INTEREST
We cannot prosper in this endeavour if the whole of CARICOM is simply the sum of its weakest parts. CARICOM, ever respectful of the positions of member governments, must not shy away from its role as the principal catalyst of the regional movement. Where strong economic argument is required, it must be made. Where moral suasion is required, it must be applied, and where sanction becomes the only remaining option that too must be contemplated. For too long, progress at the regional level has been at the pace of the slowest. This cannot be in our collective interest.
Nowhere is this more clearly manifest than in the issue of the free movement of people. We know that this tenet of the regional integration process is incontrovertible. Yet, we allow parochial issues to cloud our judgement instead of holding fast to principle and to the vision of the greater good. There is no subject that requires Governments to speak honestly, share their fears, anxieties and concerns as this issue. We cannot fashion and create policy on unspoken fears, and imagined paranoia.
NO EASY ROUTE TO INTEGRATION
There is no easy route to integration. If there was, we would have surely taken it; as would have the nations of Europe and the still separated states of Central and West Africa. Beyond our minor differences, we in the Caribbean arguably enjoy the highest levels of contiguity available to any multi-nation grouping. We therefore share the urgent responsibility of moving our enterprise forward if only for the sake of our collective security and survival. In this matter I appeal not so much to our institution as to colleague Prime Ministers across the region.
DISPLACEMENT OF THE JAMAICAN PRESENCE
So too, I find it necessary to speak briefly about the apparent displacement of the Jamaican presence in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, and the regional ascendancy of Trinidadian market giants. While this may be the source of some bristling emotion and bruising of national confidence, it should not be a divisive issue in the wider context of the regional consciousness that we share.
It can be reasonably argued that these shifting circumstances are largely the result of real comparative advantage and courageous decision making. Given the structural problems of the Jamaican economy, and the fact of Trinidad’s relatively buoyant domestic market and the subsidy effect of low cost energy and labour, it is to be expected that their investment profile - both private and public - would be outward looking.
TIME FOR DEFINITION
My comments must not be taken to mean that we must turn askance at the issues which cause disquiet between Trinidad and Tobago and its regional neighbours. On the contrary, Trinidad and Tobago has to live up to its responsibility as a regional power. That is its biggest challenge. At this historic juncture, Trinidad and Tobago has a unique opportunity to re-define its vision and its role in an emergent but troubled Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago cannot continue to ignore the burning concerns of its trading partners. For example, it cannot be justifiable that its airline, Caribbean Airlines (CAL), is subsidised by cheaper fuel to compete with LIAT on its principal routes. Likewise, LIAT cannot cry foul and do nothing when it has the option of litigating the issue before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
We must look past origin and ownership to the necessary rationalisation of the regional air transport network. This can only be for the greater good, less while we fiddle, home
burns. The Caribbean is currently suffering from an abundance of tourism product and exorbitant air travel costs on the other.
INEFFICENCIES IN OUR SYSTEM
While there are components of that cost which are market driven, there are also inefficiencies in our system which are literally keeping our people apart. There are destinations within the Caribbean that are more expensive to travel to than major destination cities on North America. The recent effect on regional tourism has been disastrous, driving down Caribbean arrivals in most destinations.
THE WORLD WE KNEW IS NO MORE
Clearly, the world as we knew it is no more and we cannot simply proceed with the same assumptions regarding the needs of this community and the resources at our disposal. Internally we know that growth rates across the region are below those achieved in the previous decade. Traditional sectors have receded, and regional competitiveness has declined.
While acknowledging the significant assistance we still receive, we also know that in this current global economic dispensation, many of the region’s traditional donors are themselves under siege. So if the region is to reposition itself - as it must – let us reengineer our premier regional organisation to deliver the promised future.
Consider the following extract:
“Adapting to the demands of this new world will require a much greater focus on sustaining and improving growth and competitiveness. In many respects, the Caribbean is well positioned for this... And yet we know that breaking with the past is never easy. Vested interests will block and parry; and political groups may see insufficient political returns in supporting or driving change.”
The excerpt is to be found in the World Bank report, A Time to Choose: Caribbean Development in the 21st Century. The irony is that it was written in 2005. Seven years later, we must ask how much has changed. The answer, if we are honest will be universal; so universal that I need not enunciate it here because it is all too painfully obvious.
So let us ask another question: if not now, when do we wish to change? It is an equally important question. And one that we should well contemplate if we expect to be here much longer. It is a question rising in the throats of Caribbean people, a repressed scream from this region that we claim to serve.
CHANGE IS THE CHALLENGE
Ladies and Gentlemen, if change is the constant, then for us, change is
the challenge. There can be nothing more important. We have no alternative; nor should we look to others to do what we must do for ourselves; nor should we purport ourselves and our movement to non-existence. We do not lack for sound argument, and even in this sundrenched corner of the world, time, I say, is verily upon us.
I thank you.
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