As published in the Trinidad Express Tuesday, July 14th 2009
As I’ve often said, I’m wholly in favour of working closely with our Caricom colleagues. It helps them, it helps us. Why else would you have a regional body?
Caricom isn’t doing all that well, however. The people of the region remain essentially unengaged with it 36 years after its birth, and its aims and objectives, to which lip service is repeatedly and solemnly paid by generation after generation of its political leaders, are in practice crumbling through misuse and neglect.
Rickey Singh, who knows more about these matters than most of us, wrote in the Express after this month’s Georgetown summit that our Heads of Government “may have unwittingly succeeded in spawning more disappointment and cynicism The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting exposes the yawning gap between high-sounding rhetorical claims and the failure to take hard and imaginative decisions.” The late Lloyd Best used to say that talk is action. We in the Caribbean have elevated that aphorism to the level of art, and our politicians are our most accomplished artists.
Patrick Manning at least has been making an effort at some form of sub-regional integration. As so often with him, he’s been going about it in the wrong way, and there are suspicions of his real motives. But he did set up the Vaughan Lewis Task Force, which has now reported, and he did address both his party and the Parliament on the topic of what T&T could do to assist the less fortunate in the region. (He rather spoiled that superficially noble sentiment by linking it with a need for us to keep Caribbean illegal would-be migrants away from our shores, and with the spectre of our paying “in blood” if we didn’t.)
Where the Lewis Report is concerned, I’ve read only the executive summary and find that I’m not clear on what is being proposed and why. This means I have no choice but to read the report in its entirety. I dread that, because its two volumes together make up more than 560 pages, and my capacity for sustained concentration over lengthy periods is no longer what it used to be. But I shall have to make the effort.
On the Manning ideas for help to the region, I was extremely disappointed not to hear any mention of Haiti, which is worse off than any other Caricom member. Let me state for the record that I much appreciate what the Manning administration has already done for that country by way of grants from the Petroleum Stabilisation Fund. But much more has to be done for and with the Haitian people (as, to be blunt, the Haitian people have to do much more for and with one another).
Manning knows that, hence his proposal for a Haiti Hemispheric Fund at the recent Summit of the Americas. Alas, the proposal has fallen on deaf ears, I’m told. Here in T&T, however, the Medianet Haiti Relief Fund has been established, and the government may wish to contribute to it through money and/or goods. Kelvin Scoon at Medianet Caribbean (622-9432 and 628-7855) is the person to contact.
We must not ignore the broader theme of location of projects that subliminally pervades Manning’s parliamentary statement of June 24. Again, this matter of regional harmonisation of industry isn’t new; it goes back to the days of the West Indies Federation. This is what The Economics of Nationhood, published by the T&T government in September 1959, said on the subject: “Federal coordination of the (regional) economy (will ensure) that the various projects proposed by the different Units (of the Federation) do not duplicate or overlap each other but are conceived in a regional context.”
Nearly 30 years later, in 1985, the Caricom Heads approved the Caricom Industrial Programming Scheme (CIPS), according to which, the Caricom Secretariat tells us, industries were to be identified and allocated to various member states. If you’ve heard of the CIPS at all, which I doubt, what have you been able to glean about its operations? Under his recent proposals, how many southern Caribbean drydocks does Mr Manning envisage? How many quarries?
I have two last points. First, whom does Mr Manning see as the investors in his suggested regional ventures? The private sector? Regional governments? Or the T&T taxpayer? (Mind you, if one of our state agencies can spend nearly $200,000 on balloons and confetti-thus also causing more environmental impairment-for a function where the only obligation was to cut a ribbon, perhaps money really is no problem. Always provided, of course, the money isn’t yours but the taxpayer’s.)
Second, I note that all the countries in which Manning wants to “intervene” are beneficiaries of Hugo Chavez’s’ PetroCaribe programme, and that at least two of them, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, also belong to his ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). Is this coincidence or design? And if the Chíƒ, ¡vez and Manning initiatives are indeed running on parallel tracks, how are they to be reconciled? Are they to be reconciled?