From Stabroek News, Monday July 6, 2009

What is Fun for Lil Boy is Dead for Crapaud

I woke up early yesterday to check Caricom’s website for the Communique coming out of the recently concluded 30th Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in Guyana. Across the region, only the Guyanese media seemed to provide extensive early coverage of key decisions. While they had a homecourt advantage, one wonders why the regional press corps was not more vigilant about ensuring that these discussions were given critical attention in their Sunday newspapers. Should this not have been a priority?

In Sunday’s Barbados Advocate, the only significant mention of the Conference related to intra-regional migration and illegal immigrants. There were eight stories on this issue, including the editorial and three of the four letters to the editor, all generally supportive of the government’s policies, not surprising given that this was a central plank of the Democratic Labour Party’s electoral campaign that many believe contributed in no small way to their victory at the polls. Given the firm statement on intra-regional movement coming out of Guyana on Saturday night, which nonetheless recognized the challenges some countries faced in relation to others, it will be interesting to see the public response of Prime Minister David Thompson (whose grandfather I believe hails from Guyana) now that he is back home. With some exemptions extended to Belize and Antigua and Barbuda (in the latter country one report puts the non-national working population at 35-40 percent), there was a commitment to realizing freedom of movement, an expansion to cover household domestics from January 2010, training/sensitizing of immigration officers on the regional commitments, and immediate action on entry procedures enabling the temporary movement of service providers. This last point in particular potentially goes a long way towards democratizing free movement, given the critical role of small island traders, among whom women predominate, and who, as Guyanese and Red Thread activist Andaiye has noted, have long made the Caribbean a single economic space.

Jamaican economist Norman Girvan notes that these decisions, in particular the statements affirming the rights of all migrants to humane treatment, are to be applauded, ” provided that they are effectively, efficiently and speedily implemented. That has always been the problem.”

Indeed. And in this regard it goes well beyond the freedom of movement issue that has caused so much debate and consternation across the Caribbean in recent weeks.

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who commented that it was small wonder that Caribbean people had so little interest in what was coming out of these meetings, and little faith in the endless stream of grand pronouncements. She quoted a Guyanese saying, What is fun for lil boy is dead for crapaud, that so perfectly described the predicament facing Caribbean people, that I decided to use it as the title for this week’s column.

The proverb brought to mind the opening ceremony for the Heads at the National Cultural Centre. It was an elaborately staged and – from an organizational and diplomatic viewpoint – almost impeccably executed affair, but as we stood at attention while the police band solemnly announced the arrival of Heads of State or delegation, I found myself struggling not to laugh. While it is certainly true, as my mother often notes, that I have a highly underdeveloped sense of protocol or occasion, I believe this time that my reaction was more than just an irrational response from the sidelines. Looking at the seventeen men on stage, standing before their national flags and the Caricom standard, I found myself amazed and frustrated at the way in which we seem to have so completely internalized the lessons of colonial rule. Franz Fanon warned us about this in The Wretched of the Earth, written nearly half a century ago. Why on earth do we need so many Prime Ministers, Presidents, Premiers, assorted Cabinets, for a region this small and this vulnerable to the global economy? In whose interests is it that the Caribbean is probably, per capita, the most governed space in the entire world at a national level, and so demonstrably reluctant to translate governance into a regional imperative, when it is clear that the only route to meaningful sovereignty (beyond flag independence) and to political, economic and social security and justice for the Caribbean peoples is a regional one? You have to ask yourself about the challenge of reconciling regionalism with democratic electoral processes that reward inward looking appeals for votes. Beyond the official declarations, what would our national leaders have to give up to realize this larger vision?

The Communique issued on Saturday night states that ” Heads of Government reviewed the governance arrangements of the Community and expect to conclude their considerations on the basis of proposals to be advanced by the Secretary-General and the Task Force on Governance.” Say what? Which task force now? It is incredible that this statement is buried deep in the Communique, when in fact it is at the heart of the dilemma of stasis, that is to say it is a framing issue and not simply another line item. Exactly how much time do the Heads need to conclude considerations, and then how much longer before they make a decision following the conclusion, and then when is a decision really a decision, especially if it is never implemented? If you think I’m being unfair, consider this. In 1992 the West Indian Commission Report, Time For Action (17 years on, we should say Time for Less Talk, More Action), clearly identified the implementation deficit as a fundamental issue for Caribbean regionalism, one that understandably leads to cynicism among our peoples. PJ Patterson, this year’s recipient of the Order of Caricom, referenced the report in his address last Wednesday when he remarked that ” Mature regionalism will remain a pipe dream unless authority is vested in an executive mechanism with full-time responsibility to ensure the implementation, within a specified time frame, of critical decisions taken by the heads or other designated organs of the community.”

Sunday’s Jamaica Gleaner, in a commentary on Caricom, credits Patterson and the current Prime Minister Bruce Golding for suggesting ways of breaking what it calls ” the logjam in Caricom”, noting that Golding proposed a permanent 15 member Commission to work with Caricom Heads and the Secretariat to implement decisions. While Golding may well have raised this now, I believe that it was the Guyana Government that first brought this up a few years ago. Guyana was responding to the Technical Working Group on Governance (TWGG), which was appointed by Caricom Heads at their Port-of-Spain meeting in 2006, and mandated to examine how to move forward on the recommendations proposed by an earlier Prime Ministerial Expert Group on Governance (PMEGG), itself appointed in 2003 and reporting in 2005.

Time does not permit me to go into the TWGG report, except to say that at first glance although I have some questions, its recommendations seem rational and streamlined – the establishment of a four person commission that in its focus on implementation would work closely with Heads, national cabinets, the Assembly of Caribbean Parliamentarians and community organs. The commission would be headed by a president, with the other three members representing expertise in the three identified areas of Caricom: foreign and community relations; regional and international trade and economic integration; and human and social development. In contrast, the suggestion by Caribbean states of a 15 member commission – presumably representing Caricom member states – risks offering a narrowly nationalist approach to the issue of regional implementation and creating a layer of bureaucracy that will only lead to more timelags. At any rate, why hasn’t the TWGG report been translated on the ground across the region (putting it on the Caricom website is simply not good enough) and what are the Heads’ objections to it? The implications are so far-reaching that we have a right to know. I was told that Vaughan Lewis, Chairman of the TWGG, was in Guyana for the Heads meeting. Was he invited to talk about governance, nearly three years after the report was filed, six years after the appointment of the PMEGG? The throwaway line at the end of the Communique doesn’t assure us that it has been taken off the shelves and dusted off.

So, what do we have instead? A new taskforce on the global economic crisis, led by President Jagdeo. Very impressive sounding, until you realize this is now the third such taskforce in less than a year (the other two headed by Compton Bourne and Delisle Worrell)! Impressive soundbites on recommitting to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The grand sounding ‘Liliendaal Declaration on Caricom Beyond Grand Anse.’ Another special convocation of (talking) Heads slated for October, on the CSME. Meanwhile, regional governance deferred. Again. Which means there is no guarantee – and no existing mechanism either – that the issues agreed upon, the decisions made in Guyana, will be implemented swiftly and efficiently.

No regional routes. Only national cul-de-sacs. The trappings of office reward the few. Is it that the temptations of power are too seductive to relinquish? As I said in last week’s column, talk is cheap. We need a grassroots audit and public conversation about the various prices being paid by working people across the Caribbean for this foot dragging at a regional level. Unfortunately, it will probably prove that proverb right. What is fun for lil boy is indeed dead for crapaud.

y 6, 2009