Gonsalves: no real headway made on free movement
The significance of the Shanique Myrie judgment to the free movement of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals and the CARICOM Single Market And Economy is yet to be appreciated by regional governments, ministers and immigration officials.
This assertion from the chairman of the 15-nation grouping, St Vincent’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, as he delivered a lecture entitled Free Movement Of Community Nationals, CCJ, Shanique Myrie, Community Law And Our Caribbean Civilization at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies last evening.
Gonsalves bemoaned the fact that eight months after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had handed down the landmark ruling that had far-reaching implications for the movement of people throughout the region, there has been no real headway on the provision guaranteed under the Single Market And Economy.
Basing his argument on “certain public statements from some ministers of government and public officials at the time of the judgment in October 2013 and subsequently”, the prime minister insisted there was still much to be done.
He noted that while immigration and other border control officials must incorporate the Myrie guidelines provided by the CCJ at points of entry to CARICOM members, “immense education of these officials and alterations of pre-existing domestic regulations and procedures to confirm with Community law, are still urgently required”.
Gonsalves also chided his Caribbean colleagues for failing to satisfactorily address the implications of the Myrie judgment for Haitians seeking entry into other member states.
“After all, Haiti, is now as ‘bona fide’ signatory to the CSME, as distinct from, for example, the Bahamas. Haitians are thus entitled to all the rights which appertain under Community law to ‘the freedom of movement’ of Community nationals.”
He however queried what would be the impact of this, given the fact that Haiti has a population of ten million people compared to St Kitts and Nevis with a population of 50,000 or St Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of 110,000, or even Trinidad and Tobago which is home to 1.2 million people.
Gonsalves further made it clear that CARICOM governments were obligated to ensure that domestic law was brought in line with Community law, and they must address what he called “a controversial and problematic legal issue of the machinery for the enforcement of the decisions of the CCJ”.
The CARICOM chairman noted that the regional grouping was lagging behind the nine-member bloc of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) which granted citizens of the subregion complete freedom of movement since August 1, 2012.
OECS citizens only require an approved national identification card with a photograph, they are granted indefinite stay and there are no requirements for
OECS citizens who opt to move also enjoy full access to primary and secondary education and medical and health services on the same terms and conditions as for native citizens of the protocol member states.
Gonsalves was at pains to point out that these issues were yet to be resolved at the CARICOM level.
“The issue of ‘contingent rights’ within CARICOM for children and spouses of skilled Community nationals is an unresolved problem of immense importance. Similarly, the practicalities of the issuance of ‘skilled nationals’ certificates’ vary from member state to member state in CARICOM. And although there is a CARICOM passport issued by each member state of the Community, it has no significant meaning beyond the symbolism of a consciousness of Community. Community nationals are not permitted to travel to other Member States with only a picture identification . . . .”
Still, the CARICOM chairman was quick to point out that “the CCJ cannot do what the people of the Community and their duly elected leaders fail and or refuse to do”, as he again made a strong case for a better governance structure that would take forward the integration movement.
“. . . Perhaps by creating a CARICOM Commission so long advocated by Sir Shridath Ramphal and the West Indian Commission Report of 1992, and to push more assuredly for a deepening of regional integration through each of the four pillars: functional cooperation, coordination of foreign policy, coordinating national and regional security, and extending economic integration, including the deepening of the CSME, he said.
Gonsalves stressed it was evident that the region would find it more difficult to address its immense current and future challenges unless its governments and people strongly embraced a more mature, more profound regionalism.
“That ought to be a noise in the blood, an echo in the bone of our Caribbean civilization,” he said.