Please guys, not another CARICOM talk shop!
The Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Sir Dwight Venner came to Barbados last week to deliver a powerful message.
Pity, there was only a small audience on hand to hear it and that he was made to stand before several empty seats at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus as he delivered it.
His message for those in attendence for the 15th anniversary lecture of the University in the Community series was by no means a new one, but an important one for the entire region. And timely too, we might add, as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders are gathering in Antigua today for tomorrow’s official start of their 35th regular summit.
Ahead of that high-level meeting, which will be focused on strategies for taking forward the regional integration movement, Sir Dwight sought to develop on a scholarly paper advanced a few months ago by the Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in which he pontificated on the Idea of Barbados.
In it, Gonsalves described Barbados as the most progressive and conservative of all the English speaking islands, but warned that “the socioeconomic model initiated by Errol Barrow, perfected by subsequent governments, and which came to maturation under Owen Arthur”
Developing the thesis further, Sir Dwight sought to place Barbados and its future development within the context of “the idea of the OECS”, which from his perspective, would be a much better launching pad for a more closely integrated Caribbean.
The way he put it was that the region was in need of a new development model, but he cautioned that the Barbados model had either stalled or reached its zenith.
Therefore, the idea and the vision of the OECS could provide the region, “not only with a blueprint of what successful integration can deliver, but with an entity which stands as equal with the rest of the region,” he argued.
This is not to say that there is not a strong role for Barbados in any future regional plan. Sir Dwight was at pains to explain that “the lead given by Barbados in the development model, augmented and underpinned by a working model of effective integration, would be the center for the states of the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados, which would [also] draw Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname as resource abundant economies”.
He further posited that countries of the Northern Caribbean may also be induced to participate “if this growth pole was powerful enough to realign their economic programmes, to widen market space to what could be a significantly revitalized CARICOM”.
With all the problems this region is facing individually and collectively, there can be no denying that closer partnership is needed, whether it will all unfold in the way Sir Dwight and his cohorts are proposing is still anyone’s guess.
However, there can be no running away from the fact that closer regional unity is needed.
Indeed our international partners would have none of that.
Just last Friday, the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde would have sounded the latest warning that issues such as bureaucracy and lack of unity should be addressed for the region as a whole to experience growth, restore the confidence of investors and become generally more competitive.
“For example, a regional approach to transportation, infrastructure and the marketing of tourism might work better than each country pressing for its own advantage. Each country offering a little tax holiday here and a little special subsidy there, this is not helpful,” she said while addressing another UWI forum, this time at the Mona Campus in Jamaica.
“Countries have to be together and they have to actually unite in the face of those foreign direct investment projects. Because otherwise, let’s make no mistake, those foreign investors will arbitrage; they will play one against the other so corporation is better,” she added.
That our leaders continue to dance around the unity talk when this region is fast running out of options is stupid really.
The time is ripe for concrete actions to move our economic and social development forward.
Here’s hoping that this week’s CARICOM summit in St John, which will see to an injection of new leadership blood at the level of the chairmanship, will not amount to just another meaningless talk shop.