“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” – Matthew 11: 29-30
Recently I had the privilege of being on the same programme as the Hon. Christopher P. Sinckler, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business in Barbados. The occasion was a pre-conference workshop for the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) Biennial Conference held at the Barbados Hilton.
The Minister, in his key note address, stated that as a new Minister of Trade he was less than impressed with the levels of urgency which many of our policy makers attached to pushing the Caricom agenda forward. He stated that what is missing out of this agenda is a governance system that is equal to or resembles in some way what you find in the European Union where there is a Commission that has certain specific powers to ensure that policies made in the Community can be implemented and benefits realised.
Following his address, the Chairperson, Dr. Jeannine Comma, invited the audience to pose a few questions to the Minister. His address covered issues related to the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the recently signed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
The first question came from a frustrated CAPAM participant from St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) who expressed his concern about the slow progress being made in terms of CSME implementation and the slow progress of Caribbean economic development generally. The Minister responded appropriately. I was then motivated to ask the second question, not so much because the Minister made a passing reference to me in his address, but more so because of what I thought was the unique opportunity for candid exchange with the Minster.
As I arose, I empathised with the frustrated participant from SVG and took the opportunity to pose a direct question to the Minister. I agreed with the Minister that unless there was a supranational body like the Commission (in the case of the EU) or the Federal Government (in the case of the United States of America) to which each Caribbean Government surrendered certain policy issues, thought to be best handled regionally, then progress with the “E” element of CSME would be stymied indefinitely. I supported this by saying that, even though I would be pleasantly surprised, I did not expect many sovereign Caribbean governments to give up the power associated with this policy space to a supranational body in my lifetime or in my children’s lifetime. Of course, there is the example of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, a sub-group of Caricom, which have their own monetary union controlled by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. But this is not enough.
Heads of Government agree on certain issues when they meet collectively but on their return to their respective sovereign states they make decisions which are politically expedient for their own state at that time. It is very unlikely that these decisions will all be in support of the regional integration agenda at the same time. Therein lies the stalemate, hence the frustration of the SVG participant. My question was and still is “How long is Barbados going to expend energy and resources on “E” issues within the CSME, i.e. waiting for the establishment of a supranational body, before it passes its impatience threshold and realises that this is an exercise in futility”. The Minister was politically correct in his response and advised that his government did not subscribe to the view that “every man break for himself”.
The headline on page five of the Daily Nation for Monday 20 October was “Call to break from CSME”. The first sentence of the story was “Business consultant Dr. Basil Springer has suggested that Barbados break away from CSME”. What sensationalism!
Other real time Internet addicts like myself picked up the news immediately and shared it with others. I was the subject of the following: “Basil, That’s you? A moment of impulsiveness perhaps? I must say Chris Sinckler seems to be espousing a view that you would have traditionally held. Why the change in stance? Could it be a bit of frustration of our historical inability as West Indians to get together as one on any matter (except cricket)?”
Then another email response “Sinckler probably holds the same view as Basil but can’t be so bold as to express it in public – this integration thing is a real problem – we know the challenges politically – cooperation and trade is what we should encourage – while insularity remains a problem that ought to be tackled head on, so too is a sensible approach to the management of our borders as migrants flow from the lesser to brighter lights and place a strain on the social services of the more prosperous nations – time to deal with the issues from a practical and not idealistic vantage point”. Yet another – “As I read the two articles on the same page of the Nation – in the first article, Sinckler disagrees with you and then agrees with you in the second – politics boy!”
Maybe we should expend our energy on making CSM work and place the “E” on the shelf for divine intervention.