Monday, 23 July 2007

CARICOM OR NO CARICOM?

THE CLOAK OF INTEGRATIONIST RHETORIC

Wesley Gibbings

One of the most important aspects of the CARICOM Single Market project is the fact that international convention and domestic legislation are meant to be supported by a philosophical commitment to broader social, economic and even political integration.

Even the protracted hangover produced by the failure of the political union of 1958-1962 was eventually overcome by a sense of overwhelming economic necessity and the slim prospect that survival through critical mass might somehow be achievable. This made believers out of many. The prospect of economic death is one helluva thing.

There is no doubt, there have been both the open and quiet non-believers in the CARICOM platform (though, not necessarily its goals) - Jamaica’s Edward Seaga and Trinidad and Tobago’s Basdeo Panday being the two most notorious over recent years.

“CARICOM,” the former Jamaica Prime Minister wrote in a newspaper column last December, “is likely … to face a slide, not a climb, in the future.”

Panday’s lethargic performances on the CARICOM stage and at wider hemispheric fora always had the potential to portend his eventual, hypocritical about-turn on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and his lack of commitment to an interactive, regional paradigm beyond 15,000 voters in the Couva North constituency.

Today, we are witnessing an equally disturbing trend which bears unfortunate witness to the claim that Trinidad and Tobago’s continued engagement in the single market process is entirely a function of enlightened self-interest. In this event, resort to law and convention and not to the philosophy of regional unity seems to suffice. It’s like the ‘work to rule’ strategies of trade unions made public policy.

This indeed is the product of Antigua and Barbuda’s official response to the expulsion of journalists Vernon Khelawan of Trinidad and Tobago and Lennox Linton of Dominica and the pronouncements of this country on the issue.

Continued reference to the ‘letter’ and not the ‘spirit’ of the regulatory provisions to facilitate the free movement of CARICOM nationals through the region is ample proof of a lack of political commitment.

What has been worse, in this particular instance, has been Trinidad and Tobago’s response to the expulsion of a national of this country from another nation whose leaders have time and again sounded the integration trumpet. Foreign Affairs Minister, Arnold Piggott, has responded by reference not to the ‘spirit’ of the free movement arrangements, as has Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, but to the ‘letter’ of the law.

The best that Piggott has offered is the view that “there is the right of any immigration authorities in any country to deny entry, if they have good reason or if they grant entry to an individual and later decide otherwise, to revoke that entry.”

Skerrit, in contrasting style, immediately phoned his Antiguan counterpart and went on to publicly declare:

“We are hoping that agreements taken at the heads of government meeting when we head back to our respective countries we can in fact pass the required domestic legislation to give effect to it from a national standpoint, because people are already experiencing difficulties where we have agreed to proceed with the free movement, but there has not been a commitment in terms of our own legislation within the member states with respect to allowing for the free movement of persons.”

The entire scenario, is also, of course, in direct contravention of a 2006 CARICOM decision that where existing facilitative legislation does not exist, countries can exercise a regulatory prerogative to facilitate the entry of CARICOM citizens in the recognised work categories.

That neither Piggott nor CARICOM Ambassador, Jerry Narace, has prima facie given the benefit of considerable doubt to Khelawan might well be more a function of treasonous indifference than a lack of knowledge and commitment to single market aspirations. But their inaction contrasts sharply with Skerrit’s and, subsequently, Bharat Jagdeo’s vigorous defence of their nationals.

It is noteworthy, that at the last CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Barbados last week, Antigua and Barbuda was the only country that expressed reservations about a plan to introduce an automatic six-month stay provision for CARICOM nationals and said it would not immediately accept an expansion of the work categories to benefit from free movement.

To invoke the other, not unrelated issue, it is not that Antigua and Barbuda is any less committed to press freedom than the other countries in question. In Guyana, the Jagdeo administration is trying its best to bring the Stabroek News to financial ruin; in Dominica there is a looming broadcast code and in Trinidad and Tobago we have only for now beat back a proposed code that imposes new levels of official censorship.

The Khelawan/Linton issue has provided the entire region with an opportunity to see through the cloak of integrationist rhetoric. It is a phenomenon not unmitigated by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas whose public service framers sensed, and therefore anticipated hypocrisy and impunity.

It is to our discredit that none of the countries party to this situation has at least subscribed to the role of the CCJ as a court of original jurisdiction on matters related to the Treaty. This way, Khelawan would have had the option of a binding response much more effective than the lame and disgraceful reactions we have witnessed from Knowsley up to now.

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