Different strokes By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 23, 2002

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THE LEADERS of the eight-member grouping of Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are due in Guyana by Tuesday, July 2 in a mood for action to advance the agenda for the 23rd annual regular Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).

Some, and one in particular, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, has already gone public with a sharp criticism of what he sees as a non-inspiring, unimaginative draft work agenda for the four-day summit, being hosted by the government of President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Whether or not as host and incoming Chairman of CARICOM, President Jagdeo, in consultation with Secretary General Edwin Carrington and outgoing Community Chairman, Prime Minister Said Musa, can come to some understanding to make some relevant adjustments to the finally circulated draft agenda before the start of the first working plenary session of the summit, will not be known before the ceremonial opening of the event.

But it seems after the coming summit in the home of the Community Secretariat where initial work has begun for a modern headquarter complex with a convention centre, it can hardly be business as usual in the framing, circulation and approval of a CARICOM Summit agenda.

It is certainly no fun for a Prime Minister of CARICOM to liken the draft agenda circulated by the Community Secretariat in Georgetown for the coming 23rd Summit to the popular soap opera, `Days of Our Lives’.

I do not know if Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the flamboyant and outspoken former political scientist of the UWI, has the time to devote to viewing that American soap opera so many of the region's women are hooked on on a daily basis.

But for Gonsalves to have so publicly ridicule, equate a draft agenda of a CARICOM Summit, normally prepared by consultation between the Community Secretariat and heads of government, may be viewed as being neither politically correct, nor legitimate by even some of Gonsalves' colleagues though perhaps privately sharing his sentiment.

It may very well be the harshest public criticism yet by a head of government of a draft agenda for any meeting of Heads of Government of CARICOM. Either for an Inter-Sessional Meeting or the regular annual Community Summit.

That it has come from the Community's Prime Minister who will be attending only his second regular summit since coming to power in March 2001, may be very upsetting for the Secretary General of the almost 30-year-old Community, Carrington. I failed to reach him, at the time of writing this column, before attending last Thursday's funeral of my slain colleague, Hugh Crosskill in Jamaica.

But before leaving Barbados, I did manage to speak to a few of the leaders and officials who participated in the two-day 21st anniversary summit of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in Basseterre, prior to its scheduled conclusion on Wednesday evening (June 19).

It was evident that there is anxiety on their part for more "timely and constructive consultation", as one Prime Minister stressed, before the final draft agenda for any CARICOM Summit is circulated.

If Gonsalves’ criticism reflects his personal disenchantment, it would only be fair to say that it is neither personal, against anyone, nor anti-CARICOM. In fact, it seems to suggest a desire for a more creative, realistic, pro-active agenda, kept to the minimum of what's practical to achieve between Inter-Sessional Meetings and regular Heads of Government Conferences.

The Vincentian Prime Minister and another head of government, who prefers not to go public now with his views, feel that in addition to the traditional very important and yet unresolved issues such as the creation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), establishment of a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and reviews of programmes and activities, there needs to be time devoted to "new strategic options" for CARICOM that could be more people-focused.

Within the framework of such "strategic options", sensitive and unavoidable issues such as political integration and free movement of people with the right to live and work in any member state of the Community, need to be seriously debated until such a time when implementation actions can actually begin. At least in some, if not all the member states at the same time.

Significantly, one of the first items addressed by the OECS leaders at their meeting in Basseterre on Wednesday was the "implementation of decisions" of their previous 35th summit, held in Anguilla. Perhaps there is a suggestion here for the leaders of the wider Community of which the OECS is a part.

Now may not be the time to revisit the recommendation of The West Indian Commission for the creation of a troika of CARICOM Commissioners with relevant skills and influence. But a critical review needs to be urgently undertaken about the role of the CARICOM Bureau and the productivity of assigned specific lead responsibilities to Heads.

Perhaps, as some of the OECS leaders have indicated, this should be pursued within the context of the now overdue implementation of the Report of the special committee mandated by the Heads of Government to review the "restructuring and functioning of the Caribbean Community Secretariat".

OECS Prime Minister Douglas may have spoken for more than that sub-region when he urged: "Let us take this wonderful opportunity, on the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Basseterre to pledge our full support to the ideals of the Treaty, and to reaffirm our commitment to take the sub-region into a higher sphere of cooperation and collaboration in the years to come..."

Perhaps it is a sentiment that could be extended also at the 23rd CARICOM Summit in relation to the now revised CARICOM Treaty for the 21st century as well as the related recommendations of the historic West Indian Commission, headed by Sir Shridath Ramphal, in the voluminous report, `Time For Action’.