November 27, 2002
The recent and continuing severe economic crisis in Dominica left one with the impression that it was only a question of time before we would have the first failed state in the region. It reinforced the image of the small island states of the Leewards and the Windwards as a group of weak states which were something of a drag on Caricom.
That is far from the case. The image has its roots in the constitutional foundations of Caricom; the treaty of Chaguaramas divided the grouping arbitrarily into more developed countries (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) and the less developed countries (the Leewards and the Windwards plus Belize). The crippling economic crisis which beginning in the 80’s overtook in particular Jamaica and Guyana have long since made the division meaningless.
The reality which contradicts the image is that most of these island states have steadily had higher per capita incomes than Guyana and at least one of them, Antigua and Barbuda, has had levels of opportunity which attracted some ten thousand Guyanese immigrants who live and work there.
Some twenty one years ago the states referred to namely Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, later joined by the British Virgin Islands as an Associate Member, constituted themselves into the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, with the objective of pursuing among themselves deeper forms of integration which they felt suited their special needs and which were not immediately available within the larger integration movement “Caricom” of which they were already members. That objective has been pursued with remarkable success.
However these independent entities (except for Montserrat and the BVI) have recently been buffeted by increasingly harsh economic circumstances including the constraints imposed on their preferential market for bananas in the UK and the slowdown in tourism since September 11.
The foregoing reflections on the OECS have been stimulated by the text of a remarkable address by Dr Vaughan Lewis which was delivered recently to the 27th Annual Convention of the New Democratic Party of St Vincent and the Grenadines (Sir James Mitchell’s party, now in opposition). The OECS which has been a source of innovative ideas and mechanisms provided the context of experience for Vaughan Lewis’s remarks. As is to be expected from one who in turn has been a distinguished UWI academic, the Director General of the OECS Secretariat and Prime Minister of St Lucia his address advances ideas and insights of immediate relevance to the future of regional integration.
One idea in particular caught the attention of the news media namely that the OECS should expand by linking with other countries in their geographical space, in particular at this time Barbados. Vaughan Lewis supports this proposal for a new form of integration between Barbados and the OECS by drawing attention to the following two developments. The first is the merger of two of the major banks - Barclays and CIBC. The merged financial institution has established its headquarters in Barbados with the consequence that services which were hitherto immediately available in an OECS state like getting an ATM card must now wait two weeks for the card to come from Barbados.
The second event responding to global developments in communications and data services, was the reorganisation of Cable and Wireless with the consequence that if you pick up your phone in St Lucia, a Barbadian answers. In short, jobs which once existed in the OECS are now being re-created in Barbados. Vaughan Lewis argues that the OECS must accordingly move to hinge the OECS system onto Barbados and institute new rules of management and regulation, what today are called rules of governance, which would permit “us to capture benefits from the wider informal commercial and financial arrangements evolving in the sub-region”.
He observes that Barbados is a financial hub, a management hub and telecommunication and transportation hubs which feed into the OECS countries and in return draw resources from the OECS countries.
It is also relevant to note that the Caricom Secretariat has just established in Barbados its office for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Vaughan Lewis is refocusing attention on a problem with which the early integrationists had long wrestled namely how to ensure the benefits of integration did not accrue only to the more developed or well endowed member states. The Caribbean Development Bank had therefore been conceived, in part, to serve as an instrument of equalisation which would make loans more easily available (the soft window) to the more vulnerable states. The CDB has done this but in so doing it had catered mainly to government development projects.
However, inequalities as the Guyana experience shows, have developed mainly in the trade and services sectors.
It is certain that modern technology and economic pressures will produce further concentrations such as those identified by Vaughan Lewis which could work to the disadvantage of not only small OECS states but of Guyana unless the ending of internal strife can lead to early resumption here of investment and growth and development.
The full implementation, whenever that might be, of CSME with the free movement of capital, labour and services should go some way towards the equitable redistribution of benefits. But the situation may require, as Vaughan Lewis perceives, new rules of governance on which, say in the case of a regional airline, participation in management and control is delinked from ownership and rules are adopted which ensure the deliberate recruitment and training of quotas of Caricom nationals from member states other than that from which the airline originates or is owned.
Citing the failure of the efforts to expand the Regional Security System (RSS) Dr Vaughan Lewis discusses the problems posed by interpretations of sovereignty in Caricom. Established by the OECS states in 1982, the RSS is perceived as a valuable mechanism for collective protection. After the 1990 attempted coup in Trinidad, Heads of Government in a situation of consternation and panic decided that the RSS should be extended to cover the region. Nothing came of it because, as Vaughan Lewis puts it, “the bureaucrats and the ever-ready protectors of so-called sovereignty found innumerable reasons why the new system should not be extended beyond the OECS”. It will be recalled that it had been announced during a cabinet decisions briefing that Guyana was considering joining the RSS but nothing more was heard of the matter. Yet given the current Guyana situation, the RSS might have been able to help with security personnel - an option which, as the President points out, is not currently available from external donors.
Similar, narrow interpretations of sovereignty led to the insistence of each Caricom state on negotiating its own Shiprider Agreement with the USA. This agreement allows US searches in the Caricom states territorial waters without special permission. It is thus essentially one-sided in its benefits. Vaughan Lewis is surely right in maintaining that a unified Caricom approach on the basis of an arrangement like the RSS, might have secured to the advantage of all Caricom members a treaty which covered the whole interlinked field, movement of drugs, money laundering, coping with criminal deportees and the other problems in which internal and external security are so closely linked.
This contention is borne out by the differing outcomes of the separate negotiations in which Jamaica and Barbados were able to secure reciprocal benefits and to maintain in large measure their sovereign rights in contrast with those states that went along with the original draft agreement presented to them by the US government.
In view of the above-mentioned and other examples where commitments to sovereignty have impeded cooperation, with consequent threats to the viability of the movement Vaughan Lewis asserts that “there is insufficient discussion today about the rationale, the reasoning behind what is going on in the official Caricom system... about how the different countries are perceiving their own interests today and how those perceptions impact on the manner in which they conduct Caricom business and the commitments which the governments make to Caricom”.
The exercise envisaged by Vaughan Lewis would go far deeper and beyond the assumptions on which the recent treaty revision and the consequent protocols were based. It would focus on the bedrock reasons why there has been a ten year delay, to take but one example, in the implementation of CSME and why so many other integration initiatives founder on the jealous safeguarding of nearly meaningless exercises of sovereignty.