Political ole' talk at time of crime crisis
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 2, 2003

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MOST perplexing it certainly is - that our Caribbean Community leaders are getting ready for a ‘special meeting’ in Port-of-Spain later this month to discuss ‘options for governance’ when they should really be engaged in an emergency meeting on the challenging criminal offensive that affects so many CARICOM countries, Guyana included.

But at this very daunting period, when the Caribbean, as one of the regions of the world's small, poor and developing nations, is facing the socio-economic consequences of America's coming war against Iraq, CARICOM heads of government can find the time for a "special meeting" on February 13 to talk around the subject of political unity.

The emphasis is on "talk" and "around" since they are, most of them anyway, anxious to avoid conveying any impression in their respective domestic jurisdiction that they will be engaged in any serious discussion in Port-of-Spain on regional political integration.

If readers are wondering why a ‘special meeting’ to discuss anything even remotely bordering "political integration" - a non-starter issue, as it has been these 30 years of CARICOM's existence - instead of focusing on the urgent, pressing national/regional issue of ‘crime’, then they must know it is a concern well shared by a lot of people across our Community.

As if they have not learnt anything from their own previous experiences in discussing the elusive goal of political integration, but now seemingly anxious not to displease one of their numbers, the Community leaders have agreed to the request of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, for the forthcoming "special meeting" on February 13.

In its published calendar of coming CARICOM events, the Community Secretariat has not stated the purpose of this ‘special meeting’ being hosted by Prime Minister Manning.

But following preparatory meetings in Port-of-Spain ahead of the two-day 14th Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM heads of government starting on February 14, I have been given some insight about this ‘special meeting’.

What was originally intended to be a meeting, as favoured by Manning, to discuss possibilities for political unity, will now be concerned with - brace yourself for this: "A Consultation on Options for Governance to accelerate the process for Regional Integration".

It is the kind of subject tailored for a good ole' talk typical for such official West Indian gatherings. Among the participants will be representatives of civil society embracing business, labour, religious and other non-governmental organisations.

Who’s on board?
The coming ‘special meeting’ seems destined to climax with nothing specific in terms of facing up to the challenging task of political integration. Never mind the tentative document being provided by the University of the West Indies, at Manning's request, to help guide the "ole' talk" about "options for governance".

Who is really on board for political integration in the "options for governance"? Apart from the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, I cannot recall any other Community head of government openly seeking to engage discussion on regional political unity.

It is certainly not an issue of interest at this time - for a variety of reasons - to either Jamaica, The Bahamas, Suriname and Belize, and most decidedly not Haiti. That means starting out with a minus of one third of CARICOM's membership.

Nor is it a question that either President Bharrat Jagdeo in Guyana or Prime Minister Owen Arthur in Barbados would be keen on discussing now - even at party level.

Dominica, which currently occupies the chairmanship of CARICOM, is understandably preoccupied with the headache of honouring debt payments, not any political unity initiative.

Although ruling parties in countries like St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Grenada all have overwhelming parliamentary majorities, none, as far as I am aware, is in the mood to take on the challenge of what, inevitably, we must come to face - blending economic integration with political unity.

Most of the leaders, if not all, should, however, have an interest in a ‘special meeting’ to consider ways to effectively respond to the criminal rampage they currently confront at home.

No Substitute
Their session on the crime situation at last July's Heads of Government Conference in Georgetown, cannot be a substitute for a ‘special meeting’ on crime and violence, in the same way they have agreed to next week's meeting in Port-of-Spain.

The Seventh Meeting of the Regional Task Force on Crime concluded last week in Port-of-Spain. Their report, with recommendations would be available for transmission to heads of government by the Community Secretariat to further guide the Community leaders.

It, however, appears that for all the murders, the blood letting, kidnappings, hijackings, robberies and sheer hell being experienced by their citizens, an ole' talk meeting on "options for governance" is to be preferred to a "special meeting on crime and violence".

Little wonder that people are cynically asking: How serious are these CARICOM leaders?

Documents, essays on West Indian political integration abound. The late William Demas, for one, wrote extensively on the issue and died with his dream of even some CARICOM countries, becoming involved in some form of political integration, even, initially, a confederation.

We await to learn what new will now emerge from the requested document to be provided by the UWI to help our Community leaders in their 'talk' on "options for governance". That subject seems an expedient euphemism to avoid rocking anybody's boat by candidly facing the issue of "options on political union".

I do not know if among leading technocrats/resource people from the region will be the former chairman of The West Indian Commission and current Chancellor of the UWI, Shridath Ramphal, for the ‘special meeting’ on February 13.

In its historic ‘Time for Action’ report, the Commission itself was so haunted by the ghost of a failed federal experiment of the 1960s that, for all its very enlightening and far-reaching recommendations, it opted to steer clear from advocating new initiatives for political integration. It ended up highlighting the concept of CARICOM as a "Community of sovereign states".

Now, after the ole' talk ‘special meeting’ of February 13, we will see how the Community leaders spend the following two days, February 14-15, dealing with issues of immediate relevance, high among them the criminal rampage.

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