"We are the West Indies" Editorial
Stabroek News
April 14, 2004

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The recent debacle in West Indies cricket has naturally led to deep thinking about its future. In reflecting on the causes of the rout now on three successive occasions thoughts have turned to wider questions such the social structure supporting young players.

The West Indies team is not only the most enduring and prestigious of regional institutions, it is a microcosm or sample of the region. It therefore may well be that the ills affecting it are the same as those affecting other regional institutions such as Caricom. It is the problem of how to move beyond the dependence on talent or even genius to professionalisation with its intense non-stop training and exacting disciplines. The West Indies bowlers are probably equal in physical endowment and talent to their English counterparts. The difference appears to be in training. The fact should be pondered that it was a different bowler who on each occasion destroyed the W.I. batting, first Harmison, then Jones, then it was the turn of Flintoff and later, in Barbados, Hoggard with his hat trick.

It is too easy to see the W.I. team at the height of its success when it dominated world cricket as consisting of men of exceptional talent who had somehow all emerged together. But there was an agency of training and professionalisation hardly ever mentioned by analysts, perhaps because of ex-colonial sensitivities. It was the fact that in the past so many West Indian greats had made a living and at the same time shown their skills and acquired a discipline playing League cricket and afterwards County cricket in England. Because of new English rules restricting the inclusion of foreigners on county teams and because the W.I. cricket authorities for their part have likewise decided to try to keep cricketers at home such opportunities are apparently not now so easily available. Despite the fact of many overseas tours, including those for junior teams, regional cricket seems mired in the outlook and attention span of the week-end mode of cricket.

The above perhaps not fully informed digression into cricket may nevertheless throw light on current Caricom dilemmas. The architects of Caricom were men of deeply held commitments and vision. Sure enough there was an establishing Treaty for the integration movement, the Treaty of Chaguaramas. But in its operations Caricom remained surprisingly informal in its approaches. Now it is clear that its current institutions can alone no longer cope with the much altered milieu in which it must survive and undertake new essential functions.

In short there is need to move beyond personal commitment to mechanisms which permanently embody the vision and commitment, irrespective of who leads or the changing pressures and perspectives within member states. Regular implementation must replace inclination.

Hence at the Montego Bay Summit in Jamaica about a year ago the Heads of Government identified new institutions and mechanisms for the Governance of the Community and entrusted the task of making these operational to a Prime Ministerial Expert Group. Foremost are the proposals for a Caricom Commission or other executive mechanism. The purpose of the proposed institutions is to deepen regional integration, especially in respect of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the implementation of Community decisions through the development inter alia of a body of Caricom law.

Another mechanism identified at Montego Bay was for the automatic resource transfer for the financing of community institutions. Hitherto, the Secretariat's financing has virtually been at the discretion of member states. Subventions are assessed for each member state but the actual transfer of the subvention has been at the mercy of budgetary factors in the Member State. There are frequent delays and sometimes only partial transfer with a situation of recurring arrears. This has hamstrung the Secretariat and led to the too frequent resort to donor financing. Indeed it may be the case that much if not most of the Secretariat's financing comes from donors - an unfortunate situation if the Secretariat is to retain its essential autonomy.

The Prime Ministerial Sub-committee sought the assistance of technical groups on how to make these measures operational. These groups reported since November last year. However in Basseterre last month, Heads of Government no doubt mainly preoccupied with Haiti deferred decisions on these matters to their forthcoming regular Summit in Grenada from 3 to 6 July.

In the case of the CSME there was in Basseterre the now familiar litany on slow progress. Only Trinidad and Tobago has met its 2003 commitments while Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and St. Vincent have gone part of the way. It was Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados who said in December last year that the region had to integrate or perish and it would be a failure of potentially catastrophic proportions if regional governments did not honour their commitments to remove all restrictions on the movement of capital skills, the provision of services and the rights of establishment of enterprise by next year (2005).

In the status update at Basseterre on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the groups responsible continued to exude their usual optimism that arrangements will be in place for the inauguration of the court by the third quarter of 2004. It is stated that Member States had already enacted the necessary legislation but it is not clear what this means. As far as is known, the amending legislation has been held up in Trinidad and Tobago by opposition non-cooperation and the same may be true in Jamaica.

While the Basseterre Communique thus records steady if modest progress in several areas, on one project it records abandonment and failure, namely on the Regional Stabilisation Fund (RSF). At their special conference in St. Lucia in August 2002 at the time of the acute financial crisis in Dominica Heads of Government had decided on a three part programme. The first part was the provision of emergency rescue assistance to Dominica. The second part called for the establishment of a Regional Stabilisa-tion Fund (RSF). This was envisaged as a "revolving source of fiscal and economic support designed to supplement stabilisation and structural transformation assistance from the traditional sources" (eg the IMF). A study done in the RSF found it to be feasible. The intention apparently was for Caricom Member States to repatriate a small part of their foreign exchange reserves which were being held overseas, as their contribution to the fund. Moreover it was not necessary for all Member States to contribute for it to become operational. As usual Trinidad was quick off the mark in committing US$45 m. The RSF was seen as not only an urgently necessary mechanism but as a sign of the strength of the integration movement in that it could provide itself with a crucial self-help institution. It is therefore saddening to learn that in Basseterre a consensus was reached that "there was not sufficient enthusiasm shown for the RSF despite nearly two years of effort to develop the concept and mobilise resources for it". Note the rejection was based not on any incapacity but on insufficient enthusiasm. Is this not another example of the Caricom sickness, the inability to take hard decisions except on the basis of gradual time wasting approaches. For reasons already discussed editorially Haiti is a remarkable exception, at least to date.

However in one sector, agriculture, it appears that some advance is in train. The Summit welcomed the initiative of President Jagdeo as the lead Head for the sector "to organise a strategic plan to stimulate diversification and raise the production and productivity of the sector". They noted that President Jagdeo had received positive responses from the FAO and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) for assistance in developing a strategic plan. This is a necessary and viable project. William Demas had pointed out more than two decades ago that at that time more than a billion US dollars of food was being imported annually into the region. However the Basseterre Summit requested that the strategic plan be completed in time for their July meeting. It would be surprising if that deadline can be met. Any strategy must take account of, so as to avoid, all the failed measures in this sector which Caricom had taken over the years, including the agricultural marketing protocol, the Regional Food Plan and the Caribbean Food Corpora-tion- now mostly forgotten.

It is not yet known what re-organisation if any the West Indies cricket authorities will put in place to cope with the problems facing the W.I. Team.

In the case of Caricom it is expected that there will be little change in its gradualist approaches. But make no mistake, for Guyana Caricom must remain a high priority for bread and butter reasons. Caricom is increasingly providing an important market for new light manufacturers especially furniture and for rice and sugar.

Yes, we are the West Indies. On the glory days there is the magnificence of a Lara century and then the frequent puzzling collapse in the batting and bowling. There is the heroism of standing together on Haiti and the too slow advance to regional maturity.