“I think we have reached the point [where] to talk any more about how difficult it is to move from country to country and to do nothing, is an exercise in [futility]. Our people are intolerant of such idle conversations any more. And if we are serious about a regional ferry service, then as Governments we must facilitate its execution by our private sector, rather than talking about it at meetings,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley in her maiden address to the 39th Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica last night.
For those unfamiliar with the coloured history of the regional grouping, it would have been refreshing to say the least to hear Prime Minister Mia Mottley imploring fellow CARICOM leaders last night to get moving in the interest of the region’s people.
Not to take anything from Ms Mottley’s maiden speech, the call is as old as the grouping itself and serves to underscore the challenges facing the 44-year-old institution, whose mandate is to promote and further regional integration, but which continues to be stymied by domestic agendas that often conflict with those of regionalism.
Were this not the case, there would be no need for a disputes settlement arm of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which last night welcomed a new leader in Justice Adrian Saunders of St Vincent and Grenadines.
However, instances such as the now infamous Shanique Myrie incident which left a whole lot of egg on Barbadian faces, serve to emphasize the far way we still need to go in terms of building an authentic Caribbean Community in which nationality matters less and our Caribbeanness much, much more.
But alas, we continue to see the divisions even in our cricket, with Barbadians still seething over the fact that for at least the last two installments of the Caribbean Premier League there was hardly a “Bajan” to speak of representing the “Barbados Tridents”.
The same criticism was levelled against other teams competing in the series and has also dogged the development of the West Indies cricket team.
We therefore welcome Prime Minister Mottley’s gesture to extend the most favoured-nation treatment principle to all CARICOM citizens as a matter of urgency.
However, unless and until all 15 member states act in tandem in this regard, ‘one from 10’ will always be naught, as the late Eric Williams of Trinidad would have stated at the time of the initial breakup of the defunct West Indies federation – the forerunner for what is now CARICOM.
While we remain unashamedly supportive of regional integration, we are saddened by the fact that CARICOM and its main vehicle for economic integration, the CSME, are still deemed to be the shoe that will “pinch Jamaica’s feet” – as former leader Edward Seaga once famously said – to the point where our neighbour in the north still cannot find the appetite to sign on to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction – neither can Trinidad and Tobago where the court is headquartered – or to give firm support to the community in terms of their buying and selling decisions.
This criticism can equally be extended to other member states whose governments continue to toy with the idea of putting money behind LIAT, even though their countries would be significantly isolated without it.
Also, as Ms Mottley pointed out, there is still way too much red tape in terms of completing the most minute of regional transactions.
And don’t even get us started on the whole question of taxes on intra-regional travel. If we are truly serious about building a viable and fully functional community, we really cannot have a case where it is cheaper to fly to Miami than it is to fly to Nevis, a situation not helped by mounting inter-island departure taxes.
Integration simply cannot prosper this way. In fact, we believe there is simply too much self hate within our CARICOM, which makes us unnecessarily suspicious of each other to the point of making it seem as though we are headed for our own ‘Brexit’. Right now it seems the only things that are seriously holding us together are our geography and common vulnerability to climate change and exogenous economic forces.
Sadly, therefore, the time for action is not now, it has long past.