Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong has dismissed as “unfair and unreasonable”, recent comments made by Honorary Consul for Belize in Barbados John Beale who was critical of CARICOM.
In fact, saying that Beale’s comments were without substance, Comissiong also took him to task for his suggestion that Prime Minister Mia Mottley rid Government of some state entities, including the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and trim the size of her Cabinet.
He said people should be more objective and scientific in how they approach such matters, adding that it would be “ludicrous to be suggesting to a Government that it divest itself of any ownership of a public broadcasting system”.
“It is so easy to trot out these of kinds of opinions, but when you subject them to a little scrutiny you really find that they don’t hold water,” said a fired-up Comissiong.
Regarding Beale’s belief that Mottley should reduce her 24-member Cabinet, Comissiong added: “The test of whether a Government minister is justified is whether that minister is giving value for money. If that minister is producing and delivering something of value to the nation that justifies the expenditure on the minister. That should be the test you apply, not simply a question of numbers.”
He also dismissed Beale’s contention that there were more than 75 statutory corporations, some of which the former ambassador said “should not exist”.
“To give the impression that there are 75 statutory corporations that the Government has responsibility for cannot be true. It is so easy to talk about getting rid of statutory corporations, but when pressed to identify which statutory corporations to get rid of . . . it is very difficult then for the critics to be specific, because all of these entities perform very important functions, as does the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation,” said Comissiong, who added that it was standard practice in countries across the world for governments to have a broadcasting company.
It was on Thursday, while addressing a regular meeting of the Rotary Club of Barbados, that Beale pointed to the need for a leaner Cabinet and divestment of some state entities, singling out CBC on the latter count.
He reasoned that the country was simply too small for the number of statutory agencies and Government ministers.
In relation to CARICOM, Beale, a former Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American State (OAS) said there was hardly any unity, while criticising the short period a prime minister chairs the 15-member bloc.
“How in God’s name can you have CARICOM that changes management every six months?” Beale queried.
However, Comissiong, who said he felt compelled to “clarify” the “misinformation”, told Barbados TODAY the fact that the Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government changed every six months did not constitute a change in the management of CARICOM.
“Mr Beale perhaps doesn’t understand that the Chairman of CARICOM simply presides over the chairing of the Conference of Heads of Government,” said Comissiong, explaining that the six-month period made “absolute sense in that it gives every country an opportunity to chair within a reasonable period of time”.
“Chairing simply means that the prime minister chairs the major CARICOM conference that will take place during his or her six-month term, and his or her country will be the host site and have responsibility for putting on that conference and the costs associated,” he added.
Further explaining that the management function of CARICOM was carried out by the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat and the Secretary General, Comissiong said the latter’s position was a long-term one.
The current Secretary General is Ambassador Irwin LaRocque. He took up that position in August 2011 and is due to demit office next year.
There is also a Bureau of CARICOM, a sub-committee of the Conference of Heads of Governments that is made up of the current, past and incoming chairs of CARICOM.
“So a head of state who becomes chairman actually spends 18 months on the Bureau – they are the chair for six months but sits on the Bureau as incoming, six months as the current and six months as the past chair. So to talk about the chair only being in a position for six months is in fact erroneous,” said Comissiong.
“Then to suggest there is no unity in CARICOM is simply not true,” he added, pointing out that with any integration organisation one should expect “peaks and valleys”.
“There will be times when there is a lack of unity, there will be other times when the organisation is well unified. But to single out a period when the organisation might have slipped and assume that is a permanent condition is not right,” he said.
In fact, Comissiong said this year was one that showed how well the region functioned in unity, pointing to how it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in association with relevant regional organisations set up by CARICOM to assist member states.
“If you look at the entire international community, you perhaps will have to put CARICOM in first place right across the world in the manner in which our community came together, unified and dealt with the pandemic in a very organised and scientific manner,” said Comissiong.
He also dismissed Beale’s idea of a president calling the region and requesting to speak with just one leader, saying such a statement was “misconceived” since CARICOM is an organisation that “brings together sovereign independent nations”.