He may have said it in jest, but senior economic advisor to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Professor Avinash Persaud, uttered a truism recently when he said the Caribbean was littered with more commissions and reports than probably any other region in the world.
As he introduced the regional audience to the latest edition of a pathway to furtherance of regional integration, authored again by some of the Caribbean’s most esteemed academics, one cannot help but feel less than optimistic about this new effort.
It was not too long ago we had the 1993 West Indian Commission led by Sir Shridath Ramphal, which sought the same illusive answers.
On this occasion, there was little messaging about the CARICOM Commission on the Economy. It literally caught the region by surprise. And while we do not wish to downplay its importance or value, it comes at a time when every Caribbean country is scrambling to survive, and integration is not on the front burner for the average citizen.
Economies have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is rampant unemployment, the true level of which, is anyone’s guess at this stage.
“One of the key obstacles [to trade and increased economic activity] is that people have this notion that Caribbean economies and countries are just squabbling with each other all the time, and we never agree.
“The reality is that there is a tremendous amount of agreement, but it is not unanimity,” Persaud told a regional audience over the weekend as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) took another go at cementing the union.
It is more than interesting that it would be Persaud, who was born in the year of Barbados’ independence and is the son of noted Guyanese economist Dr Bishnodat Persaud, would be the man articulating this new pathway.
Professor Persaud is ever the exuberant and an articulate proponent that we in the Caribbean can achieve world-class levels in anything we pursue. But he must forgive us, if we do not share his level of excitement about the furtherance of Caribbean integration.
“We have found a lot of the causes of arguments in the region . . . [centre around] money. We squabble about who is contributing the most or least,” the economic and financial analyst lamented.
The Commission, included some of the best brains the region has to offer. They were Persaud, Chester Humphrey, Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala, Dr Damien King, Pascal Lamy, Gregory McGuire, Roger McLean, Wendell Samuel, Paul Scott, and Therese Turner-Jones.
Their report looked at how we in the region could do what we do much better, faster, and more efficiently.
“Governance is critical to faster decision making and greater cooperation. Much of the report is about how we get the Caribbean moving again. Fast Caribbean. That is why our report is called Caribbean 9.58 . . . . “That is Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 100-metre dash. The message is that we need to move the Caribbean faster, we can be faster – the fastest person in the world is a Caribbean person,” insisted Persaud.
Yes, Professor Persaud. We in the Caribbean are capable of achieving anything. The problem is that sometimes, our leaders can be some of the most significant inhibitors to region-wide attainment.
Take a look at how we have bungled the LIAT issue. How about the region’s long mooted ferry service. Where are we on single currency or a position on dollarization? How are we on the voting position within the Organisation of American States (OAS)? How about CARICOM’s United Nations votes on Cuba or Israel?
There were rumblings and latent disquiet about whether Barbados had secretly lured Ross University Medical School from Dominica where it was situated for four decades to relocate to Barbados in 2018.
Ross University was a major economic driver in Dominica and there were threats of legal action. The sometimes-erratic comments of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, all make for a bumpy path at times to deeper regional integration and economic cooperation.
Persaud and his team of commissioners are excited about lowering the entry requirements for people to move about the region to just two Caribbean Examinations Council certificates (CXCs).
We can only imagine that this will add to the heated debate on the free movement of labour across the Caribbean. We suggest that deepening cooperation among the 15 CARICOM nations, now may not be the best time to try to convince citizens to increase the movement of low-skilled workers.
Jobs are just too difficult to secure given the pandemic. There is a great deal of anxiety in the job market.
So, unless the remedies offered by the Commission are likely to dramatically increase investment and economic activity immediately, which we have serious doubts about, the Commission’s report will remain a hard sell to the average Caribbean citizen at this time.