It’s time for our leaders to come clean. What is “Caribbean Integration” (CI)? Is it vital to our economic survival? If so, we need to know more; if not, why does it consume so much time, column inches and taxes?
Every few months a missionary for CI reminds us of our manifest spiritual and cultural destiny but can’t tell us its tangible benefits. CI can’t change economics or geography. The Federal ships were scrapped and if air or sea transport were viable LIAT, BWIA, Air J, our three ship owners or Trini’s oil money would have run routes these 36 years.
Caricom as a trade bloc seems viable for the Eastern Caribbean (EC), not for us. But there’s hope, if people and goods are not viable, integration of services is an option. UWI duplicates services as regional travel is uneconomic, and even the cost for West Indian cricketers to play as a team is prohibitive. CI may be a know-how, services and IP integrator, but not for people or goods.
CI is an intergenerational project: when it was mooted most MPs were in short pants. Since it is not yet reality it behoves Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller to set up an expert panel to review CI, as it may need a tweak to new realities such as globalisation. As a Caricom believer for 36 years, I am embarrassed that apart from jobs for my friends it has not delivered. I want to be a believer; but we need to know the economics of CI in 2009.
The good unions – the EU, US, UK, Canada, Australia, Malaysian Federation – are all political unions and involve subsidy from rich to poor members. What is our role model for CI? Where is our subsidy? The CI conversation has several layers as follows:
The first is among the visionaries and academics. These are beneficiaries or believers; CI is their mantra. When it started we were not there. We need our say now.
The second is among businessmen and professionals. For them things have to make financial sense – projects sought, jobs found, money made – but it’s not working! Even our UWI want their pay indexed to Trinidad, not us; our businesses can’t sell in Caricom as our cousins have non-tariff barriers. Our professionals can’t ply their trade in Caricom as our cousins favour their own and our workers are “dissed” or deported.
The third level is the workers – their silence is deafening. We need Caricom trade unions and human rights activists. Most know nothing about CI; we were not born then, no one explains it, yet our taxes pay for it. The visionaries speak to the cognoscenti, governments speak to their EC peers; business and workers have no say. There is no convergence in these conversations. This is the 21st century, Golding. It is not transparent or fair.
Our problem with CI is we don’t know what it means or where it’s going. Answer these to your kids: Pops, what does CI mean? Who is to be integrated and who not? Is Cuba or Haiti in? What is to be “integrated” and what not? Is CI a merging of economies or just co-operation? Dad, Caricom is an economic union; why is the head a politician? Why not a businessman? Is there another agenda? When CI is complete, what will our regional economic space look like? Paint the picture for us. But here are some ideas:
Caricom should have top businessmen on its council, a chairman reflecting an economic focus and a CEO like Douglas Orane who runs a multinational business larger than Caricom. CI must focus on regional trade, though services will roll out easier than goods. It needs no capital, no civil service and must run on business principles.
A group head office in a central country, special offices for food in Guyana, energy in Trinidad, etc is enough. It must prioritise areas to act based on economic and social potential for policy and action, eg maritime security. CI needs a strategic framework for foreign affairs, which must not inhibit country initiative, cause a “race to the bottom” or disadvantage any member. Differential benefit is not disadvantage and economic mediocrity must not be the hallmark of CI. Members must be free to exploit their strengths.
If an entity is not profitable it can survive only by a political decision – as a subsidy. If CI were reality, OK, but it’s not; the under-45s need answers from old leaders, eg:
Should we plan CI into our recovery? Do we need visas with Caricom passports?
Can we work and bid on projects equally? Will those with criminal records or AIDS travel freely? Will we have a common currency? Will our goods, services and money move freely? Can we start businesses, buy houses, cars, goods and ship them freely? Can we sell patties in Bridgetown like a Bajan? Integration’s strength is that members’ benefits are uniform and non-members are less favoured. Will CI have no subsidy or balanced subsidy to members? Who will pay? Will economics or politics run things?
Until transport evolves, only intangibles are viable in CI. If CI were political, goods would move by policy, not viability. But we gave politicians no mandate for this. Furthermore, no member has passed my “caring litmus test” for CI eg, does it aid its neighbour now? Does the rice-rich Guyana or oil and gas-rich Trinidad share? Do land-rich Belize and Guyana invite land-hungry Jamaicans to settle? We are services-rich but have no access to Caricom contracts, and members with jobs demean and deport our citizens – they don’t dare deport UK or US citizens.
Caricom may be a “Trojan Horse” for political integration, but it can’t make transport economics work for poor, distant Jamaica and no rich member is minded to subsidise us. When we were rich we were not humble. Selah!
Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston Consultants, currently on assignment in the UK.?email@example.com (Reprinted from Jamaica Observer)