Monday, March 10, 2014

Fred Mitchell on CARICOM

Saving CARICOM, pt. 5

This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell’s address was on “Saving CARICOM”. This is the final part of the lecture.

 This brings me to my pet peeve, the nature and culture of our decision making around the region. It is manifested in the suggestions which The Bahamas advances each year on the length, for example, of opening ceremonies of CARICOM gatherings. Try as we might, those ceremonies continue to take far too long and interfere in my respectful view in the timely dispatch of the work of the body. That is just symptomatic of what I call the deliberative nature of our culture.

In other words, we like to talk.

Mr. Anthony in the chamber address again says: “The simple truth is that decision making, especially in the all critical area of trade when time is of essence, has become cumbersome, layered, and bureaucratic. For instance, it takes months to get a decision from COTED and by the time the decision arrives the reason for the request ceases to be relevant, or the situation which necessitated the request has so deteriorated that the initial solution is no longer the answer to the problem.”

Those who are familiar with the negotiations on the Carib/Can agreement will know of which the prime minister speaks.

In our meetings and visits, we are fond of invoking the Singapore model for development. However, we must realize as Sam Huntington, the Harvard professor, makes clear in his seminal work “Political Order in Changing Societies” that there is a trade-off between rapid development and growth on the one hand and democracy on the other. That trade-off seems to be that if you want rapid growth and development at the same time, then you have to move toward a more authoritarian model of governance. That may work in Asia but I dare say is inimical to the way we do business in the region. However, something must be done to reduce the amount of words expended and to increase the level of action and dispatch.

So now can I pull all of this together in some coherent way.

It is clear that The Bahamas, and I think that the CARICOM project, has much to recommend itself.

I have said in another context that if CARICOM did not exist, it would have to be invented. There is no more efficient way to conduct ourselves as small countries but in some sort of multinational supra-body that will deal with the old traditional world powers.

CARICOM for good or ill is that body. There has been too much concentration on the issues of market and economy and not enough on how we actually function and how our people actually succeed and work together.

Clearly in terms of institutional arrangements The Bahamas has some way to go in convincing its public that this is a good religion to adopt but I think we are mainly there. We have put our money where our mouth is.

As we say in our country: “Talk is cheap; money buy land.”

I want to borrow from the convergence model and suggest a couple of items that ought to be carried out with dispatch.

In this summary, I mention first of all the strengthening of the powers and human resources of the secretariat and more reliable and dedicated funding mechanisms.

Secondly, the closer coordination of the foreign policy of CARICOM to leverage the number of votes we have in international bodies for the benefit of the region.

I recall the recent visit to the region of a Canadian minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs who came to remind The Bahamas and other CARICOM countries that they should not support a mooted push by Qatar to move the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha because of our traditional friendship. It was a very interesting statement given the difficulty our nations often have when seeking to get results in Ottawa, even a simple meeting with public officials or resolving the tortuous issues of visas for our students.

Leveraging in this context should become a fine art for CARICOM.

I also believe that we ought to have a more structured approach in our relations with the United States. One idea is for greater access of our young people into the tertiary level institutions of that country with a right to live and work there in pursuit of training opportunities.

Thirdly, I call for a specific focus on the development of young people including a commitment to double the investment in education over the next five years.

Fourthly, that our ministers of culture, trade and finance continue to build on ways to improve the ability of youngsters to use their raw talents to build wealth for this region.

I recall a 17 year old from Britain who was hailed as a genius because he made millions from an app, which he invented. I pointed out that we have that same genius in the Caribbean but perhaps we do not recognize it.

Did not Usain Bolt, a young man from Jamaica, come from poor and humble circumstances and using his talent, this genius, transform his life into one that is worth a fortune? And, in the process, he lifted the collective spirit of Jamaica out of despair. I worry about him and others who emulate him; that they are not taken advantage of by the commercial hucksters of this life. Encouraging the Bolts of this world, nurturing them, supporting them, educating them, protecting them; that is a role that governments can do by their policies.

Not only is this true in sports but in all cultural spheres including music, drama and the arts.

This is a mission which former Prime Minister Patterson speaks to with some urgency.

Fifthly, I believe that we ought to declare a state of emergency in relation to the development of boys and men. We cannot continue along the path of the dysfunctions which now obtain across our societies where so many men and boys are not participating in the society but instead embrace a life of violence and crime or a lack of “stickability”. I say this with the greatest of respect and honor to the millions of men and boys who do get it and who do succeed but we must reach back and help to lift our fallen brothers. Our women too should recognize the urgency of this problem even as they take their rightful place in society. They have an interest in resolving this issue as well.

I am asking that CARICOM embrace this as a priority in fixing our problems. We will not regret it.

Finally, we must all commit to telling the CARICOM story. This means people-to-people engagement, improved and increased travel and transportation links. The leaders themselves should travel and interact in the jurisdictions of the other. It is to build that chemistry about which Kenny Anthony spoke.

When I was opposition spokesman on foreign affairs during the period 2007 to 2012, I continued to travel to the region and pay official calls on governments and opposition leaders. There was a look of consternation often on the faces of many when I visited. There was apoplexy back in the capital by my political opponents at home. However, I wanted to lead by example. CARICOM must be a continuing project and enterprise in or out of government. The project is both formal and informal. What may be posited about that project is that its success is ensured by turning specialized functions into localized actions the region over.

Lastly, I mention again the need to revisit the charter and to reflect the broader embrace of the issues and begin the conversation on public policy and sexual orientation as one of the characteristics for which there can be no discrimination.

There are a number of other important public policy issues which require focus. Clearly these would include climate change and our continued dependence on fossil fuels, transportation and migration, which must be solved. The commonalities of dependence and vulnerability within the context of energy and climate change make these policy developments imperative.

However, I believe if we fix the problems of structure and decision making and human rights issues, our ability to resolve the others will follow. In any event, I have spoken too long and it is time to stop. In our country we say: “You must talk some and keep some.” The process of saving CARICOM is ongoing. Each generation is called to take the project further. I would not urge despair.

Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian writer, reminds us in Negus:

It is not enough to be free

of the whips, principalities and powers.

where is your kingdom of the word…

It is not enough to be free

of malaria fevers of the hurricane,

fear of invasions, crops’ drought, fire’s

blister upon the cane…

It is not enough to be able to fly to Miami,

structure skyscrapers, excavate the moon-

scaped seashore sands

to build hotels, casinos, sepulchres…


It is not enough

to be pause, to be hole

to be void, to be silent

to be semicolon, to be semicolony…

To which I add a loud hallelujah and amen!

Once again, I am deeply grateful for this invitation to speak here this evening.

Thank you and good evening.

March 10, 2014

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 1

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 2

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 3

- Saving CARICOM pt.4