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Caricom is Over Thirty Years Late on Disasters and Food Crisis
There appears to be a great deal of laxity within this foremost body of the Caribbean

by Seopaul Singh
Guyana Journal, June 2008

Within the past two weeks (May 22 - June 3, 2008) the Guyana Press zeroed in on three key public figures who expressed their dismay at the snail-pace operations of CARICOM in dealing with one of the most pressing issues of the region – Minister Robert Persaud on non implementation of Agriculture Policy of the Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED) by sister States, Deputy Senior Director of CARICOM Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) on the African Caribbean Pacific/European Union (ACP/EU) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), and Ambassador Dr. Odeen Ishmael on the President Jagdeo’s 2004 Initiative – “Strategy for the Agricultural and Economic Development.”

There appears to be a great deal of laxity within this foremost body of the Caribbean. One is persuaded to the notion that there is a cavalier attitude displayed over time by this key agency of Caribbean integration. Too much is at stake to allow CARICOM to keep dragging its collective feet on the major issues affecting the region. There is dire need for a more vibrant monitoring mechanism to oversee the ongoing functions of the various Councils of CARICOM.

Three examples
Example 1. The Guyana Minister of Agriculture strongly decried the laxity of the CARICOM partners in implementing the agricultural policies of COTED: “Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, yesterday lashed out at the CARICOM Secretariat, noting that it is time to review how the Secretariat and its lead agencies coordinate agricultural development in order to enhance accountability.” (Stabroek News, May 22, 2008)

Example 2. The Guyana Chronicle on June 1, 2008 reported that on May 30, 2008, Ambassador Odeen Ishmael again exposed this CARICOM laxity, citing President Jagdeo’s 2004 call for a Strategy on Agriculture and Economic Development, “The strategic importance of agriculture in Caricom, he noted, was emphasized by President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana since 2004 when he developed a strategy to reposition Caribbean agriculture in the economic development of the region.”

Example 3. On June 3, 2008, Guyana Chronicle reported former PNC Minister Carl Greenidge (now Deputy Senior Director of CRNM) again highlighted this sluggish movement on issues during the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) discussion with representative officials at the recent GBTI Second Biennial Business Meeting with the CRNM representatives, June 2, 2008: “Mr. Greenidge, a former Minister of Finance under the PNC Government, who had different views on some of the sentiments offered by the President, said there is need for the region to be careful to distinguish reciprocity was part of the agreement. For him, among issues, which are a cause for concern include the length of time the region has taken to establish the CSME, the concentration of the Caribbean on tourism and the nature of trading agreements to the preferential markets.”

The foregoing examples demand a more realistic restructuring of CARICOM as a priority. One wonders whether the various Councils operate under any close monitoring mechanism. If so, why the laxity? Where are the progress Reports for all the Councils set up by CARICOM to establish their viability, transparency and accountability? Are the entities mere ‘silos’ of a top-heavy bureaucracy, guzzling up the funding made available by budgeted provisions of the Secretariat?

Untenable laxity
After twenty-six Meetings of the COTED, CARICOM agriculture officials are still having discussion on such a vital issue of food production by member states. This is unacceptable considering the sprawling Secretariat now being displayed at Liliendaal.

What is going on with the workings of these two foremost empowered agencies of CARICOM/SELA in the region? How dedicated are the sister states of CARICOM to true Caribbean integration?

How is it that only now the issue of the late appearance of CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME) has come to the fore as an excuse for the lack of reciprocity in the EPA?

Is the Director subtly trying to pass the buck here by blaming the lateness of CSME emergence? He is on the Regional Negotiating Machinery. Why did he not exercise some prerogative to stimulate action earlier? Furthermore, how is it the ‘Arrangement’ is called a ‘Partnership’ and is void of ‘Reciprocity’? President Jagdeo is quite in order to note ACP countries had been “bullied” into the ACP/EU-EPA arrangement. Who were the CARICOM signatories to the Agreement?

Ad hoc-ery an impasse to viability
Since 1958 this very idea of a unified Caribbean took root. The West Indian Commission of 1958, morphed into the new Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Now after over fifty years of dallying with the need for this unified body, the Caribbean has not come very far in solving the numerous major problems which still plague these nation states. Undoubtedly, there are some strides in certain aspects of cultural development, mostly in sports, music and dance. We can shout about the achievement CARIFESTA and Caribbean World Cup. Has the austere body come any closer since its inauguration to grapple with the real serious issues which are now facing the member states, i.e., natural disasters and food security?

On July 4, 1973, CARICOM was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, with thirteen member states ratifying the Treaty. A number of revisions of Protocols were recommended to be complete by 1999. Following hereunder are excerpts from the CARICOM website compared with the work in progress upon which I premise my comments on the failures of CARICOM, among many things, anticipating and grappling with Disasters and the Global Food Crisis:
Mission Statement

"To provide dynamic leadership and service, in partnership with Community institutions and Groups, toward the attainment of a viable, internationally competitive and sustainable Community, with improved quality of life for all."

On their drive for integration, we further learned from the precursor body, “The West Indian Commission”, that the Body was to fast track all activities aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of the Member States, that is:

“To quicken the pace of integration, the West Indian Commission recommended basic and fundamental changes to the structure of the Community and in the arrangements for decision-making and implementation.
Heads of Government agreed with the general findings of the Commission, and decided that among the changes that would be made to improve the structure and management of the Community, the Treaty of Chaguaramas would be revised, given the agreement to move from a Common Market to a Single Market and Single Economy and to reflect the new community structures.”

The revisions anticipated were effected in 2001 (two years late) as required in the Treaty. This was the beginning of the laxity and snail pace action of CARICOM:

“The Treaty was revised through a series of protocols – legal instruments setting out the new rules – and in 2001, these protocols were integrated into the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The following is the institutional structure of the Community as set out in the Revised Treaty.”

Principal Organs:
The Conference of Heads of Government (and its Bureau)
The Community Council of Ministers (The Community Council)

The principal organs are assisted by four 'Organs', three 'bodies' and by the CARICOM Secretariat – 'the Principal Administrative Organ'.

The organs are:
The Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP)
The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED)
The Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR)
The Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD)

The bodies are:
The Legal Affairs Committee: provides legal advice to the organs and bodies of the Community.
The Budget Committee: examines the draft budget and work programme of the Secretariat and submits recommendations to the Community Council; and,
The Committee of Central Bank Governors: provides recommendations to the COFAP on monetary and financial matters.” (From CARICOM website)

Programs vs. structures
It does appear that CARICOM was competing with the UN by establishing numerous bodies to cater for the various noble endeavors it hoped to pursue. But are the high powered Councils and Bodies so vital to promoting the interest of the Community? What progress has each made to justify their existence? Is there a monitoring agency looking at the activities of each? It does appear also that they did not miss a tier in the hierarchy of the structure from top to the bottom.

Structures conjure Offices and Positions, but are silent on Programs. The important concern, therefore, is to emphasize ‘Programs’ rather than ‘Structures’ or Organizations.

While a mechanism or organized approach is vital to any program, Funding Agencies are not impressed with structures only, but want to see programs on the ground. Very often these Organizations tie the hands of funding agencies which are not easily carried away with offices and hierarchy of positions in structures.

The concept of programs far outweighs and justifies spending than the idea of nebulous Offices and Structures which guzzle up the bulk of funding provided to agencies. No doubt, the Terms of Reference of Councils have spelled out the scope of each. Whether this is so or not we are none the wiser. Where is the action? The initial problem with the restructuring of the organization was the absence of attendant identifiable Issues and Programs.

In the revised treaty of Chaguaramas 2001, CARICOM did incorporate the Commercial and Service Organizations and Ministries of Governments. However, specific issues and goals are missing. Long-term objectives are clear, but nowhere in the foregoing excerpts, for instance, is the specific mention of the pressing issues such as Disasters and Food Security. It seems that only the budgeting for the work program of the Secretariat is guaranteed.

Despite the purpose of its creation, CARICOM is sadly lacking in foresight regarding these vital programs to address the pressing needs of member states. This lack is noticeable as one examines the above-mentioned quotes and excerpts from the CARICOM website compared to action in train, which aught to be bearing fruits today. Undoubtedly, Disasters and Food Security may be the function of any one Organ, Council or Body of CARICOM, but for the most part in its history, what we have gotten are discussions and establishment of structures (Offices and Positions) with snail pace action.

The concept and intentions for Disasters Preparedness and Food Stockpiles are far more engaging and the economy of scale far more demanding. With the available land space, suitable sites abound for the storage facilities around the higher elevations of Guyana’s hilly Sand and Clay Belt. The US Army setting up of a warehouse at Timehri is good example. But this is just a drop in the bucket of the need for stockpile envisaged. As usual, though somewhat of a permanent nature, this was just an accomplishment which was born out of the January 2005 floods. CARICOM countries are adept at knee jerk reaction to crises with ad hoc arrangements or cosmetic solutions when crises strike.

A plethora of discussions
To date there is a plethora of discussions, reports and task forces set up. This is the problem with a number of international organizations which, in the past, and even now, still vie for funding. Having a gamut of discussions is not giving us significant tangible results, necessarily. They only generate reports and recommendations for more structures, some gathering dust on shelves of archives. The programs are yet to materialize. Just recently this was alluded to at a meeting of officials who are now attempting to formulate a plan for the Agriculture Sector of the Community. (Guyana Chronicle, June 6, 2008)

For instance, since in the eighties, CARICOM Home Affairs Ministers and Police Commissioners over the years held several discussions on crime in the Caribbean, but what ongoing action do we have at the Ports, on Seas and Land for enforcement of various protocols? Is there any inter-community crime prevention action in place with units in every member state? Has CARICOM moved to put a food stockpile in place for any deserving member state?

On the other hand, the limited funding often provided to deserving Nations are spent at the Center, while the trickle down effect to the deserving communities are virtually absent. For this reason several Disaster Preparedness Programs (of which I was a participant) were taken outside of Georgetown into vulnerable communities. The last two Workshops on Disaster Response Training in Guyana held in collaboration with the Civil Defence Commission, University of Guyana, the Guyana Red Cross Society and St. John’s Ambulance Brigade were set outside of the City on the East Coast of Region 4 in 2005 and Region10 in 2007. Experience has shown how suitably selected programs drive people into action, not the people driving the programs.

Setting priorities on pressing issues
Within the past two weeks alone one observes how three public figures from Guyana decried the laxity of CARICOM. Are we considering how the Funding Agencies view CARICOM? Are the nebulous structures CARICOM put in place for the better, or are the various councils and bodies only openings as ‘jobs for the boys’ of CARICOM? How many of the pressing issues were of the highest priorities on the CARICOM agenda and were really acted upon (not just discussed) over the three decades of its existence?

There are many more questions which one can ask about CARICOM. For instance, while CARIFESTA does spotlight the various aspects of cultures of member states, is CARICOM truly culturally/ethnically representative of the member states? We have a great drive in promoting fete and sports, but we are moving at snail pace on real beneficial productive programs. Is the fete a real priority? Are the right people leading the Caribbean Community?

Food shortages are usually gradual

For decades, the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) had been alerting nations of both the imperatives of Food Security and the projected short supply of food with the bulging population explosion on the planet. In a world of plenty, an estimated 1.8 million die from unsafe (contaminated) food consumption and water borne diseases annually.

Despite these long-standing warnings, CARICOM is again ‘missing the boat’ on food security. Ensuring adequate food supply for its masses is a function of every state, and that does include the Caribbean States. This is imperative with the looming climate changes brought about by Global Warming. Further, food shortages in the final analysis would result from projected disastrous changes in weather patterns.

Since the seventies, (thirty years ago when most people experienced extreme food shortages in Guyana) a move was in train to make provisions for any food crisis that would face Latin America and the Caribbean. Sometime around1980, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) selected Guyana as the focal point for the regional stockpile of food. That was over two and a half decades ago!

In 1994, fourteen years after, the UN launched the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR); another fourteen years elapsed, bringing us to 2008, before the various governments of the planet were finally jolted by the findings of the experts on Global Warming and its catastrophic consequences for food production. Yet on both counts CARICOM failed miserably, as they ignored the warning.

ECLAC/DIEC on food stockpile
Guyana’s geographical location is the logical focal point on the South American mainland, being more easily accessible to both the Caribbean and Latin America. In the mid eighties, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of International Economic Cooperation (DIEC) Guyana, in collaboration with ECLAC, held several meetings to address the stockpile of food envisioned for disaster situations.

(During my tenure at Ministry of Trade & Consumer Protection (1978-1983), and at Civil Defence Commission (1983-1988) I represented the Ministry of Trade and Consumer Protection and the Civil Defence Commission at various Joint ECLAC/DIEC Meetings. I knew much of what was on the agenda. As the former Chief Allocation and Distribution Officer of the Minister of Trade and Consumer Protection, I had a first hand experience of the apathy which bedeviled the nation’s food preparedness as “Guyline” and “Across Border Trade” became a feature of the daily chores of housewives. Yet there was never any action to address the projected food shortages. How far this joint effort got is still unknown to the citizens of ECLAC member states.)

Generally, with regime change so too came agenda changes. This is the setback with regime changes around the world. It is as though power-seekers have always sacrificed what the masses need for their sustainability, in place of each one’s individual bid for power. The long-term wellbeing of the masses seems always sidelined.

One would think that food stockpile would have been a very high priority then and now on the CARICOM agenda. The long-standing concern with CARICOM is the need to maintain continuity of the ECLAC Food Stockpile initiative regardless of regime changes.

Ambassador Odeen Ishmael in May 30, 2008 addressing SELA appealed to Financial Institutions on the issue of facilitating and boosting agricultural production in this hemisphere: “The call was made by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael who also urged the international financial institutions to provide concessionary term credit for small agricultural producers to assist them in overcoming the high cost of restarting after losses due to floods, pests or other natural phenomena.

The meeting attended by representatives of the 26-member Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), as well as international and regional organisations, drew up a list of recommendations to send to the Latin American and Caribbean Group accredited in Rome to international organisations. This list will reinforce the Group’s position during the discussions there at the up-coming ‘High-Level Conference on World Food Security and Challenges posed by Climate Change and Bioenergy’.

Among the recommendations is the promotion of the establishment “in any regional financial institution, of a special fund to assist countries with their food emergency programmes.” (Guyana Chronicle, June 2, 2008)

Food Security and the wellbeing of the masses in these individual and collective states must be at the core of CARICOM agenda. It is interesting to note that SELA is a misnomer since there is no overt mention of CARICOM.

Does CARICOM have a lopsided political agenda?
It was quite obvious how CARICOM played politics to shorten the term of office of the democratically elected Government in Guyana after the 1997 defeat of the PNC. It is further noticeable how Caribbean leaders did nothing to address the atrocities of their counterparts’ regimes of dictators Papa Doc and Baby Doc in Haiti and Eric Gary in Grenada. They did not move a finger during the twenty-eight years of the PNC dictatorship to address the absolute rule of Burnham. CARICOM has always had functionaries who were not kindly disposed to certain governments in the Caribbean, in particular Guyana. Reality checks are urgently required of CARICOM.

How would CARICOM measure up to a closely administered performance appraisal on real issues facing the Community? Can the CARICOM Secretariat truly justify its existence when it treats the most important issues affecting its member states in an ad hoc fashion? Look at disaster preparedness, the crime emergency, piracy on the High Seas, joint action on drug and gun smuggling, and human trafficking. These are some of the issues now being ‘discussed’. This is clearly not good enough; but better late than never.

While natural disasters are a major scourge of Caribbean states, ECLAC too has come short of genuine action. This body has shown more concern for the Latin states as observed at DAVOS, Switzerland at the Global Alliance for Disaster Reduction (GADR) conference in 2006.

Behind on the Geneva mandate
Since the dawn of the eighties, UN Disaster Relief Office, Geneva moved for the formation of the Pan Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project (PCDPPP) administered by CARICOM, later to establish a permanent response agency for all disasters. As an immediate follow-up in July 1984, three years after (that was twenty-four years ago), a meeting of Fulltime Disaster Coordinators at Jolly Beach Hotel, Antigua, was held toward this end (where I was Guyana’s representative). Later in 1991, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) emerged. CDERA has not received government support as was expected? And so too is the situation with the Regional Security System?

It took the CARICOM leaders seven years to see CDERA materialize. And until now there is still no vibrant coordinated Joint Security Operation in the Caribbean. Only recently the officials of CARICOM met to ‘discus’ the scourge of crime. CARICOM has excelled in developing structures, but programs are virtually absent, contrary to the Geneva mandate.

Note: The Geneva Mandate on Disaster Reduction, which was adopted at the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Programme Forum (July 1999), reaffirms the necessity for disaster reduction and risk management to become essential elements of government policies. In this respect, the IDNDR experience, the Yokohama Strategy (1994) and the Strategy "A Safer World in the 21st Century: Disaster and Risk Reduction" (1999) provide the basis for future endeavours with regard to disaster reduction. Building on these precedents, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) strives towards enabling all societies to become resilient to the effects of natural hazards and related technological and environmental disasters, in order to reduce human, economic and social losses. From:

The snail-paced operations and lapses of CARICOM are clearly attributed to the lack of foresight and program planning by officials of the Community. Quite noticeably within the last few weeks alone the lapses drew unsavory comments from at least three officials with a few others joining the ranks of the critics. Much of the shortcomings could have been addressed without the need for forums to expose and embarrass anyone. The Treaty of Chaguaramas was not adhered to very early in the Community’s life.

An audit is now imperative to ascertain the viability of the various Organs and Councils of CARICOM. There are lapses that are inexcusable. The tardy officials must shoulder the responsibility for the non-implementation of agreed policies of COTED regarding agriculture and the late arrival of CSME. The officials of CRNM came short miserably in dealing with the ACP/EU on the EPA. The Financing Institutions need to review their roles in facilitating the various programs now placed on the front burner of the Community agendas.

CARICOM has to take stock on its present status after its thirty-five years of operation to determine if this is good for the people. Very vital to the Community is the way forward. With a looming World Food Security crisis, escalating energy cost and global warming, the leaders have to make haste without further delays on a number of purposeful actions to mitigate these impacts. There aught not be taskmasters goading officials in the light of the pending crises. The decision must be made now for a lasting commitment to make the relevant push for the benefit of the Community.

Seopaul Singh, CEM, CHS, was a former Chief Allocation and Distribution Officer, Ministry of Trade and former Deputy Executive Officer, Civil Defence Commission, Guyana.

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