Region has to rise up, face challenges together – outgoing Caricom SG

– says judging success of regional integration by CSME is fallacy

As was displayed over the past year with the onslaught of natural disasters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that have devastated countries in the region, outgoing Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, says that Member States need to continue with, and strengthen the level of, cooperation shown in order to face future challenges.
The Secretary-General’s seat will be handed over today to Belizean Dr Carla Barnett during a virtual installation ceremony. After serving two five-year terms as Secretary-General, Ambassador LaRocque wrapped up tenure with a sod-turning ceremony for the construction of an official residence for the Caricom SG at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara.
During a brief interview on the sidelines of his last official task before handing over the reins to his successor, the outgoing Caricom SG reflected on his decade-long service, saying that he is satisfied with his accomplishments and is now leaving behind a strong Community.
“With our arrangements in integration, things take a while…so you keep working on things. There are things that I meet, for instance, that I continued to work on… It really is a race onwards, and I pass on the baton to Dr Barnett and I’m confident that she will advance the race to another step. I can’t say the finish line, because Caricom is going to exist for a long time and I’m confident I’m leaving a strong Caricom,” he told Guyana Times.
Ambassador LaRocque posited that, despite challenges, the Community has fought, and continues to fight, through the COVID-19 pandemic in a unified way. He pointed to the recent delivery of Pfizer vaccines to the region as a major win for cooperation in Caricom.
Moreover, he pointed to the series of disasters, most of which are as a result of the impact of climate, that have affected the region.
“The disasters are there, Guyana and Suriname experienced it very recently with the flooding. The other countries experienced hurricanes, and our region has risen to the occasion in every instance, not only in coming to the assistance of their brothers and sisters in Caricom, but through CDEMA (Caribbean Disaster Emergence Management Agency) and through coordination policy-arrangements to assist Member States to put in place the various aspects of being more resilient,” the Caricom SG contended.
Further, he outlined the importance of building resilience, which he says is the cornerstone of the Regional Strategic Plan – an initiative he piloted. He stressed that resilience in the economy, socially, and in every other sphere is necessary, especially now in the face of worsening climate change effects.
“These disasters are not going to go away. These pandemics are going to come. COVID might go, another one is going to come…We have to be prepared for these crises. And in my tenure there have been quite a few – crises of health, crises of economy which goes into shock, and in some instances crises of governance and democracy, and our region has to rise up to those occasions and address them, as we have demonstrated time and time again that we can,” he asserted.
According to Ambassador LaRocque, “The tendencies of always judging the success of integration by the CSME [Caricom Single Market and Economy] is a fallacy… There is so much else that we do that doesn’t get recognition for what it is.”
Only last week, during a farewell meeting, President Dr Irfaan Ali said the Caribbean region is “stronger and better” because of the Dominican economist’s service over the past decade at the helm of Caricom.
The Secretary-General pointed out that much of his first term was about laying the foundation for initiatives that really took shape during his second tenure. He noted that while it may not appear that way, there has been tremendous progress with CSME.
He also spearheaded the establishment of the Regional Strategic Plan that seeks to identify all the major priorities that need to be worked on, put in place mechanisms to ensure that the Community is not working on cross purposes and in duplication. Further, he also brought the various institutions in Caricom in the limelight, and have them play a more active role while also bringing accountability to the work of the Secretariat.
“I’m satisfied with my tenure, and I know there will be critics. Nothing is perfect, and I wish I could’ve done more… I wish we were further along on the CSME, to be honest. We did quite a few things, but I thought there were other things that we could have been further along on. But when you do work that involves 15 Member States – and in the case of the CSME, there are 12 Member States who are the decision makers, because three countries are not integrally involved – you have to get all 12 on board, and sometimes it doesn’t move as fast as you wish,” he stated.
Nevertheless, the outgoing Caricom SG says the foundation is there to take all these accomplishments forward.
“I started the process of reforming the Secretariat, and I believe that it needs to continue. I mention accountability and greater planning in the way we do things, and I hope that trajectory can continue, not necessarily the way I may have planned it, but continue nonetheless, because you always have to look for improvement; you always need to increase the efficiency in how you do business,” Ambassador LaRocque.