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Caribbean moves afoot to restructure CARIFORUM
Written by rodney   

Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington first gave the regional public the hint that something was amiss within the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORM) of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping.

 

Story by: Peter Richards, Tuesday April 12th 2011

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington first gave the regional public the hint that something was amiss within the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping. He told reporters that the Spanish-speaking member had raised some issues about CARIFORUM that was created in 1992 during last month’s 18th meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council of Ministers, the second highest body within the 15-member regional grouping.

He said the authorities in the Dominican Republic were not comfortable with the current structure of CARIFORUM- the grouping which consists of the CARICOM countries as well as Cuba and the Dominican Republic – and was also concerned over the role of the CARICOM Secretary General and the reporting procedure.

“The Dominican Republic doesn’t seem to want the Director General to have to report to the Council of Ministers by going through the Secretary General of CARIFORUM. Their recommendation is for the Director General to have a direct line to the Council of Ministers and not have to report to the Secretary General of CARICOM.  
"It’s a thorny issue because protocol has always been for institutions, certainly the CARICOM institutions, to make reports through the Secretary General that is the highest post. And from the Secretary General it goes to the Council of Ministers or to the Heads of Government. You just don’t by pass your Secretary General,” Elrington said.

In 2008, CARICOM and the Dominican Republic signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the 27-nation European Union (EU)  and according to former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Professor Norman Girvan, "the EPA defines the Dominican Republic as part of the region'”.

In fact, the Dominican Republic has an economy that is larger than that of any single CARICOM members and the equivalent of 64 per cent of the combined size of all of CARICOM.

The EPA's Regional Preference clause obliges CARIFORUM states to extend to each other the same treatment they extend to the EU.

Former diplomat, Sir Ron Sanders, in one of his weekly newspaper commentaries, has also noted that there is not “much to consider” given the fact that regional leaders have not yet given the green light to the Dominican Republic’s application to join the regional integration movement that was first presented for consideration in 2009.

“The Dominican Republic is already an elephant in the CARICOM room that cannot be ignored - its participation in CARIFORUM and the terms of the EPA with the EU make it a big player,” Sir Ron noted.

“The English-speaking countries of CARICOM can no longer inhabit an exclusive neighbourhood. They have to concede they are small players, and acknowledge that only cohesive action will preserve their identity, their culture, their language - and a meaningful place in the Caribbean economic space,” he added.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Trade Co-ordinator, Ambassador Dr. Clarence Henry, who attended the Belize  meeting where the Dominican Republic issue had been raised said that the member countries on reflecting on the future role of CARIFORUM, were “overwhelmingly clear” that CARIFORUM was no longer an institution which managed the donor funds of the European Union, “but one which must take the lead role in the implementation of the EPA.

“As such it is necessary to increase the capacity of the Directorate and as a consequence make some changes to its structure.  The member states wish to see a CARIFORUM which is impactful, effective, proactive and aggressive,” added Henry, who is also head of his country’s EPA Implementation Unit.

Antigua and Barbuda has since put forward a proposal to conduct “an urgent in depth assessment of CARIFORUM Directorate which would result in an institutional overhaul” he added.

At the Belize meeting, both Barbados and Jamaica supported the creation of a new head of CARIFORUM in the form of a Director General arguing also for additional directors.

Emanating from this proposal was the agreement that the Director General should be the EPA Coordinator. Both proposals included the need for there to be a genuine EPA implementation Unit for CARIFORUM which is located in the CARIFORUM Directorate.

But there appears to be some disagreement as to whether the CARICOM Secretary General should continue to be the Secretary General of CARIFORUM with the new Director General reporting through the Secretary General to the leaders.

Henry believes there needs to be autonomy for CARIFORUM which will require substantial amendment to the Rules of Procedure and that a team, chaired by Belize, and comprising Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda and the Dominican Republic, has been established to examine the legal and other implications. The team will report within 60 days.

“Times have changed and CARIFORUM must change,” Henry said, noting that the Belize meeting provided the first ever opportunity for a “unified spirit and a willingness of CARIFORUM member states to move from their entrenched positions”.

The meeting agreed that the new CARIFORUM organization structure would provide for both the EPA Implementation Unit and the traditional programming and development cooperation function with its own dedicated staff and noted “the preparedness of the Dominican Republic to forego concessions in its favour to have positions in the CARIFORUM Directorate reserved for its nationals once CARIFORUM is restructured to operate more efficiently and transparently”.

It was also agreed that the current position of Assistant Secretary-General of CARIFORUM should be designated as Director-General and should assume the position of CARIFORUM EPA Coordinator, in addition to his/her responsibilities for the CARIFORUM Directorate. This position will be filled by a national of the Dominican Republic up to 16 September 2012.

The Council meeting also agreed that the status quo would remain in respect of the line of reporting of the new Director-General of CARIFIORUM to the Secretary General.
But Henry said that it was a general consensus that the “region is at a juncture where there is a changing of the guard and consequently it could not be business as usual.

“Moreover, given the fact that the region is now establishing implementing modalities of the EPA Agreement, there was need for  CARIFORUM to get its act right.

“As a consequence, CARIFORUM must have an institution which is leading this process and one which can discharge the mandates. Therefore, CARIFORUM governance issues relate not only to the concerns of the Dominican Republic, but also includes efficient and effectiveness of the Directorate,” the Antigua and Barbuda diplomat add

CMC/pr/11

 

 

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