A very interesting news item appeared on page A3 of The Gleaner
newspaper in Jamaica on April 27, last under the headline:
Caricom heads to determine regions future.
According to the story, Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson
told the House of Representatives during his contribution
to the 2005/2006 budget debate that he had written to his
colleague Prime Ministers on April 18 to put forward a proposal
for a meeting between Caricom heads of government and regional
Leaders of the Opposition to determine the future of the region
and its institutions.
Prime Minister Patterson has proposed that such a meeting
be held in Jamaica prior to the next Heads of Government summit
which will be held in St Lucia. According to Prime Minister
Patterson: The responses I have received so far are
supportive of that suggestion.
This is a most interesting development which is music to my
ears. On January 28 this year, I had the distinct honour of
delivering the Eleventh Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial Lecture
in St Lucia to a distinguished audience that included Her
Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy, the Governor General of
I used the occasion to say the following:
Can our political leaders on all sides reach out to
one another on the basis that regional unity is a laudable
goal and that the differences of opinion on the policy issues
can be worked out by debate and dialogue between them? This
can be done without it appearing to be a sign of weakness.
Caricom Heads of Government meet frequently in an official
sense. The nature of our political systems is such that Caricom
Leaders of the Opposition never meet and there is no formal
forum for such an event to take place.
The irony is that these Leaders of the Opposition may
become tomorrows Prime Ministers, or some of them may
be yesterdays Prime Ministers. What is their level of
engagement with the Caricom Secretariat?
What responsibility do they have to carry while they
are in the political wilderness? Is this one way of advancing
the agenda of regional unity by making the role of the opposition
meaningful at the level of Caricom and thrusting responsibility
upon them at the same time?
I put this forward as a means of forcing regional governments
to acknowledge that political engagement between the countries
of the region must not be confined only to Governments owing
to the nature of our political systems. The process of government
must be seen to include those who are likely to be in power,
as well as those who were previously in power and may get
a second chance.
I also included this part of my speech in this column on January
It is very pleasing indeed to see that one Caricom prime minister
has decided to do something about the future of regional unity
by engaging the official Opposition in the region in a meaningful
dialogue about the future of the region. That is the only
way that political consensus can be found if special parliamentary
majorities and referenda are required to make regional institutions
become a reality.
According to Prime Minister Patterson: I regard it as
one of the definitive contributions I can make to the process
of regional integration before I depart the scene.
I shall be first in line to praise Prime Minister Patterson
for taking this initiative, because, as I see it, there is
no other way to forge consensus on regional issues if the
official Opposition is always excluded. Todays opposition
can always become tomorrows government under our political
Without a pre-existing dialogue on regional unity that cuts
across the political divide in all of the countries of the
region, an opposition that becomes a government can unravel
a lot of valuable work that has been done in building up a
regional institution, because it was not a part of determining
the agenda for that valuable work.
Now that a Caricom Prime Minister has taken the first bold
step towards an attempt at real unity, one can only hope that
Caricom Heads of Government will rise to the occasion and
engage all of the Leaders of the Opposition from across the
region in a serious dialogue about regional institutions.
Both the Heads of Government and the Leaders of the Opposition
must be prepared to make compromises, so that a feeling of
inclusiveness will emerge in such a way that their supporters
on both sides will be able to get a sense that regional unity
belongs to all of them, and not just to the ruling party for
the time being.
If constitutional reform cannot be easily achieved on the
domestic front, it may be achieved more readily on the regional
front. At the moment, the Caribbean Court of Justice only
has two countries that can claim to be full members in both
the original and the appellate jurisdictions.
This is nothing short of an embarrassment and the only way
to advance this further will be to get the views of the regional
opposition parties, so that appropriate legislation can be
taken to the various parliaments and, where necessary, joint
appeals to the population by governing and opposition parties
can be made for the referenda, as the case may be.
Regional unity and domestic policy must be separated so that
there is a similarity of views on regional institutions (as
icons) which are completely divorced from the local issues
that every population must deal with in relation to their
governments and oppositions.
Political change in individual countries ought not to bring
with it regional instability and uncertainty about key institutions.
Prime Minister Patterson has made the first step. Let us hope
that other Caricom Heads of Government will step forward to
make public pronouncements on this initiative in the spirit
in which PJ Patterson has advanced it.