David Comissiong

Our Caribbean Community (Caricom) entered the new year of 2021 facing the greatest challenge in the organisation’s 47 years of existence: the Covid-19 pandemic and the massive economic and social dislocation that the pandemic has inflicted upon our region.

But the good news is that our premier regional organisation is prepared for the challenge and has mobilised itself and laid the foundation for a “Great Fight-Back” in this year of 2021.

Evidence of this Great Fight-Back is to be found in the series of meetings that were held during the five-day workweek of Monday 11 to Friday 15 January 2021. These crucial meetings were as follows:-

(1) 13th Special Emergency Caricom Heads of Government Conference;

(2) 24th Meeting of the Caricom Budget Committee;

(3) 13th Meeting of the Caricom Committee of Ambassadors;

(4) 2nd Joint Meeting of the Caricom Secretary General, Heads of Community Institutions and Caricom Committee of Ambassadors; and

(5) 46th Meeting of the Caricom Council of Ministers.

Collectively, the work done and the decisions taken at these five meetings have established many of the fundamental programmes and structures upon which our Caribbean Community will face the grave existential challenges of 2021 and beyond. Some of the key components of those programmes and structures are as follows :-

A. Caribbean Economy Recovery and Transformation (CERT) Plan

Taking inspiration and guidance from the home-grown Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) Plan, Caricom has established a high-level economic planning and advocacy Committee under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley to develop and deploy a Caribbean Economic Recovery and Transformation (CERT) Plan to guide our region safely through the Covid-19 minefield. The Committee also comprises five Ministers of Finance or Economic Affairs, the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, and the Secretary-General of Caricom, and is supported by some of our most brilliant Caribbean economists and economic planners.

Some key elements of the CERT are as follows:-

(1) Lobbying at the international level for an increase in the International Monetary Fund’s “Special Drawing Rights” (SDRs) allocation. SDRs are foreign exchange reserve assets allocated to each member state of the IMF and held and maintained by that premier international financial institution. The increase in SDRs allocated to our Caribbean nations would therefore expand the quantity of foreign exchange available to us.

(2) The Refinancing—at very low, fixed interest rates—of all debt that our Caribbean countries were forced to incur because of Covid-19, and subjecting such refinanced debt to a seven to ten-year moratorium on repayment.

(3) Realistically revising downwards and extending the fiscal and debt reduction targets that the International Financial Institutions expect our countries to attain—thereby giving our Governments more financial breathing space.

(4) Unlocking increased financing from such International Financial institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank.

(5) Establishing a Caribbean Recovery and Resilience Trust Fund, that will provide developmental capital to be invested by us in making our nations more environmentally, economically and socially resilient.

(6) Developing a Universal Vulnerability Index—a new international instrument to measure the economic vulnerability and needs of countries—and to be used to convince the International Financial Institutions that so-called “Middle Income Countries” of the Caribbean are indeed economically vulnerable nations, and should therefore not be locked out of accessing concessional and grant financing.

(7) A Micro Economic Recovery Programme centred on Education and Training initiatives, Digitisation, development of Renewable Energy, Health programmes, Agriculture and Food Security initiatives, and the development of a Medical Cannabis industry.

B. Finalising and approving the 2021-2022 Work Programme of Caricom, and approving the 2021 Budget of both the Caricom Secretariat and the Office of Trade Negotiations.

C. Finalising the process for the development of a Ten Year - 2021-2030—Strategic Plan for our Caribbean Community. Several of the seven stages in the development of the Strategic Plan have already been completed and a road map has been designed to deliver the Draft Strategic Plan to the July 2021 Caricom Heads of Government Conference.

D. Commencement of the final phase in the installing of a new “Results-Based Management” (RBM) System at the Caricom Secretariat, in all Organs and Bodies and Institutions of our Caribbean Community, and throughout the Public Service of our Member States. The RBM system is an approach to management, administration, and execution of projects and programmes that is fundamentally result-oriented and focused, and that produces results that must be verified by statistical data! The new RBM system is therefore specifically designed to tackle the proverbial “implementation deficit”. And, needless to say, it could not have come at a better time, since the Covid-19 instigated crisis has created a situation in which there can be no tolerance whatsoever for wastage of resources— financial or human.

E. Commencement of the systematic review of each and every one of the 17 Caricom Institutions, with a view to ensuring that the institutions remain relevant to the critical needs of our nations and people, and that they are “fit for purpose” and equipped to deliver equitable and gender-sensitive services. This review process is anticipated to take approximately one year, and to result in a leaner, better co-ordinated and focused, and more efficient Caricom.

So, the year 2021 has begun with a “bang” for Caricom, and we must all now make a concerted effort to remain focused and to sustain and build upon this early momentum.

But if we are to do so, this will require that the people of our region be kept well informed of developments, and that the various consultative bodies and mechanisms that are built into the Caricom structure be fully activated and utilised.

And I believe that I speak not only for myself, but also for the other members of our Caricom Committee of Ambassadors, when I say that we—in our capacities as Ambassadors to Caricom—will do all that we possibly can to ensure that this critical process of communication and consultation is maintained throughout this year of 2021 and beyond.

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