BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, AUGUST 16TH 2011 (CUOPM) –Dominican Irwin La Rocque Monday began his term as the seventh Secretary General of the 15-member Caribbean Community CARICOM) grouping aware of the mandate from regional governments that it cannot be business as usual.
“I begin my tenure as Secretary-General, with no illusions about the journey before me. While I pledge to do my best to justify the trust and belief that the Heads of Government have placed in me, I acknowledge that I cannot do all that I want to do; indeed, all that I must do, alone.
“The entire Community must make this journey with me. I cannot make the strides we have to, without the total involvement of Member States and the people of the region,” said La Rocque, 56, who takes over from the Trinidadian Sir Edwin Carrington, who resigned after 18 years in the post.
But as he began his first full day in office, La Rocque said he was heartened by the various congratulatory messages he had been receiving since his appointment was made public last month.
“In airports across the region and further afield, strangers walked up to me and expressed their views about the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME); about the movement of people in our Community, the treatment meted out to them at points of entry and the perceived difficulty of travelling throughout our region; about the need for jobs; about crime; about cricket; about the CARICOM Secretariat and many other issues of concern to the citizens of our Caribbean Community.”
La Rocque said that while there was cynicism in some cases, a common thread in almost all of these messages and encounters was a commitment and belief in the integration movement, as well as hope for change.
“This in itself has been a most sobering but encouraging experience. It is that hope which as Secretary-General I will strive to fuel,” he said, noting that he was assuming the post at a time when the Caribbean is still feeling the effects of the recent global financial and economic crisis and the possibility that the world may be slipping back into another recession.
La Rocque said that the regional governments had mandated a review of the CARICOM Secretariat which will be concluded within a few months and that he was “eagerly awaiting” the outcome of that review as well as the review of other regional institutions.
“The message from all quarters is loud and clear: “it cannot be business as usual,” and I take these words to apply not just to the CARICOM Secretariat but to all aspects of our integration, including member states and regional institutions.
“There is a general view out there that all things CARICOM, rightly or wrongly, are the purview of the CARICOM Secretariat. That is not necessarily the case; but if it is determined that this is how it should be, then the requisite reforms must be undertaken. There cannot be responsibility without authority.”
The new Secretary General recalled that at their retreat earlier this year, regional governments laid down the priorities, focus and direction of the Community.
“They determined that while much has been accomplished in the region, particularly in health and education, and in the area of the Single Market, there is need for greater focus on functional cooperation in building a Community for All.
“There is need for a greater sense of Community and a clear vision at the regional level so that the people of the Region can buy into it. I take the outcome of the retreat as the broad mandate for the discharge of my duties during my term of office over the next five years.”
La Rocque noted that while the regional leaders had made specific statements regarding the CSME, which allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region, they were also “very specific in making reference to the single currency or monetary union.
“Since the retreat, there have been many commentaries, some of which have gone so far as to state that the entire CSME is “on pause” and that there appears to be a lack of political will.
“I would like to take this opportunity to correct the reports that we have placed the CARICOM Single Market and Economy “on pause”. Nothing can be further from the truth. We are moving resolutely with the CSME.
“Heads of Government recognize that the CSME provides a platform for sustainable economic development. Besides the single currency, work on other critical elements of the Single Economy, such as the development of the Sectors (Agriculture and Services), a regulatory framework for the movement of capital, and the creation of an enabling
environment for investment, are very much alive.”
La Rocque said that he intends using his tenure to advance work in these and other related areas.
“I am very much aware that the pace at which the Community is advancing with the CSME does not meet the expectations of many. From my own personal perspective, we should be much further along; and I would like to see a significant improvement in implementation.
But I am equally aware that many of our member states face constraints, both technical and political, which cannot be ignored or easily overcome. We ought not to take a purely technical or theoretical approach to integration, or think that the solution lies simply
with “political will.”
La Rocque said that the CARICOM Secretariat has already prepared a draft communication strategy which includes the full use of the technology as it seeks to publicise the successes of the regional integration process.
“It is my fervent hope that we will be on the social networks before long. After all, it is the preferred mode of communication among our Youth who are so important in the pursuit of the further development of our region.”