Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who has lead responsibility for the CSME within the quasi-CARICOM Cabinet, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that while he was not in a position to outline the recommendations going before the leaders at this time, he was certain that the initiative had been very beneficial so far to the Caribbean population.
Stuart told CMC that the speech delivered by his St. Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Dr. Ralph Gonsavles, in which he was critical of people who felt that CARICOM had been a failure was “very interesting in that regard because as I said in Barbados last year (CARICOM summit), we have a way of tending to accentuate what has not happened and a way of losing sight of in fact what has happened.
“I do not think that the situation is as grave as I heard describe, I think the focus is on what has not yet happened.
“Let us be very frank about it that over the last seven to eight years our region has been under pressure from events taking place in the international environment. Most of our member states have had to be inward looking with a view to ensuring that they deal with the hot immediacies of everyday governance”.
But he told CMC that at this summit here “we are going to be having a look at what are the thorny issues that need to be resolved, what are the mountains we need to climb to bring to full or near full realisation the Caribbean Single Market and Economy”.
Secretary General of the 15-nation grouping, Irwin La Rocque on Monday told the opening of the 37th regular summit in Guyana that immigration officers must be trained to abide by the rules of free movement. “To help with remedying some of the problems, we must increase the training and sensitization of our immigration officials for them to act more closely in line with the policies agreed to by their governments,” he said.
Guyanese and Jamaicans have over the years complained bitterly about being harassed by immigration officers on arriving in Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica recently released figures showing that from January to December 2015, 325 were returned and from January to March 2016, 113 are already returned.
In handing down a ruling in favour of Jamaican, Shanique Myrie, who had been cavity searched and refused entry by Barbados’ immigration, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had reiterated that Caricom nationals could be denied entry based on specific circumstances and had outlined the subsequent procedures to be followed.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness highlighted that for ordinary people, free movement is a tangible benefit of Caricom’s regional integration, something that his countrymen and women say complain is increasingly elusive. “Jamaicans have been expressing concern about increased cases of denial of entry and questioned treatment at ports of entry to other jurisdictions.”
Holness called for the hassle-laden travel of Jamaicans to be addressed meaningfully. “This must be addressed in a meaningful way otherwise the economic sense of Caricom becomes increasingly questioned itself. We have begun to discuss the matter bilaterally and we are encouraged by the level of understanding and responsiveness to our concerns,” he said.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica said bilateral consultation, supported by additional effort in Caricom’s institutions, “can make the movement of labour equal to that to the movement of goods a reality that would extend the progress and benefit of the integration effort.”
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, has said based on the complaints received in relation to the recent refusals of entry into Trinidad and Tobago in March 2016, some persons indicated that they had been denied entry for reasons which had been unknown or unclear.
“Furthermore, the reasons given for the denials of entry are not consistent with our understanding of the Shanique Myrie ruling which significantly reduces the discretion of the Immigration Officer in respect of nationals of CARICOM members who are also part of the CSME.”
Jamaicans, who have been refused entry by Trinidad and Tobago authorities, have complained that they were not as upset about being denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago as they were about the manner in which they were treated while detained at the airport. They said they had to sleep in chairs or on the floor of the departure lounge of the airport; there was no access to proper bathroom facilities, and little or no food was provided. Some of the complainants also indicated that they were mocked and jeered by the security personnel, who were in charge of them.
CARICOM Chairman, Roosevelt Skerrit, speaking at the ceremonial opening of the summit here on Monday night said “said “I cannot understand why we have not completed the essential infrastructure to facilitate movement towards an effective free trade area, a meaningful Community or a Single Market and Economy”.
He questioned why the initiative has so far failed to gain the necessary traction needed, saying “there is no doubt whatsoever that the essential infrastructure to facilitate economic cooperation and growth in CARICOM is incomplete.
“Let us not ignore the fact that we have made some progress,” he said, noting for example, we have seen movement in the fourth priority, which is a productive regionally integrated labour market, including a long range view of the skills needed their movement and how work is done”.
But Skerrit sought to underscore the need for greater cooperation among Caribbean countries noting that “it takes two hands to clap.
“CARICOM is not about imposing policies and programmes on member states. It is about empowering member states by democratic means. A major responsibility therefore falls at the level of Member States to get things moving.
“For example, we have agreed on any number of measures to advance the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and our officials have completed all the necessary technical work.
However, due to the failure of our member states to give the go ahead, those critical measures remain unattended. There are several other cases which can be listed as demonstrating that there can be movement in other areas of the CSME. Their completion could enhance our competitiveness and create considerable opportunities for our Community. “