By Carlton Joseph
As 2017 comes to an end, Caribbean countries need to seriously assess our position in the world. We must ask ourselves why are we poorer, after implementing IMF Structural Adjustment Programs that were supposed to improve our lives? Is democracy, as practiced in the Caribbean, working for us? Why is crime escalating in our countries? Why do we have to leave our country in order to provide for our families? My goal here is to encourage you to ask yourselves questions.
The Caribbean is at a crossroads. We must choose a path that serves our interests. Crime is rising, unemployment is rising, and our economies are stagnant. In the late 19th century the British was interested in a confederation of the West Indies because it enhanced administrative efficiency and centralization. In 1958 the West Indies Federation was established comprising ten territories. We need to revisit this Federation.
My view is that this Federation did not work because it was another colonial administrative arrangement to control the region and capitalize on its natural resources. Britain imposed governance and administrative structures and policies that were unacceptable. The Federation was not permitted to levy income taxes for at least five years. The arrangement allowed the territories to have a feeling of power, but they were powerless. The Queen was still in charge. Hence the motto “To dwell together in Unity” and the Anthem “God Save the Queen.”
Although the Federation collapsed, it achieved some successes: It created a Federal Civil Service; established the West Indies Shipping Service; began negotiations to acquire BWIA; tertiary education was consolidated and expanded; it established the WI Meteorological Service and expanded the University of the West Indies with a campus in Trinidad. Great progress in four years.
We also need to question how democracy is practiced in the region. The Western powers have insisted on the sanctity of the vote. They have even arranged for monitors to ensure that our elections are “free and fair.” However, when the elections are over, if their candidate does not win, we can expect the new government to be destabilized, and eventually overthrown. Democracy in the Caribbean has two main features: the victors must be Pro- Western, and they must implement Neocolonial Policies.
Democracy, in this arrangement, assumes that the people are stupid and that their elected leaders must think and act for them. For example, recently in Guyana, Exxon Mobil discovered oil. News surfaced that the government had received a signing bonus of $18 US million. Finance Minister, Winston Jordan told Kaieteur News that there was no advance payment made to the Government of Guyana by United States oil giant. Jordan stated that such a claim is “a figment of the imagination’ and that there is ‘no agreement for any bonus.” Further, he noted that the Government did not request such a bonus. He continued, “I said US$20 million? I don’t know anything about that, but I will go and find out. Did they ever get back to me? No…I am not under any obligation to give anyone any information they didn’t ask for. If you ask me a direct question I will answer you directly. And up to today, there is no signing bonus of US$20Million.”
Turns out that the Government did receive a signing bonus. This represents the total disdain, disrespect and contempt these so educated elites have for the population.
Also in Trinbago, Mr. Rowley recently gave a report on his meeting with BP, Shell Oil and other oil companies in Texas. Mr. Rowley reported to Cabinet the following: “This meeting resulted in an agreement between T&T and EOG on future gas. NGC and EOG had been negotiating the price of future gas but had not reached an agreement. Given the progress made over the last few months, we finally managed to agree to a price acceptable to both sides resulting with Chairman Thomas’ immediate instructions to his team that drilling re-commence in EOG offshore acreage in T&T.”
Mr. Rowley showed his contempt for the nation by not disclosing the agreed-upon price that was acceptable to both sides. Do these leaders think that the nations’ natural resources are their personal resources when they become the government? Why can’t they be transparent with the peoples’ patrimony? Are we too stupid, or uneducated to be informed of the price contained in this agreement? In both instances, Guyana and Trinbago, the public is not allowed to view the contracts that are negotiated on their behalf. Is this the way to run a country? No wonder crime is on the rise; our leaders represent to us that crime pays.
After initially deciding not to publicly release details of the contract with Exxon Mobil, the Guyanese government changed course this past week. As it explained, notwithstanding its concerns about confidentiality clauses, the ultimate decision was guided by its commitment to transparency. The government also announced that it had not informed the country that it had received a signing bonus from Exxon Mobil. Pressure from the opposition and the newspapers forced them to do the right thing.
Recently, The Council of the European Union (CEU) published its “List of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.” Included on the list: Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Trinbago. Ronald Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador to the US and OAS, wrote: “These countries cried out in astonishment or disbelief. But not one of them asked, What gives the Council of the EU the right to put any country on a Blacklist, and to impose sanctions on them for noncompliance with European Union created criteria on taxation?”
The Caribbean needs to come together as one nation. In this globalized world small states stand as much chance of success as a “snowball in hell.” Even when we come together as a Caribbean Nation we will be small, but at least we will be able to plan and utilize our human and natural resources more efficiently and effectively. The economics of maintaining embassies all over the world just because each Caribbean Prime Minister wants to have power over a small island, regardless of the negative consequences, is ridiculous. The Caribbean is made up of 30 countries with a population of 44 million. Nine of these countries have populations ranging from five (5) thousand to seventy-four (74) thousand. This means that on any Sunday in the US, a stadium has more people watching a football game than the entire population of one on these countries.
It is time we understand that unity is strength. It is time we seek our interests by creating a United States of the Caribbean, similar to the United States system.
We must understand that sovereignty in a number of non-viable state powers is counter-productive. We have similar climates; therefore, we compete against each for everything. It allows us to be easily manipulated against each other and forces us in a race to the bottom.
Sovereignty can only be achieved through unity. If we continue to exist as small powerless states the results will continue to be social confusion, extreme poverty and absolutely no development.