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    Thursday, September 20, 2012

     


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    Thursday, October 25, 2012

     


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  • 12/12/12--23:31: Two blows for whales
  • Thursday, December 13, 2012

     


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    Thursday, December 20, 2012

     


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    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    The speech may have been directed to a domestic United States audience, but in its boldness, its frankness and its inspirational quality, it was a speech to the citizens of the world.

     


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  • 03/13/13--11:43: The Caribbean after Chavez
  • Thursday, March 14, 2013

    Seventeen countries of the Caribbean face a heightened period of economic uncertainty now that Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has died.


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    Thursday, March 21, 2013

    The most important reason for the selection of a country as the host-venue for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is that it serves the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole.


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    Thursday, April 4, 2013
    Delisle Worrell, Governor of the Barbados Central Bank.

    Despite all the promises of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), the countries of the Caribbean have not benefited from increased exports to EU markets or from inc


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    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    How beneficial or not to the Caribbean is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the 27-nation European Union (EU) as a bloc and the 15 small Caribbean members of Cariforum individually?


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    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    Concerns surrounding state-owned airlines in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries clearly exist amongst a wide cross section of the community.


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    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    Much media coverage was given to the signing on May 28 in Trinidad of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) by US Vice President, Joseph Biden, and current chairman of the 15-nation Car


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  • 06/26/13--15:42: Rethinking taxing tourism
  • Thursday, June 27, 2013

    Are governments in the Caribbean killing the goose that lays the golden egg?


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    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    By the time this commentary is read, heads of government of the 15-nation Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) will have celebrated the 40th anniversary of the inter-governmental organis


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    Since 2005 when the late President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez introduced the Petrocaribe initiative, several Caribbean governments have enjoyed a vital life line. But the time may have come to review the scope and expectations of the Petrocaribe relationship in the interest of the beneficiary Caribbean countries and Venezuela itself.

     

    Under Petrocaribe, the beneficiary countries have been allowed to pay for 40 per cent of oil shipments from Venezuela within 90 days (either in cash or in goods of equivalent value). The remaining 60 per cent was repayable in 17-25 years at an annual interest rate of one per cent.

     

    However, this benefit has not been without cost both to the Venezuela and the beneficiary countries.

     

    Prof Anthony Bryant, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies, explains the problem as follows: “The impact of Petrocaribe has been very dramatic. Since its inception, the financing mechanism is estimated to have saved members more than US$1 billion in financing energy costs. In essence, the programme saved several regional economies from certain collapse. But while the programme has provided short-term relief, it has also become an addiction for its beneficiaries. Venezuela is today the largest creditor for Petrocaribe members”. And, he adds: “The programme has also contributed to the unsustainable debt accumulation in some of the countries.”

     

    Bryan’s analysis is not unique. The Economist Intelligence Unit and other commentators agree that the debt to Venezuela has become “unsustainable” for many of the Caribbean countries.

     

    In reality, the debt has also become unsustainable for PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil company that has been the source of the credit to the many Caribbean countries. It is now clear that several of the Caribbean countries have not been repaying the debt and are not in a position to do so. 

     

    In the circumstances, PDVSA and the Venezuelan government may be left with a huge debt. This would adversely affect the capacity of PDVSA to raise money from international lenders. Last month, Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its long-term corporate credit and senior unsecured debt ratings on PDVSA to ‘B’ from ‘B+’.

     

    Venezuela’s new President Nicolas Maduro is anxious to continue his predecessor’s relationship with countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Hence, he has been bending over backwards to try to continue the Petrocaribe arrangement while looking at other forms of co-operation with these countries. But, his own internal difficulties in Venezuela are mounting.

    Venezuela’s foreign exchange woes

     

    The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that “Venezuela is currently struggling with a lack of foreign exchange, which has put significant pressure on the overvalued official exchange rate of BsF6.3 to US$1”. 

     

    Additionally, inflation is in the high 30s, (while the Latin American average is seven per cent), the national debt is rising, and the fiscal deficit is growing; it is said to have tripled to 11 per cent of gross national product. There is also growing concern within Venezuela about money being spent on, or given-away to, foreign countries while sections of the Venezuelan population are facing hardships; a justifiable concern and one that Maduro cannot ignore.

     

    All this puts Maduro in a very difficult position, worsened by the fact that a now rampant opposition is whipping up as much popular resentment of him as it can.

     

    Maduro wanted much wider changes to the Petrocaribe arrangements than an increase in interest rates from one per cent to two per cent that is reported to have been agreed at a Petrocaribe Summit in Nicaragua in June. Clearly, the pleas of beneficiary governments, who are ill-prepared to pay either the full price for oil or even an increased up-front price, caused the Venezuelan president to settle only for an increase in the interest rate on the loan portion of the arrangement; at least for now.

     

    There was talk in Nicaragua of the Petrocaribe member states creating an “economic zone”. 

     

    No details have been made available so it is impossible to assess the implications of such a zone for Caribbean countries; particularly those that belong to the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom). 

    Air lift

     

    At a more practical level, it is understood that an understanding has been reached in principle for an air services agreement between Venezuela and six of the smaller Caribbean countries that could see a relationship between the Venezuelan airline, Conviasa, and Liat; a small airline owned mainly by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The six Caribbean countries contemplating the air services agreement are: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

     

    However, it is difficult to see how such an agreement would work without Barbados which is both a principal shareholder in Liat and a major regional hub for air transportation. Barbados is not a member of Petro Caribe and, in the circumstances, it has to be assumed that any air services agreement would have to include Barbados and be concluded separately from PetroCaribe.

     

    In any event, if the air services arrangement does eventually include Barbados and leads to direct transportation between South America and the Caribbean, it would be a welcome boost for tourism and business. It would also point the way for a renewed and mutually beneficial relationship between Venezuela and Caribbean countries – one that is more sustainable and less reliant on Venezuelan generosity.

     

    In a continuing spirit of good neighbourliness, President Maduro is reported to have told leaders of Caricom countries on July 6 that his government is willing to help the region in the areas of maritime transportation and food security. 

     

    If the Caricom governments and Venezuela could settle such arrangements in a shared manner and as partners in the area’s development (including with the private sector), an exciting new era in Venezuela-Caribbean relations could open-up. It would change the dominance in the present relationship of PetroCaribe that now holds perils as much for Venezuela as for its other members.

     

    The writer is a consultant, visiting fellow at London University and former Caribbean diplomat.


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    It is shameful that golden opportunities to produce more food in the Caribbean and significantly reduce the astronomically high annual food import bill of US$4.75 billion are being woefully neglected. If this misguided trend continues, the economies of many of the countries of the region will be increasingly imperilled.

     

    At a time of very low or no economic growth, extremely high ratios of debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and declining foreign exchange earnings in many of the 14 independent nations that comprise the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the majority of them continue to spend huge sums on buying food outside the Caribbean. 

     

    In 2013, only four countries were exceptions to those with unsustainably high debt to GDP ratios. They were: Haiti 21.3 per cent, Suriname 29.2 per cent, T&T 30.6 per cent, and Bahamas 56.3 per cent. Of the others, Jamaica 138.9 per cent, Grenada 115 per cent, St Kitts-Nevis 104.9 per cent and Antigua and Barbuda 92.9 per cent have the highest debt-to-GDP ratio. 

     

    At the lower end of the unsustainable high debt-to-GDP ratio are Guyana 63.9 per cent, Dominica 74.95, Belize 75.5 per cent, and St Vincent and the Grenadines 76.4 per cent (source IMF and World Bank). It should be noted that in the case of Haiti, while its debt-to-GDP ratio is low, it has the highest rate of poverty at 77 per cent of its population. Other countries with high levels of poverty are: Belize 41.3 per cent, Grenada 37.7 per cent, Guyana 36.1 per cent, and St Vincent and the Grenadines 30.2 per cent.

     

     


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    I just bought a well-established, well-known brand in Ireland. Though the company has been around for 40 years, for various reasons it is no longer making a profit and turnover has collapsed. However, in my opinion, the brand still has value. How can I capitalise on this while I’m trying to increase turnover in order to pay the creditors?

    Anna Keely, Dublin

    The appeal of taking over a company is that it already has an established customer base, and the new owners usually see opportunities for innovation and expansion. In your situation, Anna, you’ll need to look at the reasons the business faltered, and decide what its assets are in addition to the brand name and whether you can salvage them.

    Here are four common problems entrepreneurs and managers encounter at established companies, and how to start turning things around:

    1. The company offers a brand name rather than value

    A business’ long history is meaningless if it doesn’t provide the best-designed, most reliable products or services at competitive prices and back up those offerings with the finest customer service. In these fast-moving times, longevity is more the exception than the rule. 

    According to a 2012 study by Richard N Foster of Yale University, the average life span of a company listed in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has decreased to just 18 years, from 61 years in 1958.

     


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    The good news is that a prophylactic vaccine against chickungunya, developed by the Austrian biotech company Themis Bioscience GmbH, is reported to induce a significant neutralising immune response to the disease and is confirmed as safe.

    The not so good news is two-fold: first, none of the major health authorities of the world have yet endorsed the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine; and second, even if the vaccine is validated, it might be some time before it is produced in sufficient quantities and at a price that could make it available to regions of the world where chikungunya is a growing problem.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes chikungunya as: “a viral disease (genus Alphavirus) which is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes, including Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The name chikungunya originates from a verb in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted.” This refers to the stooped appearance of those suffering with joint pain.”

    Since late 2013, chikungunya has become a serious problem in the Americas with more than 780,000 reported cases to date. It has spread rapidly through the Caribbean islands creating problems for the economies of these small states as the operations of small and medium-sized business are adversely affected by illnesses amongst key workers. 

    The economic problem is worsened by reports in the international media that tourists in the Caribbean “are being struck down by a debilitating and potentially deadly virus carried by mosquitoes.” That scary language and the naming of several Caribbean countries, based entirely on unofficial sources, are likely to have a deleterious effect on tourism which is the mainstay of the majority of the economies.

    In any event, Caribbean governments should be doing all in their power to arrest the spread of the disease in the interest of the health of their local populations and to protect their fragile tourism industries. 

    All of them are trying to do so with the limited financial resources they have, particularly at a time of a protracted economic downturn following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. 

    The private sector in the region also has to become involved in tackling the problem. Businesses have much to lose if chickungunya debilitates their workforce and frightens away tourists. In this connection, a point made by Dr Isabelle Nuttall, the director of global capacities, alert and response at the WHO, is instructive. 

    She observes that: “The key to stopping the international spread of this disease is global vigilance.” That same observation is valid in the domestic context where the key to stopping the spread of the disease should be local vigilance. 

    Part of that vigilance should be a meaningful contribution by the private sector to a joint fund with governments to combat chickungunya. It is a special problem requiring special action.

    Vigilance also requires education about the problem at a mass level. Denying the existence of the disease or playing-down the number of people it has affected is unhelpful to educating the public about the measures that each person should put in place to protect themselves, help contain the spread of the disease and eradicate the mosquito carriers.

    If the problem intensifies hemispheric and international organisations should step-up to help deal with it before it becomes graver than it is, placing heavier burdens on already over-stretched budgets. 

    It is noteworthy that the problem of Ebola in Sierra Leone especially is getting worse not better. 

    The WHO has reported that Sierra Leone confirmed 533 new cases in the week up to November 16, with 63 deaths in five days between November 14 and 19. In part, this is due to the poor response of the international community, mainly the rich countries, when the disease erupted in West Africa. A delayed response, allowed Ebola to take root and to spread in poor and built-up areas. And, the international response occurred only after it became clear that the disease could penetrate the best erected customs and immigration barriers of every country. 

    The WHO says 5,420 people have died of Ebola in eight countries out of 15,145 cases of infection since December 2013. But while this figure is alarming, it is small in relation to the almost 5,000 persons a week, mostly children in poor countries, who die from diseases like malaria.

    The capacity for diseases, such as malaria, chickungunya and dengue fever, to spread is far greater than Ebola. These diseases are undetected global travellers, and once landed they become national residents. The current figure of 780,000 reported cases of chickungunya in the Americas is more than likely to rise, unless every country implements the measures necessary to eradicate the mosquito carriers. For the smaller and less resourced countries to act effectively they will need both a comprehensive national effort and international support in the form of money and technical support.

    In the words of the WHO’s Dr Nuttal: “If the world wants global security, we have to work together to ensure poor countries have stronger health systems, including early warning systems to report outbreaks earlier.”

    But, the experience with Ebola is not encouraging. The leaders of the G20 met in Australia in mid-November just days before a date set by the UN for commitments to combat the dreaded disease. 

    At first, Ebola was not even on the agenda for discussion. Only intense pressure from representatives of civil society in major countries caused it to be included at the last minute. But the separate statement on Ebola issued by the leaders was long on encouraging words with no specifics of sums of money or dates for delivery. 

    Developing countries in the Americas, particularly the small states of the Caribbean, cannot afford to wait for an unmanageable emergency to seek international help. 

    While intensifying their own national efforts to cope with the predicament of chickungunya and dengue fever, which has affected people whose numbers are the equivalent of the entire population of Guyana or the combined inhabitants of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines, they should also make the case to the international institutions for the resources needed now to prevent a crisis.


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    Concern was rightly raised over the failure of the supervisor of elections in St Kitts-Nevis, Wingrove George, to declare the results of the February 16 general elections until two days afterwards.

    There were only 30,000 voters in the elections. 

    Even if George had the votes counted twice for accuracy, as he claimed, that procedure should have produced a final count by midnight on the Election Day. What remains suspicious in the minds of many is why he stopped counting and refused to publish a result.

     Perry Christie, Keith Mitchell and Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Ministers of the Bahamas, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines respectively, were early in their public remarks of criticism. So, too, was T&T’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar whose public statement summed-up what was at risk for the region. She said: “I am also concerned that the region's reputation for democracy and for free and fair elections will be under threat as long as this issue in St Kitts and Nevis remains unresolved.” This was a notable example of regional leadership asserting its collective adherence to the democratic values of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). 

    But, it would be wrong to focus attention only on Wingrove George and what may amount to a serious dereliction of his duty and obligations as supervisor of elections. To do so would be to miss the wood for the trees. The failure was symptomatic of a much larger problem related to the electoral process and adherence to democratic values beyond St Kitts-Nevis. The problem also exists in varying degrees in a few other countries. 

     The decision of the government of Dr Denzil Douglas not to face a vote of “no confidence” from the opposition in parliament, and the various measures he adopted to avoid it, gravely undermined democracy in St Kitts-Nevis. In the process, respect for the rule of law was weakened and government loyalists in public institutions were encouraged to believe that they could ignore their duty to the public in favour of their links to the ruling political party. In the words of Antiguan commentator, Colin Sampson, “the episode cast a very bad light on democratic values in the region and it underscores the archaic, decrepit and corrupted state of the St Kitts & Nevis electoral system.”

     The latter point became obvious when in January—just one month before the general elections—the Electoral (Constituency) Boundaries Commission changed the elections boundaries without consulting the opposition political parties and in a manner that would have disadvantaged them. It took an appeal to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London just days before to cause the February 16 elections to be conducted on the existing boundaries. While that decision was later decried by Dr Douglas who said: “We in Labour feel there is a real...gulf of misunderstanding between what has gone on in a court room in London and the mood of the ordinary man and woman on the streets here in St Kitts and Nevis”, it is arguable that the Caribbean Court of Justice may not have come to any different decision were it the final appellate court for the country.

    In the event, what is revealed by these recent events in St Kitts-Nevis (as previously in Antigua and Barbuda when the former government illegally dismissed the chairman and members of the Electoral Commission and attempted to change the election boundaries) is that the organisation and administration of electoral processes in a few Caribbean countries require review. It is a review that might be best carried out by all Caricom countries collectively so as to avoid finger-pointing at any one country and the party political advantage that might be sought from it. What is at stake is the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process throughout the Region and therefore the standing of the Caribbean itself in the eyes of foreign investors, international financial institutions, capital markets and the global community. 

     The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)—of which Barbados is a founding member—drawing on its long and wide experience of elections in almost every part of the world, identifies seven guiding principles for the legitimacy and credibility of electoral processes. These are: independence, impartiality, integrity, transparency, efficiency, professionalism and service-mindedness. Few would quarrel with those principles as they are stated. The problem arises not from the form but the substance. As an example, almost all of the elections management bodies in the 15-nation Caricom group are declared to be “independent.” Indeed, many are statutory bodies and their independence is prescribed in law. 

     However, there are two kinds of independence. 

    The formal kind is structural independence from the government as set-out by law. 

    The second is fearless independence: the capacity of the managers of the electoral process to resist pressure from political parties so that they do not bend to partisan influences. As was obvious in the recent St Kitts-Nevis example, fearless independence was sacrificed for partisan loyalty. Strong leadership is required for the persons who head electoral bodies, but this is a notion to which all political parties have to be committed and must subscribe. 

     Like independence, impartiality also cannot be legislated; it is a state of mind much more than a statement in law. Nonetheless, both independence and impartiality can be encouraged and enhanced by a constitutional and legal framework that is respected by all political parties, including adequate funding that permits the institutions to function properly.

     Arising from all this is the clear lesson that it is time that Caricom countries collectively consider strengthening their institutions for electoral management. 

     This is not a consideration for Caribbean countries only. Other regions of the world have a similar need. That is why in 2011 the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group recommended in its report: A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform that an Academy for Electoral Training be established by the 53-nation Commonwealth group “to which governments, election commissions, civil society and other relevant organisations could send people to be trained in best practices.” Given its history and traditions of good governance, I had proposed Barbados for the location of the Academy. It is a proposal that could usefully be revisited for the benefit of the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.

     

    The writer is a consultant, senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at London University and former Caribbean diplomat.

     


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    In just over a month—on April 16, 2015—the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will mark the 10th anniversary of its inauguration. The creation of the CCJ is arguably the single most important event in the history of the English-speaking Caribbean since the establishment of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) by Treaty in 1973. 

    In the words of Dr Kenny Anthony—the Prime Minister of St Lucia and a former legal counsel to the Caricom Secretariat—the creation of the CCJ was “a leap into enlightenment.” Recently, in a lecture delivered at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, Dr Anthony repeated that, in his view, the establishment of the CCJ has been “one of the major successes of (Caricom’s) collective governance.” Few persons, who think deeply about this matter, would disagree with the Prime Minister.

    Yet, there was much dithering over the establishment of the CCJ.  

    Although the decision was taken by Heads of Government to set up the Court in 1988, 17 years elapsed before it was inaugurated.  

    In the intervening period, the absence of confidence in the Caribbean’s self-worth was obvious in the fears that were expressed about separating from the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final appellate court. 

    The notion that Caribbean judges could judge Caribbean events and individuals with erudition and independence was rejected by many, including lawyers; some of whom made handsome fees by appearing in London, the seat of the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee.

    In 1992, the West Indian Commission was adamant in declaring that the naysayers were mistaken in their view.  

    In its report, Time for Action, the commission was unequivocal in stating: “As Caricom countries come to grips with issues pertaining to governance and the securing of civil society everywhere, it must be to a local, not an external, court that we must look for the sensitive and courageous development of the law”. And, as for the judicial talent for staffing the court, the commission was just as forthright in asserting that “there can be no room for doubt.”

    Recalling the many high judicial positions in which Caribbean judicial officers had served in international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, and in many Commonwealth countries, the Commission posed the question: what ails us that we lack the confidence to go forward?

    Showing unreserved confidence in a Caribbean Court, the commission recommended to Caricom Heads of Government the early establishment of the court for two purposes: to serve as a Supreme Court “with original jurisdiction in matters arising under the Caricom Treaty including the authority to issue orders enforcing the implementation of Caricom decisions; and with an appellate jurisdiction from the Courts of Member States.” The commission foresaw that the court’s jurisdiction “should be designed to assist the evolution of Caricom law and its uniform enforcement.”

    It took 13 years after the recommendation of the West Indian Commission for Caricom governments to finally establish the CCJ but, unfortunately, not in the full form and not with the backing of all member-states as was envisaged. 

    Up until Dominica’s accession to the court on March 6 as its final appellate court replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, only three of the 12 independent Commonwealth countries joined the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction.  

    Those countries are: Barbados, Guyana and Belize. Prime Minister Anthony has indicated that his government is not now far behind Dominica. 

    Other governments in the sub-regional grouping, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), have stated that as soon as they overcome a constitutional requirement for a referendum on the question, they too will do so.  But, they have been tardy in moving. 

    Referenda, it is feared, become entangled with political matters beyond the question put to the electorate. In the case of Jamaica and T&T—two of the biggest countries in Caricom—the debate over using the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction for all criminal and civil matters has been reduced to immature and obtuse considerations such as the nationality of judges, and, sadly, even the need for ethnic balance.

    These debates damage the Caribbean’s standing in the international community and they impede the process by which regional institutions could be embraced by the Caribbean people as symbols of their ideals and deliverers of their aspirations. The CCJ was always intended to be an independent judicial body served by the best judicial officers available from throughout the region.  

    There was never any consideration that employment of the best judicial brains should be subject to national and ethnic considerations. Were such considerations to become part of the criteria for selecting the Judges of the CCJ, it is the Caribbean people that would be short-changed.

    For decades, the people and governments of Caribbean countries have been colour-blind and unmindful of the nationalities of the judges of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; the majority of whom in the vast majority of cases are European and white. The only applicable standard is that they should be sufficiently learned and experienced to deliver justice. The same standard applies with the CCJ. It is the only requirement that should be needed of the officers of the Court.

    In its original jurisdiction in matters arising under the Caricom Treaty for all member states, up to January 2015 the CCJ had delivered 16 decisions.  

    Except for those who were party to the cases in which the CCJ rendered its decisions, few persons were or are aware of the nature and content of those decisions. They have gone unquestioned and without controversy. 

    The decision that did stir debate and interest was the one given in the celebrated Shanique Myrie case because it established Caribbean “Community law” by interpreting and applying the provisions of the Caricom Treaty and decisions of its principal organ, the Heads of Government Conference.  That is the very thing it is empowered to do.

    In the words of Prime Minister Anthony, the CCJ “has widened and enlarged the bundle of rights of the Citizens of the Caribbean Community”. As Dominica joins as the fourth member of the court in its appellate jurisdiction and the CCJ marks its 10th anniversary, Caribbean citizens should celebrate its existence and its performance as a vital institution.

     (The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London)


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    Lee Kuan-Yew, who led Singapore for three decades, died on March 23. He was a remarkable man who is best remembered for courageous leadership that converted a tiny island with virtually no natural resources into one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

    This commentary recalls a particular role that he played on the Caribbean’s behalf in the Commonwealth, saving the leaders of the Eastern Caribbean, Barbados and Jamaica from disdain over their invitation to the United States of America to intervene in Grenada in 1983. 

    But, first it has to be recalled that Lee Kuan-Yew commanded international respect, even envy for making tiny Singapore an economic powerhouse in global terms.   He tended to tolerate nothing that would likely disrupt the march toward progress of his tiny country.  Small states in the Caribbean and elsewhere are often directed to the “Singapore model” as a design they should seek to emulate. That, however, is easier said than done.

    Nonetheless, it is worth recalling the ingredients Lee utilised to develop his country. A principal and overriding factor was a dominant role for the state—something which international financial institutors and Western developed nations discourage in Caribbean countries, indeed, across the Third World.   

    Even while maintaining a dominant role for the state, Lee actively encouraged foreign investment, recognising, in the beginning, that Singapore lacked the capital and knowhow to create industries. That is not the situation today, but it was his attitude to social democracy that improved, health, public housing and, vitally, education. 

    The wages and salaries of public servants today match equally payments in the private sector, resulting in public servants whose capacity is every bit as good as the best in the private sector.

    Having registered the accomplishments of Lee Kuan-Yew in the development and prosperity of his own country and the respect it earned him in the global community, this commentary records a crucial role he played at the 1983 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting following the US-led intervention in Grenada. 

    I was privileged to be an Antigua and Barbuda delegate to that conference under the leadership of then Foreign Minister Lester Bird. 

    The temper of the meeting, particularly from the leaders of African States, was annoyance with the countries of the Eastern Caribbean, Barbados and Jamaica that had participated with the US in intervening in Grenada after the military coup that had overthrown the government, murdering its Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, and other leaders.

    Condemnatory statements were made by Presidents Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyrere and Kenneth Kaunda of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia respectively. Their governments—and the majority of governments of Commonwealth developing countries—had voted just weeks before at the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the US-led intervention. 

    The Africans vented their distress at Caribbean participation with the US.  Julius Nyrere called on the Commonwealth to express its anger. And so it might have done were it not for Lee Kuan Yew.

    He explained that Singapore had voted at the UN against the US because its intervention in Grenada had broken a rule and breaking that rule could have “horrendous consequences.” But, he said he had listened to four Caribbean leaders who had spoken before him asking for understanding of their position. 

    Those leaders were Lester Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, Kennedy Simmonds of St Kitts-Nevis, Eugenia Charles of Dominica and JMG Tom Adams of Barbados. Bird had said “when a regime murdered a prime minister and was terrorising its own people, the governments of neighbouring countries with which there was an enduring relationship had a responsibility to act”.

    Lee Kuan-Yew told the conference that despite his condemnation of the US at the UN, which he would do again, “Commonwealth leaders were presented with a paradox”. 

    He described the paradox for his government in the following way: 

    “Singapore voted against the American invasion because of the resulting dangers; it was nonetheless grateful that it took place because there were 110,000 happy Grenadians.” Each leader knew in his heart, he said, “that the Eastern Caribbean States’ response was right.” 

    He went on to observe that “it would have been much more convenient” if the Caribbean countries had the resources to intervene on their own. The matter, he said, would not have been raised at the Commonwealth Summit “nor would their action have caused great objections in the United Nations” which “would have seen it as an example of the Third World resolving its own problems.”

    And he concluded that Commonwealth leaders had not gathered “to put their partners from the Eastern Caribbean in the dock.”

    “It was necessary to condemn the action in the United Nations because of the dangerous precedents it could create”, but he wanted the Meeting to turn away from recrimination and to come out positively with a proposal to achieve security for island states, and so make a contribution “to international stability and security.”

    Not all of the Heads of Government at the Commonwealth Summit would have welcomed Lee Kuan-Yew’s practical and pragmatic intervention, but they recognised the wisdom in it. 

    Lee Kuan-Yew received a respectful and careful hearing to what was a thoughtful and defining intervention; one which Secretary-General, Shridath Ramphal, developed into a forward-looking statement from the Summit that focussed “on the early return by Commonwealth Caribbean countries to the spirit of fraternity” and to the undertaking of “a study of the special needs of small states consonant with the right to sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

    Several positive consequences flowed from Lee Kuan-Yew’s statement at the summit, first it helped to bridge the divide that had occurred between Commonwealth Caribbean countries that had participated with the US in the Grenada intervention and those who had opposed; it led to the first definitive study on the challenges confronting small states; and it confirmed the value of Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings attended by Heads themselves.

    Lee Kuan-Yew should be remembered in the Caribbean for the positive and constructive role he played at the 1983 Summit. 

    (Note: this commentary is based on personal notes and material released after 30 years)

    The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.


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