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40 years after CARICOM: Where is The Bahamas?

ARINTHIA S. KOMOLAFE
commentary@komolafelaw.com

Published: Aug 13, 2013

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The historic Treaty of Chaguaramas was originally signed on July 4, 1973 by Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago even though it never took effect until one month later on August 1, 1973. The treaty which effectively established the Caribbean Common Market ultimately replaced the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) in May 1974. As The Bahamas celebrates the 40th anniversary of its political independence, the region commemorates the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This commonality inspires a look at our role in the community and the synergies that we embrace and forfeit.

It is noteworthy to state that the birth of CARICOM unofficially dates as far back as January, 1958 when the West Indies Federation was established as a political union. However, the federation was short lived and was eventually dissolved four years later in 1962. CARIFTA came into effect in May 1968 to promote trade, economic and industrial development between Anglophone Caribbean states. At its apex, 12 countries were party to the agreement.

 

An evolving community

The 40-year anniversary marks a significant milestone for CARICOM. A regional bloc that has weathered some tough storms as it evolved over the years from 1958 to the present. The community itself has seen the entrance of non-English speaking Caribbean States prompting the announcement that CARICOM would consider Dutch and French as official languages.

In the midst of it all, CARICOM has the appearance of gaining strength as its numbers and support for its policies have grown. There are currently 15 full members, five associate members (all of which are British Overseas Territories) and eight observers. The initiatives proposed by CARICOM are vast and extensive. Among these are plans for a regional stock exchange – the Caribbean Exchange Network (CXN), a CARICOM passport which has been implemented by several states, a travel card and perhaps the most controversial of all, a single market and economy.

 

The Caribbean Single Market and Economy

In 2001, CARICOM revised the treaty which replaced the Common Market with the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME). The treaty that was executed here in The Bahamas attracted much public debate during the previous Christie-led administration, which forced the government to forego adopting the revised portion relating to CSME.

Unfortunately, the matter was clouded by politics and misinformation as it related to the terms of the agreement, this despite the fact that the government at that time had pledged to seek reservations on the principal issues raised in the debate such as the free movement of people, the monetary union, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) at the appellate level and the common external tariff. It appears to be an understatement to remark that The Bahamas’ unwillingness to sign on had a vast impact on the CSME operating at its optimum level and slowed down the further integration of the community. Nevertheless, the remaining states of CARICOM who ratified the treaty continued on.

 

The Caribbean Court of Justice

Apart from the potential economic impact of not adopting the revised treaty, the CCJ continues to generate public discussion. Currently, 12 of 15 full member states have signed the agreement establishing the court; however, only Barbados, Belize and Guyana have instituted the CCJ as their final appellate court. The CCJ has two jurisdictions, an original jurisdiction and the appellate jurisdiction. The original jurisdiction exists to interpret the provisions of the treaty so that there is harmonization among member states. The second jurisdiction is to hear matters of a civil and criminal nature as a court of last instance.

It is noteworthy to state that the Republic of Dominica recently wrote to the British government expressing its desire to submit to the CCJ, and it has been reported that the British prime minister fully supports this proposal. PM Portia Simpson-Miller’s People’s National Party in Jamaica anticipates legislation being passed in Parliament this year to have the CCJ serve as the court of last instance for both criminal and civil matters. In addition, PM Kamala Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago has announced that the CCJ will serve as the court of last instance for criminal matters.

 

The Bahamas and the CCJ

Here in The Bahamas, we are behind in considering or submitting to the jurisdiction of the CCJ when compared to our Caribbean counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that we did not ratify the provision of the revised treaty and partly because it is perceived that there is a lack of public support for such a move.

The findings of the 2012 Constitutional Review Committee have not been helpful in furthering this cause either, as the committee has recommended that we effectively maintain the status quo. In essence, the committee proposes that the Privy Council should remain the last court of instance albeit no real, substantive or persuasive argument was presented to support its position.

There is no doubt that some Bahamians disagree with the Privy Council’s stance on the death penalty – hence a desire to abandon the court. Consequently, it can be argued that the committee should have at a minimum explored proposing that The Bahamas submits to the criminal appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ and reserve commercial and civil appellate matters to the Privy Council. Canada, a former British colony underwent this process when after establishing its Supreme Court in 1875, it abolished the right to appeal to the Privy Council on criminal matters in 1933, but maintained the right to appeal on civil matters upward to 1949.

 

The implications for the future

The implications of our decisions and actions regarding the community are far-reaching. Firstly, it is a natural and obvious step toward severing our ties from our past colonial masters and taking hold of our destiny. Secondly, it provides The Bahamas with an increased opportunity to strengthen our ties with our Caribbean counterparts with whom we share certain similarities socially, politically, economically and culturally.

In an evolving global village with the powerful countries of the G8 and G20 determining geopolitical policies that have an impact on small nations like The Bahamas without their input, a strong united voice is essential. This is what regional integration provides over and above issues that we tend to look at in isolation. The stakes are just too high to allow politics to stagnate the growth and the evolution of our nation and the advancement of our people. A paradigm shift and the ability of our people to think for themselves, escaping the rhetoric of opportunistic politicians is necessary to advance this nation.

Today, while we celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of CARICOM through the years, the community continues to be plagued by the lack of willingness by the governments and some of its peoples to truly integrate and become one. The impact of insular nationalism and the effects of colonialism, as well as the willingness to hang on to a caged past, continue to haunt each nation individually and the community as a whole. It is envisaged that the vision of regional strength and real political, social and economic integration will materialize in CARICOM with the emergence of a new generation of Caribbean leaders. Perhaps it is not sheer coincidence that the obtaining of our political independence and the formation of CARICOM both occurred in the same year. Could it be that our destiny for the next 40 years is intertwined with that of the community? The choice is ours to make.

 

• Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at commentary@komolafelaw.com.

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