Guyanese Student Omari Joseph wins Eric Williams School Bags Essay Competition

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We are pleased to share the winning essay in the latest edition of the Eric Williams School Bags Essay Competition, written by Omari Joseph of Queens College, Georgetown, Guyana.

Winning Essay:

Topic: The migration challenge is one of the hinges on which the future of Caribbean integration rests”

Honourable Heads of Government,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great passion and love for the Caribbean that I deliver my presentation today. Before I develop the topic, permit me to begin in medias res with a thought that came to me while researching it:

The beautiful Caribbean region is home to a treasure that has endured colonialism and the wobbly first steps of infant independent countries. That treasure is the multifarious and infinite potential of the human resource. It is materialized in the hands and minds that drive production and the blood and energy that flows throughout the region. The future of the Caribbean region and Caribbean integration rests in those very hands and minds. Hence, tapping into its boundless potential is key to the main goal of regional integration, fostering economic development and progress.

Uncertainty surrounding the usefulness of integration has come to the fore in the wake of the events that led up to “Brexit.” Tapping into the potential of the human resource, particularly through policies that allow for the free flow of citizens within the Caribbean community, presents a pressing issue… “The migration challenge”. How do we find a balance between the unquestionable economic benefits surrounding free movement, particularly free movement of labour, and the equally undeniable negative social and economic effects of migration?

Before we progress to the greater part of this discourse, take some time to consider that thought.

“When the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) conceived and agreed on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), it was in recognition of the challenges posed by the increasingly globalised economy, and the need to increase competitiveness of the goods and services of the region for regional and international markets” (Field-Ridley, Pollard, Forde, & Blenman). It was a move to facilitate economic development on a wider scale. However, when a prominent regional scholar says that ‘progress has slowed to a virtual standstill… momentum has been lost… interest has waned’ (Girvan, 2013) when referring to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), one can do naught but take notice. Other integration movements have enjoyed some measure of success, for example the European Union (EU) has brought ‘stability, peace and economic prosperity to Europe’ (Grenade, 2011). Why does the Caribbean fall short of that success? Does the EU have a secret formula that we do not?

Truthfully, there is no secret. In a research paper entitled Europe, Free Movement and the UK: Charting a New Course it was noted that “every European citizen has the right to move around the EU for work, study or lifestyle…this is one of the EU’s most significant achievements” (Glennie & Pennington, 2014). This glimpse of free movement on a larger scale, highlights the potential of the human resource to contribute to the economy in an environment that facilitates labour movement. Despite benefits being attached to labour mobility, there is also potential for educational and scientific advancement as well as cultural development and unity. This discourse will pay greater attention to labour mobility, because its effects and potential effects on integration are better represented in studies and statistics.

To better understand the importance of utilising the potential of the human resource for the region, for the remainder of this discourse, shed the perception of the Caribbean Community as an organisation. Instead, let us recognize that it is an allegorical body, which, like an organic body, requires blood (its people) flowing freely to all parts in order to function properly. According to former Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur in 2015, “the creation of a Single Market was to take the form of removal of all of the constraints on the movement within the region of goods, services, labour, capital and the creation of enterprises over centuries” (Sanders, 2015). This “free movement” does not mean “hassle free” travel, but “the ‘right’ or ‘ability’ of members of a formal economic community to move and work freely in that community” (Wickham, Wharton, Marshall, & Darlington-Weekes, 2004). The constraints on the movement of labour within the region caused by disharmony in policy and practice (Girvan, 2013) are a clot in the region’s circulatory system.

As a region we cannot seem to unanimously agree on the way to implement free movement of labour. Fresh blood cannot easily flow to where it is needed, meaning that economies region-wide are not able to effectively access the region’s talent base,  a point noted by Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart at the Sixth Distinguished Alumni Lecture at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus in 2012. The Barbadian Prime Minister stated that the CSME is pivotal to the economic rebound of CARICOM and that the region must band together to become “a power of world-renowned prowess.”

At this juncture, we must acknowledge that over the years several prominent personalities, both political and academic, have all expressed in some way or another that regional integration is the door to economic prosperity for the Caribbean. Doors however, in a traditional sense, are quite useless without hinges. Taking time to ponder the definition of a hinge, you come across words like pivotal, crucial and essential. Just a quick consideration of this word association produces a distinct and critical question. If we truly consider free movement to be crucial to regional integration, why have we only come this far in realising its usefulness? It seems that a few decades in we continue to play a joke on the elders who in our childhood, reminded us that “you can lead the horse to the water well but you cannot make him drink.” The water in this case being freedom of movement of citizens throughout the region. Politicians and, by proxy, their countries continue to mull over the water as if it were a cup of bitter aloes. While the free movement of citizens is no cup of aloes, it certainly is not a glass of perfectly aged wine either.

Hinges allow a door to swing both ways. For the migration challenge to be considered a hinge, two questions must be answered. Do the benefits of freedom of movement throw the door open for the success of regional integration? Do the current stagnation of progress spoken of by Girvan, and the potential problems of free movement jam the door to the future for regional integration?

Let us deal with the benefits first.

The greatest benefit of free movement is that it creates one giant labour market for employers. For the Caribbean, that means islands and mainland territories who rely on their own limited labour markets now have one as big as the Caribbean Sea. For the EU, free movement “has created a 500-million strong pool of labour for employers to recruit from, it has also alleviated unemployment related pressures in countries experiencing economic difficulties by providing labour markets in other European countries and compensated for skills gaps and shortages in others” (Glennie & Pennington, 2014). Workers who find themselves as surplus in their own labour markets have opportunities open to them elsewhere. Labour markets that have open wounds and glaring deficiencies do not necessarily have to wait to train new workers or the next wave of youth who may or may not have the skills for the fields where there is need. The rise in unemployment can also be diminished with free movement, especially for seasonal job markets characteristic of the tourism industry. In the UK, European migrants made a net contribution of 20 billion pounds sterling to finance coffers through taxes between 2000 and 2011, a number which represented a contribution greater than they received in state benefits (Travis, 2014). These are all wonderful benefits derived from freedom of movement.

However, the most promising prospect of free movement, especially for the developing Caribbean region, is that free movement of labour could facilitate the “entrepreneurial state” envisioned by Norman Girvan (Mandle, 2011). “A common market increases economic competition, accelerates structural adjustment and, in the medium term, increases the rate of innovation in an economy” (Fuchs & Straubhaar, 2003). This is a belief supported by Guyanese scientist Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). In an environment that facilitates labour mobility, “scientists [and highly educated Caribbean citizens] can help to solve problems and drive scientific and economic development” (Trotz, 2017). This is essentially achieved through what can be classified as entrepreneurial activity. Trotz also alluded to the possibility of science centres/institutes being established throughout the region where students and scientists from across the region can come together to do research and contribute to scientific advancement. Nothing could be more beneficial to the Caribbean region than a policy environment that catalyses entrepreneurial activity and scientific development. This aligns with the main goal of Caribbean integration. Hence, we can certainly conclude that the positive aspects of the free movement of citizens are unquestionably important to the future of the integration movement.

In a perfect world, we could end the discussion at the positives. However, even the most beautiful rose is borne of a thorn bush. Free movement of citizens is no exception. The stagnation of progress or “implementation deficit” spoken of by Girvan is definitely weighing down the regional integration movement. Since the establishment of the CSME, “labour mobility has increased but remains geographically constrained for all but a limited number of certified skilled workers” (Hornbeck, 2008). This limited mobility of people and labour within the region, runs parallel and seemingly congruent to the low level of intra-CARICOM investment.

The negative social effects of freedom of movement are less measurable than the economic effects, but that does not make them insignificant. In fact, in the case of the EU, one may argue that the refugee/migrant crisis aggravated the negative social effects of freedom of movement in the UK and led to the shift in public opinion which resulted in the “Brexit” decision.

“[One of the biggest concerns is that] an increase in the number of outsiders can segment the labour market. Without political countermeasures, problems faced by certain social strata may be exacerbated, which in the worst case may cause social tensions” (Fuchs & Straubhaar, 2003). An influx of outsiders also means more cultural contact. Ideally, the unique cultures would co-exist and adapt to each other. However, “Brexit” gave the world a reality check, with glimpses of defensive reactions to cultural contact such as xenophobia and exaggerated nationalism, something Fuchs and Straubhaar also addressed in their 2003 report.

Another issue would be potential infrastructure problems, particularly for smaller island states. An influx of migrants would inevitably lead to a strain on public services, mainly health, education and housing. If the migrants are net contributors to the economy, they should directly increase GDP and in theory, those tax revenues can be used to improve public services (Pettinger, 2016). However, as is often the case, governments do not budget for population increase due to migration.

Small island states already have limited land dedicated to housing. An influx of migrants can potentially lead to a housing shortage and even a housing crisis. A mishandled crisis could mean deforestation, destruction of animal habitats and a number of other issues that come with increasing available housing.

Brain drain for the entire Caribbean region is a concern, with a large percentage of our university graduates living and working outside of the region (Mandle, 2011). However, free movement presents a new threat to the less developed member states. These states run the risk of losing their best minds to better wages elsewhere in the region. Despite the obvious negative impact, remittances, which can lead to increased entrepreneurial activity in the home country, often provide an economic buffer for the loss off skilled labour.(Pettinger, Free Movement of Labour – advantages, 2016)

Another, and quite possibly the most complex effect of free movement, is crime. It is not uncommon to see an increase in crime along with the increase of migrants. Even if the criminals are not migrants, human nature and social perceptions often lead to the blame being placed on migrants. This increases tension and distrust between groups and can most certainly lead to violence. If we use “Brexit” as a blueprint, a combination of any of these risks could be devastating for Caribbean integration.

After all this talk of the negatives and positives of freedom of movement, where does the migration challenge fit?

At this point, it should be clear that “the migration challenge” is borne of freedom of movement. It is a bittersweet concoction of benefit and risk that can either assure the success of regional integration or spell its death. The UK’s decision to leave the EU establishes that “the migration challenge” and how we manage it is key to the future of Caribbean integration. The benefits outlined above clearly throw open the door to success and economic prosperity. However, we must be wary of the risks associated with the free movement of citizens.

Honourable Members, permit me to inject a well-intended metaphor: hinges, even a proverbial one such as the migration challenge, need to have freedom of movement. This simply means that the hinge must be oiled (monitored and maintained). Fuchs and Straubhaar referred to political countermeasures. However, we must also consider culture. Divisive differences in culture did not provide the best environment for free movement in the EU. Conversely, in CARICOM, the territories share a common historical background (Mandle, 2011), with distinct but far less divisive cultural differences. This, in theory, would be an ideal environment for free movement. Thus, prudent political stewardship and the right legislative environment could help us to establish a migration challenge equilibrium.

In conclusion, contemplating the benefits and risks associated with freedom of movement of persons within the Caribbean Community undoubtedly establishes that the migration challenge is definitely one of the hinges on which the future of Caribbean integration rests. Whatever happens with regard to the free flow of citizens within the community will affect every other aspect and ambition of regional integration. The migration challenge is the pivot that can open or close the door to economic prosperity through integration. We must now learn from the mistakes of other movements, and leverage our strengths and unique cultural connections to indeed make CARICOM a “power of world renowned prowess.”

 

 

Bibliography

Field-Ridley, D., Pollard, D., Forde, J. W., & Blenman, R. (n.d.). Retrieved from csmeonline.org: http://www.csmeonline.org/news/documents/booklets/5-csme-booklet-free-movement-and-competitiveness/file

Fuchs, D., & Straubhaar, T. (2003, May). Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.517.6196&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Girvan, N. (2013, September 27). Reinventing the CSME. Retrieved 2017, from http://www.normangirvan.info: http://www.normangirvan.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/CAJO-ADDRESS-By-Girvan.pdf

Glennie, A., & Pennington, J. (2014, April). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from barrowcadbury.org.uk: https://www.barrowcadbury.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/free-movement-EU-UK_April2014.pdf

Grenade, W. (2011, September). Regionalism and Sub-Regionalism in the Caribbean. Retrieved 2017, from http://aei.pitt.edu: http://aei.pitt.edu/33484/1/GrenadeCaribRegionalismLong2011edi.pdf

Hornbeck, J. (2008, January 7). Retrieved from http://www.sice.oas.org/TPD/CAR_EU/Studies/CRSCARICOM_Challenges_e.pdf

Mandle, J. R. (2011, September/December). The Role of Migration in Caribbean Integration and Development. Retrieved 2017, from www.jstor.org: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41635317

Pettinger, T. (2016, June 25). Free Movement of Labour – advantages. Retrieved from economicshelp.org: http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/1386/economics/free-movement-of-labour/

Pettinger, T. (2016, June 29). Problems of free movement of labour. Retrieved from economicshelp.org: http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/21073/labour-markets/problems-of-free-movement-of-labour/

Sanders, R. (2015, January 25). Does Caribbean integration have practical value. Retrieved from jamaicaobserver.com: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Does-Caribbean-integration-have-practical-value-_18273863

Travis, A. (2014, November 4). UK gains £20bn from European migrants, UCL economists Reveal. Retrieved from theguardian.com: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/05/eu-migrants-uk-gains-20bn-ucl-study

Trotz, U. (2017, March 17). Lictor Live Meets Dr. Ulric Trotz. (O. O. Joseph, Interviewer)

Wickham, P., Wharton, C., Marshall, D., & Darlington-Weekes, H. (2004, January). Retrieved from https://sta.uwi.edu/salises/workshop/papers/pwickham.pdf

 

ABOUT THE ERIC WILLIAMS SCHOOL BAGS ESSAY COMPETITION

Organised by The Eric Williams Memorial Collection (EWMC), the contest is open to all final-year Sixth Formers in 178 schools, 17 Caribbean countries. The Eric Williams Memorial Collection at The University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago comprises the Research Library, Archives and Museum of Eric Williams. It was inaugurated by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 1998, and named to UNECSO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register in 1999.

 

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