Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary General designate: The mammoth task ahead of her

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By Elizabeth Morgan

Having followed the selection process, I join in congratulating Dr. Carla Barnett on her unanimous appointment by the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at their meeting on May 11. Unanimous means that all 15 CARICOM Heads affirmed her appointment. It will be recalled that there were two nominees for the post, both women, from Belize and Suriname.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica in his reported congratulatory message said that the Head’s unanimous agreement was an indication of the confidence they have that Dr. Barnett will do exceptionally well as Secretary General. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados in her remarks, as published, described Dr. Barnett as perfect for the job at this time of health and economic crises. In PM Mottley’s view, the region needs a sound economist to lead it on a path to growth. It is the general view that Carla Barnett’s experience, as a regional civil servant in the CARICOM Secretariat and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), at the national level at the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Belize, and in politics, serving as a Senator and Minister of State, has prepared her well for the post of Secretary General.

Dr. Barnett certainly comes to this post with excellent qualifications, experience and competence, but she has a challenging task ahead and she is not a one woman band. It will take team work in the Secretariat and among the governments to proceed and achieve success.

The mammoth task ahead

According to Article 24 of the RTC, the basic functions of the Secretary General, as the Community’s Chief Executive Officer, include the following: representing the Community; developing decisions of the Organs into implementable proposals; identifying and mobilizing external resources to implement decisions; monitoring and reporting on implementation of decisions, and any other functions assigned by the Conference/Organs.

Dr. Barnett, in an interview, with the Belize media about her priorities and plans said that for her, it was important for the region to be well organized to deal with the many crises and she saw the more important ones as the COVID-19 pandemic and the regional economy.

In my view, when Dr. Barnett assumes office at the Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana, on August 15, she has much more to contend with and, in addition to the immediate issues of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, acquiring vaccines, and dealing with natural disasters, they include:

  1. Assurance of the genuine commitment of Heads – It has to be proven that Dr. Barnett genuinely has the confidence of the Heads of Government and will be able to speak truth to power. Heads have to be held to maintaining their commitment to pay their contributions to the regional budget; to demonstrating their commitment to their assignments in the Quasi-Cabinet or agreeing that these portfolios should be reviewed; and confirming their commitment to implementing decisions.
  2. Reviewing decision-making in CARICOM – Decision-making has to be reviewed as set out in RTC Articles 27, 28 and 29. Although the RTC provides for voting, decisions in CARICOM are mainly taken by consensus, as far as I am aware, and only decisions taken in the Heads Conference on the basis of unanimity are binding (Art.28.1). Voting rarely occurs in CARICOM and decisions are also rarely taken on the basis of unanimity which would require a vote.
  3. Addressing the organization, financing, staffing and equipping of the Secretariat – The organization and staffing have to be addressed to ensure that the Secretariat has the human and financial resources and equipment it requires to execute its mandate set out in RTC Art. 25. A reform process has been in place for several years, including the change management programme. The new Secretary General has to determine its effectiveness. Also, there is need to examine the role of bodies such as the Office of Trade negotiations (OTN);
  4. Deepening CARICOM regional integration – this includes advancing implementation of the CSME and considering the efficacy of the recently submitted report on the Commission on the Economy.
  5. Improving the economy (building back better) – linked to 4, this includes engagement with the private sector and addressing the role of the recently established CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO) which has been made a CARICOM associate institution and determining how intra- and extra-regional export of goods and services can be improved to generate growth.
  6. Engagement with other associate institutions, such as UWI and CDB – it does not benefit the region when there seems to be a disconnect between CARICOM and its associate institutions – CARICOM and these institutions need to be seen as on the same mission and these associates should be more actively engaged in advancing the regional objectives.
  7. Streamlining the relationship between CARIFORUM and CARICOM – the ACP Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) Directorate is housed in the CARICOM Secretariat and they have the same Secretary General. With a new post-Cotonou Agreement, more regionally focused, their relationship must be further assessed.
  8. Making Communications more effective – CARICOM clearly needs to improve its communications system to more effectively engage with the people of the region. This includes the engagement with the non-governmental organizations, and regaining the confidence of the regional media which rarely cover CARICOM meetings and events to the extent they once did. As a regional integration project, CARICOM must have meaning to the people of the member States who are the tax payers, beneficiaries and stakeholders.

Having worked in the region and been a politician in Belize, I have no doubt that Dr. Carla Barnett will not be coming to her new post with any illusions about the challenges confronting CARICOM and the mammoth task ahead of her. I hope that, through the media, we in the other member countries will have an opportunity to read, see and hear her articulate her vision for CARICOM as soon as possible.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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