By Crystal Conway
“Today, I begin my task as the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community with a mix of excitement and awe given the challenges of the moment.”
These were the opening words of the remarks by Dominican Irwin LaRocque yesterday morning, as he took up the post of Secretary-General (SG) of the 15-state Caribbean Community during a simple ceremony held at the CARICOM Secretariat, Pattensen.
Ambassador LaRocque is the sixth in a line of strong statesmen who have worked diligently to bring the dream of integrating the Caribbean Community to fruition. His predecessors were William Demas of Trinidad & Tobago (1973-74); Alister McIntyre of Grenada (1974-1977); Dr Kurleigh King of Barbados (1979 to 1983); Roderick Rainford of Jamaica (1983 to 1992) and the longest serving in the position, Edwin Carrington (1992- 2010).
LaRocque was welcomed to his new position by Chairman of the Caribbean Community, the Honourable Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, via video conference. Douglas called on LaRocque to work towards advancing the priorities of the Community and give momentum to the initiatives of the body.
He told the new SG that there is great need for the organs and cooperating agencies of CARICOM to be re-energized in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of seeing the integration of the region becoming a reality, along with shorter term goals such as advancement and growth in sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the financial services.
LaRocque took to the podium in response and stated that he has assumed the post at a “most testing time” for the region. He explained that even as the region is still recovering from the global financial crisis there are indications that there may be yet another in the making. Aside from which the Caribbean has been beset by a number of issues such as rising fuel and food prices that are at unprecedented high levels, fiscal constraints and a reduced budget for the secretariat.
LaRocque also shared the many concerns that citizens have expressed to him since his appointment was announced. He noted that residents of the Caribbean have approached him on matters as eclectic as the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the movement of people within the region, the need for jobs, concerns about crime and even cricket.
The new Secretary General said that “the Conference of Heads of Government has mandated a review of the CARICOM Secretariat which will be concluded within a few months. They have also mandated a review of other regional institutions.”
He stated that he was eagerly awaiting the findings of both reviews since he is “firmly of the view that the architecture and governance of our integration arrangements must be reformed if we are to be more effective and accountable in the discharge of our duties and functions.”
He noted that the need for change applied not only to the Secretariat but to “all aspects of our integration including Member States and regional institutions.” He pointed to the ‘general view’ that all things CARICOM fall under the purview of the Secretariat; going on to say that should this be the case, although it is not so at present, then all of the necessary reforms will be undertaken.
This was LaRocque’s assurance after which he noted that there “cannot be responsibility without authority”.
The Secretary-General also pointed to the recent retreat of the Heads of Government which was held here in Guyana during May of this year as the birthing ground of the mandate by which he will execute his duties over the next five years. He said that the Heads had laid down the priorities, focus and direction of the Community and recognized the many accomplishments of the body thus far.
Despite that fact, however, the retreat also provided focus on matters that, according to LaRocque, need to be addressed. He said, “… there is need for greater focus on functional cooperation in building a Community for All. There is need for a greater sense of Community and a clear vision at the regional level so that the people of the Region can buy into it.”
According to LaRocque, another outcome of that retreat was the recognition of the fact that it would be impossible to implement the Single Economy by the 2015 deadline and that there was also an “implementation deficit” on many of the decisions already taken on the CSME.
The agreement that came out of the meeting was that, “it would be prudent to consolidate the gains made thus far on the CSME before taking any further action on certain specific elements of the Single Economy” ,yet LaRocque was adamant that this was in no way an indication of the CSME being put “on pause”.
He stated that the Heads of Government recognized that “the CSME provides a platform for sustainable economic development.” He noted that he intends to work towards the advancement of areas such as the development of the Sectors (Agriculture and Services) as well as a regulatory framework for the movement of capital, and the creation of an enabling environment for investment.
The new Secretary-General also stated openly that he felt that the Caribbean Community should have been further along the road to fully implementing the CSME. However his position on the matter was that “We ought not to take a purely technical or theoretical approach to integration, or think that the solution lies simply with “political will”.”
On that count he noted that one of his duties as Secretary-General will be his duty to “to create the dialogue that would seek to find solutions to these and other constraints which are inhibiting the advancement of the integration of our Region in a timely manner.”
LaRocque closed his address with a call for the assistance of the entire Caribbean Community in reaching the set-out goals. He said, “I begin my tenure as Secretary-General, with no illusions about the journey before me. While I pledge to do my best to justify the trust and belief that the Heads of Government have placed in me, I acknowledge that I cannot do all that I want to do; indeed, all that I must do, alone. The entire Community must make this journey with me. I cannot make the strides we have to, without the total involvement of Member States and the people of the Region.”
LaRocque’s appointment to the post comes seven months after Sir Edwin Carrington, the longest serving Secretary General, demitted office in December 2010, retiring after 18 years of service to CARICOM.
LaRocque is the first Dominican to hold the post since its inception and he will do so for a term of five years following which the Conference of Heads of Government will decide if he is to be re-appointed or will have to leave office.
The Secretary-General of CARICOM serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the CARICOM Secretariat.
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