Tag Archives: Current Affairs

CARICOM Heads of Government 27th Inter-sessional taking place this week

Alicia Nicholls

The Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be meeting in Belize this week for their 27th Inter-sessional meeting. The meeting, which will be taking place February 16th-17th, will  see a number of important issues on the agenda.

Chief of which will likely be the Zika outbreak currently affecting several countries across the Caribbean and which the World Health Organisation declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 1 February 2016. Moreover, the outbreak comes during the height of the Region’s tourism season, the main industry for many Caribbean countries. No doubt besides the public health risks, a key concern will be the potential economic fall-out from any negative impact on the Region’s tourism sector as most regional economies continue to experience sluggish economic growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Besides Zika, an issue which was discussed at the 26th Inter-sessional in the Bahamas last year and which remains of grave concern to the Region is international banks’ termination of correspondent banking relationships with indigenous banks in the Region due to de-risking practices. A recent World Bank survey that was published in November last year found that the Caribbean was likely the Region most affected by the loss of correspondent banking relationships. According to CARICOM Today, the Committee of Finance, which is working alongside the Caribbean Association of Banks, will prepare a strategy for the Heads of Government’s consideration during their meeting.

Climate change will also be a prominent agenda item. This will be the first inter-sessional meeting since the historic Paris Agreement was concluded at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris late last year and the Agreement will be open for ratification from April this year. Caribbean countries and other small island developing states were instrumental in getting many of their concerns incorporated into the final text of the Agreement.

Several other issues may also be discussed as well, including the future of ACP-EU relations in light of the impending expiration of the Cotonou Partnership in 2020, relations with the Dominican Republic, security and terrorism concerns in light of reports of CARICOM nationals leaving the Region to join ISIS ranks, reparations, the still unresolved border disputes between Guyana-Venezuela and Belize-Guatemala, as well as the reform process and the way forward for the realisation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

According to a press release by the Barbados Government Information Service, the  Heads of Government are also expected to consider the applications for Associate Membership of CARICOM made by five territories: Curacao, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin. Additionally, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, will be a special guest at the Conference.

The Opening Ceremony of the 27th Inter-sessional Meeting will be live-streamed on the official website of CARICOM, http://www.caricom.org on Monday, February 15th. The Closing Ceremony will also be live-streamed on Wednesday, February 17th.

For further information on the upcoming 27th Inter-sessional Meeting, please see this report from CARICOM Today.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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2015 Year in Review for Caribbean Region: Triumph, Tragedy and Hope

Alicia Nicholls

2015 has been a year of both triumph and tragedy for the countries which make up the Caribbean region. This article reviews some of the major political, diplomatic and socio-economic challenges and gains experienced by the Region in 2015, many of which would have been covered on this blog throughout the year. It also speaks to the prospects for 2016.

Political/Diplomatic issues

General elections led to changes of government in St. Kitts & Nevis, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, while voters in the British Virgin Islands, Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines bestowed the incumbent governments with a fresh mandate.  In October Haiti held its first round of presidential elections, as well as local elections and the second round of legislative elections. The second round of presidential voting which was slated to occur on December 27, was postponed indefinitely in December.

On the international stage, the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada was widely welcomed in the Caribbean Region as possibly heralding a new era in Caribbean-Canadian relations. However, the electoral defeat of President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the Venezuelan legislative elections in December has caused concern in the Caribbean about the future of Petrocaribe, a legacy of the late President Hugo Chavez under which Venezuela provides oil to participant Caribbean States on preferential terms.

In international diplomacy, the Region had two major triumphs. The first was the historic election of Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland as the first female Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.  The second was the conclusion by 196 parties of an international climate change agreement in Paris, which though not perfect, paid consideration to the interests and needs of small states.

The catastrophic human and economic devastation inflicted by Tropical Storm Erika in Dominica in August and Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas in September-October, and the prolonged drought and water shortages being experienced across the Region are sharp reminders that climate change is an existential threat to the Region’s survival. Access to climate change finance will be critical in financing Caribbean countries’ mitigation and adaptation strategies. Despite the triumph of small states at Paris, this is only just the beginning and a major hurdle will be the ratification of the Agreement by all parties, critically the US.

Caribbean low tax jurisdictions’ battle against the tax haven smear made by metropolitan countries continued in 2015 after several Caribbean countries were included in blacklists by the European Union and the District of Columbia. At the 8th meeting of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes held in Barbados in October, there was acknowledgement made that the Global Forum was the “key global body competent to assess jurisdictions as regards their cooperation on matters of transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes”. However, the fight is not over.

On the international front, the border disputes between Guyana and Venezuela and Belize and Guatemala remain unresolved.  The Guyana-Venezuela dispute came to a boiling point after the announcement that Exxon Mobil Corp had discovered large oil and gas deposits in waters of the disputed region pursuant to a contract made with the Government of Guyana. While CARICOM countries have pledged their support of Guyana’s sovereignty, Venezuela’s more aggressive diplomatic engagement of the region in recent months has raised questions about where CARICOM states’ loyalties will truly reside; with a fellow CARICOM state or with a major financier. To further complicate matters, Suriname, a fellow CARICOM State, has restated its claim to a portion of Guyana’s territory. Indeed, the expeditious and peaceful settlement of both disputes will be important for the economic future of Guyana.

While the US embargo of Cuba remains despite an overwhelming United Nations vote (191 to 2) yet again in favour of ending it, the United States and Cuba made significant advancements in 2015 in the quest towards “normalization” of relations. These included the easing of several travel and trade restrictions, the mutual re-opening of embassies in August and the announcement in December of an agreement to resume commercial flights between Cuba and US for the first time in more than half a century. The future resumption of air links between Cuba and the US is a welcomed development and instead of simply fearing the impact this will have on their US arrivals, Caribbean States should see this as an impetus to increase their marketing efforts in the US market and to improve the competitiveness of their tourism product.

Socio-economic issues

Lower oil and commodities prices have had a mixed impact on the region. They have been a blessing for services-based, import-dependent Caribbean countries struggling to overcome the lingering effects of the global economic crisis on their economies by slightly reducing their import bills and narrowing their current account deficits somewhat. For commodities exporting Caribbean states, however, the impact has been negative. Low oil prices have had a deleterious impact on the Trinidad & Tobago economy which is dependent on the export of oil and petrochemicals and was recently confirmed to be in recession after four consecutive quarters of negative growth.

The tourism industry, the lead economic driver for most Caribbean countries, saw a strong rebound in 2015 with several Caribbean countries, including Barbados, registering record long-stay and cruise ship arrivals, buoyed by increased airlift and cruise callings and stronger demand from major source markets and lower fuel prices.

However, the Caribbean continues to confront an uncertain global trade and economic climate. As recently as December, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, was quoted as stating that global growth for 2016 will be “disappointing” and “uneven”. Another arena Caribbean countries must watch is the troubled Canadian economy and the depreciation of the Canadian dollar as Canada is one of the major tourism source markets for Caribbean countries and an important market for Caribbean exports.

According to an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report released in December, Caribbean exports are estimated to decline 23% in 2015, with Trinidad & Tobago accounting for the bulk of the decline. A bright spark is that St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana signed on to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, joining Trinidad & Tobago and Belize. The on-going reforms being made by these countries pursuant to the Trade Facilitation Agreement should help facilitate and increase the flow of trade in these countries. Barbados, Guyana and Haiti underwent their WTO trade policy reviews in 2015.

The Caribbean region continues to be one of the most indebted regions in the world. Aside from high debt to GDP ratios, several Caribbean countries continue to face high fiscal deficits, wide current account deficits and sluggish GDP growth. Regional governments will have to continue measures to lower their debt, broaden their exports and lower their import bills.

In September, the world agreed to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development in the form of the 17 ambitious sustainable development goals and their 169 targets. A critical factor for achieving these goals will be access to financing for development. Caribbean countries already face several challenges in accessing development finance owing to declining inflows of official development assistance, unpredictable foreign direct investment inflows and limited access to concessionary loans due to their high GDI per capita. Caribbean States should continue to vocalize their objection to the use of GNI/GDP per capita as the sole criterion for determining a country’s eligibility for concessionary loans.

The alarming rise in crime across the Region remains an issue which Caribbean countries must tackle with alacrity not just for the safety of their nationals but for the preservation of the Region’s reputation as a safe haven in a world increasingly overshadowed by terrorist threats. 2015 was a year marked by an escalation in terrorism, with deadly attacks in Egypt, Kenya, Paris and Beirut capturing international headlines. Moreover, the news of recruitment of some Caribbean nationals by ISIL (Daesh as ISIL calls itself in Arabic) is an issue which Caribbean States must confront.

The growing threat of terrorism has caused some concern about the security and robustness of the Economic Citizenship Programmes offered by some Caribbean countries. St. Kitts & Nevis revamped its programme and in light of the Paris attacks, the Kittitian Government announced in December that Syrian nationals will be immediately suspended from its programme. However, the fact that St. Lucia has forged ahead with the establishment of its own programme, accepting applications from January 1st 2016, shows that some regional governments strongly believe the gains outweigh any potential risks.

High unemployment and youth unemployment rates continue to be major social issues threatening the sustainability of the Region, with consequential implications for crime and poverty reduction and political engagement.

Prospects for 2016

Without doubt there are several issues and challenges which confronted the Region in 2015 and will continue to do so in 2016. Moreover, since the “pause” taken years ago, CARICOM continues to face the threat of regional stagnation and fragmentation. While Dominica must be applauded for signing on the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, it is only the fourth out of fifteen  CARICOM States to have done so nearly fifteen years after the Court’s establishment.

However, in spite of these challenges the Caribbean Region has several factors still going in its favour, including high levels of human development, well-educated populations, political stability and a large diaspora. These are factors which it should continue to leverage but should not take for granted. No doubt a critical success factor will be the ability of regional governments, individually and together, to formulate effective and innovative solutions to the challenges faced, working towards the achievement of the SDGs, and their ability to mobilize domestic and international resources to finance these solutions. Let us also hope that 2016 will be the year where there will be a greater emphasis on increasing the pace of implementation of the Community Strategic Plan 2015-2019. The unity displayed by CARICOM during the Paris negotiations should be a reminder that the Caribbean is at its strongest when united.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Jamaica tops Anglophone Caribbean on ease of doing business in Doing Business Report 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica can boast of being ranked as the easiest place to do business among countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016. Jamaica has an overall rank of 64 out of 189 economies surveyed in the report, improving seven places from a ranking of 71 last year. Jamaica was not only the highest ranked of the English speaking Caribbean countries but was second only to Puerto Rico (57) out of all Caribbean countries. Jamaica was also the only Caribbean economy ranked among the ‘top 10 improvers’ in terms of performance on the Doing Business indicators in 2014/2015.

Now in its 13th year of publication, the 2016 edition of the Report entitled ‘Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency’ ranked 189 economies globally on the ease of doing business based on 10 indicators which measure and benchmark regulations which pertain to local small to medium-size enterprises throughout their life cycle. The indicators were: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Although presented in the economy profiles, labor market regulation indicators are not included in the aggregate ease of doing business ranking this year.

On two of the indicators Jamaica ranked among the top 10 economies globally, namely ‘ease of starting a business’ (9) and ‘getting credit’ (7, tied with Puerto Rico). Its lowest rankings were in regards to ‘trading across borders’ (146), ‘paying taxes’ (146) and ‘registering a property’ (122).

Several reforms introduced by Jamaica during the 2014/2015 period were deemed to have made business easier including, streamlining internal procedures for starting a business,  implementing a new workflow for processing building permit applications, by encouraging taxpayers to pay their taxes online, introducing an employment tax credit, just to name a few. However, the introduction of a minimum business tax, the raising of the contribution rate for the national insurance scheme paid by employers and increased rates for stamp duty, the property tax, the property transfer tax and the education tax were viewed less favourably.

The average ranking of Caribbean economies on the ease of doing business was 104. After Jamaica (9), the next three top regional performers were St. Lucia (77), Trinidad & Tobago (88) and Dominica (91). Haiti had the lowest rank among CARICOM countries (182), followed by Grenada (135) and St. Kitts & Nevis (124). Of note is Barbados which slipped 3 places from 116 in last year’s ranking to 119 in the 2016 ranking, making it the fourth lowest ranked CARICOM economy by ease of doing business. In regards to the region as a whole, the Report commended the region’s continued “remarkable progress” on reforms to resolve insolvency, including the new insolvency laws adopted by Jamaica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

It should be noted that although no Caribbean country made it into the top 50 economies on the list, the region did well compared to most SIDS globally, with the notable exception of Mauritius which ranked a laudable 32. On average the Caribbean region ranked highest on ‘getting electricity’ (74), ‘starting a business’ (87) and ‘enforcing contracts’ (90), while scoring lowest in ‘registering property’ (144), ‘resolving insolvency’ (114), ‘paying taxes’ (112) and ‘getting credit’ (112). However, individual countries’ performance on each of these indicators showed great variance.

While it has its limitations, the Doing Business Report, a flagship report of the World Bank, remains one of the best comparative measures of countries’ business environments. After all, it touches on many of the indicators which companies consider when seeking to invest in a foreign market. As such these rankings are and should be used by countries across the region as a guide to measure the success of their regulatory reforms, identify strengths and weaknesses of their business environments, and compare their countries’ business environment ranking regionally, globally and over a time period as they compete which each other for global investment inflows. While Jamaica’s over all performance is praiseworthy, what these rankings demonstrate is that there still remains great room for improvement if Caribbean countries are to become globally competitive as choice destinations for doing business.

The full Doing Business 2016: Caribbean States Regional Profile may be accessed here, while the full Doing Business Report 2016 is available here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade.

Grenada leads the way by abolishing criminal libel – We all should follow suit

Alicia Nicholls 

The big legal news rippling across the Caribbean Sea this week is the revelation that the Tillman Thomas government in Grenada has made history by being the first Commonwealth Caribbean territory to abolish criminal defamation and thus bring its libel laws, at least on this front, in conformity with the exigencies of a twenty-first century democracy.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Grenada’s Criminal Code (Amendment) Act of 2012 abolished sections 252 and 253 of the Grenada Criminal Code which imposed criminal sanctions for libel. The repeal was a big victory for the International Press Institute which has been ardently campaigning for the abolition of criminal defamation in all Commonwealth Caribbean States, advocating instead the reliance on civil actions exclusively. Seditious libel however still remains on the books as a criminal offence under s 357 of the Criminal Code. For a full background on the work of the IPI on this front, see here.

Freedom of the press is held to be one of the central tenets of a functioning liberal democracy. The rationale behind press freedom is that a robust and independent press keeps public officials in check by informing the populace of their actions, calling them out on their shortcomings, while also providing information which would allow the public to make informed decisions in their own interest. However, the existence of antiquated defamation laws on the statute books of Commonwealth Caribbean countries has led many to criticize these vestiges of the colonial era as fetters on the efficacy of the fourth estate in scrutinizing our public officials, and thereby serving as a barrier to true democratic governance.

The zeal with which Commonwealth Caribbean territories have tended to cling to our pre-independence laws has been heavily criticized, but in the case of our libel laws, the situation becomes even more perplexing. While it is accepted that a delicate balance must be maintained between the much deserved need to protect a person’s reputation and the equally deserved right of the public to access information, the harshness of Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ libel laws can be contrasted with the iniquitously broad freedom of expression privileges granted to parliamentarians on the floor of parliament under the convention of parliamentary privilege.  Is the freedom of speech of parliamentarians therefore more valuable than that of those whose role is to serve as the watch dogs of our post-independence democracies?

Defamation legislation throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean ranges in vintage from semi-modern to archaic acts dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.  With sluggish statutory change, if any, it has been up to the common law to adapt the laws of defamation to the needs of modern twenty-first century democracies. The defence of qualified privilege is one which has not generally found much success in case law before the landmark House of Lords decision in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Limited [2001] which recognized the duty of the press to communicate to the world at large and also recognised a public interest defence which commentators have called the “Reynolds defence”. In Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead further clarified the Reynolds defence by giving some guidance on the factors to be taken into consideration when deciding whether the defence of qualified privilege applies.

Criminal libel prosecutions remain alive and well in the Caribbean, although their frequency varies according to territory. In the recent Grenadian case of George Worme and Grenada Today v Commissioner of Police of Grenada (2004) which had been referred to the Privy Council, Lord Rodger importantly rejected submissions by counsel that then section 258 was too narrowly drafted to allow for the raising of the Reynolds defence. However, the court also regrettably held that criminal libel  was “a justifiable part of the law of the democratic society in Grenada”. Rulings such as this reinforce the cloud of fear hanging over regional journalists in execution of their ‘watch dog’ function.

Penalties for criminal libel vary across the region. Before its abolition, section 252 of the Grenada Civil Code provided that the penalty of conviction for negligent libel was imprisonment for six months, while two year imprisonment existed in the case of intentional libel. The Barbados Defamation Act (Cap 199) of 1997, one of the more ‘modern’ acts,  is a bit more lenient at Article 34(3) as it gives the Court the discretion to impose a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.Despite the talks and promises of libel reform decades after many of us have achieved independence, our journalists still have the risk of criminal prosecution as an ‘occupational hazard’ of their profession. It is little wonder therefore that self censorship by media houses is endemic in several Commonwealth Caribbean states, including Barbados. It is a practice which, though done to shield these entities from prosecution, is contrary to the public interest.

Moreover, stringent libel laws have tended to make the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information virtually nugatory, particularly where freedom of information acts do not exist. In Barbados, the proposed Freedom of Information Act which was supposed to buttress the constitutional guarantee of right to access to information under section 20 of the Constitution of Barbados by, inter alia, providing greater public access to information held by government bodies, has not yet been passed and neither have the proposed defamation reforms. On the contrary, the UK, from whom our defamation laws were inherited, abolished criminal libel and sedition per section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and is currently in the process of passing a new Defamation Act (currently HL Bill 41) which is aimed at modernizing that country’s defamation laws.

In countries which pride ourselves as democratic states, it is high time that we purge our statute books of these archaic and anti-democratic laws. As seen in Grenada, this is not a move most politicians would make without strong lobbying by local, regional and international civil society.  Despite this, Grenada’s big step towards the complete removal of criminal defamation should be applauded and one can only hope that other post-independence Commonwealth territories, including Barbados, would follow suit in the interest of greater democracy.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at@LicyLaw.

The 2012 London Olympics: Rally around the Caribbean!

Alicia Nicholls

David Rudder’s famous calypso ‘Rally ’round the West Indies’ came to my mind as I watched the end of the track and field events of the 2012 London Olympics on television today with regional pride. This song, which has become the anthem of the West Indies cricket team, is about cricket but the regional pride and call to action which it exudes can apply to any facet of regional life.

Of the two hundred and four countries represented at the games of the XXX Olympiad, twenty-two were from the Caribbean,  representing our unique melting pot of cultures and tongues. Since the region’s first showing at the Olympic Games in London in 1948, the way for our younger athletes today has been paved by several regional track and field legends, the likes of which include: Arthur Wint (Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medalist),  Rodney Wilkes (Trinidad & Tobago’s first Olympic gold medalist), Hasely Crawford, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Ato Bolden,  just to name a few.

I would be the first to admit that unlike previous years, I was not initially feeling the hype of the Summer Olympic Games this time around.  But by the second week of the games, the strong Caribbean presence, particularly in the track and field events, was enough to shake my apathy and keep me glued to my computer to hear the latest updates.

The London Olympic Games were full of heart-warming, tear-inducing moments for all Caribbean people here and in the diaspora. Thanks to Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s lightning fast wins in their respective 100m events, the Caribbean can boast the fastest man and woman on earth. Smashing world record after record, Usain Bolt has been the first to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in not one but two events (men’s individual 100m and 200m) and has undoubtedly sealed his place in history as the greatest sprinter of all time. Anchored by Bolt, the record-setting performance of the Jamaican quartet in the 4 by 100m relay brought a resounding end to the track and field events for the region.

The 2012  London Olympics has been the best Olympic Games for the Caribbean in terms of medal tally and the distribution of medals. The region won 15 medals in Sydney, 15 in Beijing and now 18 medals in London, of which  7 are gold medals.  This is also the best Olympic performance by individual CARICOM countries, with Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and the Bahamas all winning Olympic gold in track and field events. Jamaica has finished third overall in the track and medal table, winning 12 medals, only behind the United States and Russia, but ahead of other big countries like the UK. While the English-speaking Caribbean’s medal success has been in track and field, Cuba represented the region well off-track by winning gold in judo, boxing, shooting and wrestling.

Perhaps the most poignant moments  of the games for me were the successes of our young, first-time Olympians. Hitherto unknown and not yet twenty, Trinidad & Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott became the first person from the western hemisphere in over six decades to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw. Kirani James’ stunning win in the 400m dash gave Grenadians the world over their country’s first Olympic medal and the inspirational moment of hearing their national anthem being played at an Olympic Stadium for the first time.

The Caribbean is traditionally used to world-dominance in cricket, producing some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. Now our region’s world class track and field athletes have shown the rest of the world that the track dust which we stir up is larger than the dots that represent us on maps. The symbolism of the Caribbean’s domination of the track and field events in this year’s games cannot be escaped.  For the English-speaking Caribbean, being able to flex our athletic muscle and assert our dominance against seasoned athletes from metropolitan countries, in the capital city of our former mother country, was an empowering feeling. The performance of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago is particularly symbolic given that this August marks a half century of both countries’ independence from Great Britain.

Nothing can compare to the pride I felt seeing the flags of Caribbean countries being hoisted in the air or the look of achievement and love of country and region on the faces of our athletes as they stood atop the podiums to receive their medals at the medal ceremonies. It is Caribbean athletes’ names that will be on the lips of all who speak of the London Olympics of 2012. Their prowess will be etched in our memories forever.

In addition to this, the Caribbean pride I saw glowing from the status updates and comments of my Facebook friends, the impassioned cries of Caribbean unity and “one Caribbean” was truly encouraging particularly at a time when so many are bemoaning the apparent stagnation of CARICOM and the regional integration movement on a whole. Caribbean people both in the region and in the diaspora have been united in their celebration of regional athletes’ success at the London Olympic Games of 2012. The Caribbean pride that I saw during these games was not manufactured. It was genuine. Never again can anyone say that Caribbean integration is beyond our reach. Just as we have put parochialism and petty stereotypes about each other aside momentarily for the past days and rallied around our Olympic athletes, it is about high time our governments get serious about regional integration and rally together for the good of the region.

The Caribbean could not have asked for a better performance from our ambassadors. All of our Caribbean Olympians, whether they medaled or not, are champions and deserve heartfelt congratulations from the region. You have made our people proud!

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

Small dots but big footprints: Caribbean Countries and International Organisations

Alicia Nicholls

Another daughter of the soil has been called to serve on one of the world’s most eminent and most important intergovernmental organisations. This time it is Barbados’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John who has been appointed Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr. Joy St. John, a medical doctor, joins a growing list of Barbadian and CARICOM nationals who have been called to serve in the highest echelons of some of the world’s most prestigious international bodies. Casting our minds a bit back in time, one would recall another Barbadian woman who made a notable contribution to public health issues at the international level. Barbados’ former Governor-General, Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, served as a nursing advisor to the WHO and the Pan-American Health Organisation for more than a decade. Though a midwife and nurse, Dame Nita had also served as President of the International Council on Adult Education in 1975 and 1986.

Outside of the health arena and more contemporarily, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) cabinet minister and well-esteemed environmental lawyer and negotiator, was appointed as a United Nations Assistant Secretary General. In 2010 she was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as Executive Coordinator of the UNCSD Rio +20 Conference. In the field of trade in intellectual property, Mr. Trevor Clarke is the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)’s Assistant Director General for the Culture and Creative Industries Sector. Further in the area of culture, Alissandra Cummins, the Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, is currently the Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO  (2011-2013) and had also made history as being the first Caribbean and female president of the International Council of Museums between 2004-2010.

We in the Caribbean often regard ourselves as small states. Indeed, by our geographic, demographic and economic size, we are. However, our contribution in international organisations, particularly on issues of greatest concern to us as small states,  should serve to us as a reminder that while we may appear as no more than little dots on a map, our footprint in these organisations often belies our size.  One would recall that it was Trinidad & Tobago under the leadership of then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson which was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Again in the field of law, eminent Jamaican law professor and former principal of the Norman Manley Law School, Dr. Stephen Vasciannie, served on the prestigious UN Law Commission whose mandate is the codification and progressive development of international law.

There are many others that can be listed but I have made my point. The ability of Caribbean people to assume and function effectively in these key positions and the faith that other nations have put in the representation of our nationals stand as testament and vindication of the solid investment that our governments have tended to put in developing our greatest resource, that is, our people.

I wish Dr. St. John all the best in her new position as she continues to fly our Barbadian and CARICOM flags high.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

Is the World Bank finally committed to an open and merit-based selection process? Only time will tell…

Alicia Nicholls

The current president of the Washington DC-based World Bank, Robert Zoellick, a former executive with Goldman Sachs, will be stepping down from the post in June of this year.  Per a tacit agreement between the US and European countries, all eleven presidents of the World Bank since the Bank’s founding in 1944 have been American. Concomitantly, a European has always headed its sister institution the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  This present World Bank selection cycle has seen an unprecedented challenge to US monopoly of the World Bank’s leadership to date. The US’ nominee, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, faces stiff competition from two nominees from the global South, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria and the Brazil-nominated Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo from Colombia.  Coming on the heels of the IMF’s managing director selection process last year when Europe retained its perennial grip on that institution’s leadership position, the question on everyone’s mind is whether this World Bank selection cycle will see a continuation of the status quo or whether either candidate from the global South will stand a decent chance of assuming the reins of this important international financial institution (IFI).

The contemporary geopolitical and economic configuration of the world is much different from that which existed in the immediate post-World War II era in which the Bretton Woods institutions were born. The US, while still the world’s largest economy by GDP, now shares the world stage with several increasingly important poles of growth, notably emerging economies which have been the main engines of economic recovery. Yet the World Bank’s governance structure does not reflect this multipolar reality. Tired of the iniquitous status quo, the BRICS have been pushing for reform of the Bretton Woods institutions to reflect present-day economic realities and to allow developing countries a greater say in the international financial and economic system. While the BRICS have been successful in increasing their voting power in the World Bank, securing the top post has been a different story. Will this time be different?

Brazil has nominated former Colombian Minister of Finance, Jose Antonio Ocampo, a US-trained economist who is currently a Professor at the Ivy-League Columbia University in New York City. In its communiqué of March 26th, the African Union  endorsed the candidacy of renowned Nigerian economist, diplomat and former government minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Perhaps in an attempt to diffuse the calls for change, the Obama administration shied away from the usual choices of bank executives and bureaucrats and instead nominated the Korean-born US national Dr. Jim Yong Kim.  A medical doctor, Dr. Kim is the President of the prestigious Dartmouth College and is well-known for his work in fighting tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS throughout the developing world.

It should be noted that all three candidates being considered are highly educated and tremendously qualified in their respective fields. All three were born in developing countries and educated at Ivy League universities in the US. That being said, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s impeccable qualifications and her vast experience should make her rise to the top of the pack.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is an internationally respected economist with a wealth of expertise in development issues at both the national and global levels.  She has spent more than twenty years at the World Bank until ascending to the post of Managing Director in 2007. She has also served twice as Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs in her home country of Nigeria. It is therefore no surprise that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was named as one of the 100 most powerful women by Forbes Magazine.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the World Bank’s new president would be a powerful symbol for gender rights. It would be the first time a woman, far less a woman from the global South, would be at the helm of this powerful but traditionally male-dominated global financial institution. A wife and mother of four, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been outspoken on gender equality and on the macroeconomic and social benefits of providing finance to women and of encouraging women entrepreneurship. In this regard, it is hoped that she would push for more gender-sensitive bank lending programmes.

Perhaps, even more critically, it would be the first time a person from a developing country and an African nation, will be at the head of this institution. The World Bank is an important lender to developing countries and has the twin goals of reducing poverty and promoting development. Despite some of its good work, the World Bank, like its twin sister the IMF, has not always had the best reputation in the developing world, including right here in the Caribbean. During the 1990s, its structural adjustment programmes under the so-called Washington Consensus foisted austere market reforms and other neo-liberal policies on cash-strapped countries as conditionalities for loans. These policies included deregulation, privatization, cuts in Government expenditure (especially in social welfare) and liberalization of capital markets, which if introduced too quickly and/or without the supporting institutional framework could lead and have led to devastating consequences in the countries concerned and have had a disproportionate impact on the livelihoods of women and the poor. For a case in point, just watch the documentary Life and Debt for a vivid look at Jamaica’s experience with IMF-World Bank sponsored structural adjustment. Under a Okonjo-Iweala presidency, it would be hoped that there will be the genesis of a new era in the Bank’s dealings with the South, marked by less focus on free market ideology and a greater sensitivity towards the impact of policies on vulnerable groups in society such as women and the poor.

However, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy faces two big hurdles. Chief among them is the Bank’s ‘democratic deficit’. It is the Bank’s 25-member Board of Executive directors which will ultimately decide the successful candidate.  As the largest economy among the 187 countries in the World Bank, the US has the majority of votes. By choosing a nominee, the US has shown that it will not go against its own strategic interests by supporting a non-American for such a key post.  Moreover, European countries, which hold the second largest block of votes, are unlikely to support a non-US candidate, especially given the US’ support for their IMF nominee last year. Additionally, Japan has already signalled its intention to support the US nominee.

The only alternative would be for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to garner unanimous developing country support. Therein lies the second problem.  The BRICS have been reticent about throwing their support behind a single nominee from the South and have so far not endorsed any of the three candidates. Last year the BRICS missed their opportunity to block the ascension of yet another European to the post of IMF managing director by their inability to unanimously agree on an alternative candidate, even though there were well-qualified non-European candidates.

This crop of candidates will make unanimous developing country support behind a single candidate even more elusive. The Brazil-nominated Mr. Ocampo will probably enjoy significant support from Latin American countries. But as the US nominee, Dr. Kim is the clear front-runner for the job. Moreover, by choosing an Asian-American, a non-banker and a public health professional,  the US has picked a candidate who will undoubtedly garner support from many developing countries, including some Asian countries which have criticised the US’ monopoly of the World Bank leadership position. Despite being the best candidate, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will have a tough, and some say, futile battle for the World Bank presidency.

As the countries which rely the most on IFIs and arguably stand the most to lose from any turmoil in the international financial system, developing countries need to have a greater say in these global financial institutions. Is the World Bank truly committed to an open and merit-based process irrespective of nationality? Only time will tell.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

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