(Originally published in the T&T Guardian on April 28, 2016)
The recent spat between Jamaica and T&T, triggered by the turning away of a group of Jamaican visitors at Piarco International in March, helped bring to the fore, yet again, some grossly misunderstood processes intended to help this region negotiate increasingly difficult economic times.
In this space two weeks ago, I stressed the apparent ignorance of the net benefits to T&T of a single market in the Caribbean by suggesting that it was now our turn at the Caricom ATM in the key areas of trade and tourism. I did not mention agriculture, because we are yet to display a level of interest in food production to make any sense of the need to achieve what is now fashionably termed “food sovereignty”.
In this one area alone – food production - the scientists and development economists have recognised the value of creating additional space to achieve the benefits of scale and specialisation, realise the potential of value added production and operate under market conditions that address the needs of millions and not hundreds of thousands as they now stand in a majority of Caricom countries.
Many manufacturers and professional service providers would tell you that if the Caricom Single Market had not existed, even as aspiration, we would have had to invent something like it, even as we keep an eye on wider opportunities under conditions of open regionalism to maximise national earnings.
Instead, politicians and their devoted partisans here have promoted a picture of migrant Caribbean hordes seeking illicit refuge in a land of glorious opportunity while skewing tribal balance. When such a cue is provided to the people at the immigration desk – already professionally disposed to protectionist instincts – what you get is what we have been witnessing for years now – a virtual defaulting on the spirit of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, if not de jure infractions as demonstrated in the Shanique Myrie case against Barbados.
All the while, loose reference is made to the CSME, which actually prescribes an impressively orderly process to pursue development of a single economic space. The level of ignorance is appalling, especially coming from politicians, attorneys and people our countries rely on so heavily for leadership in such matters. This goes for almost all the regional partners, Jamaica and T&T included.
The free movement of Caricom skills is also one of the most misunderstood, fundamental elements of the CSME process. The revised Treaty, Article 46 in particular, speaks to a phased approach with specified areas initially identified to kick off the process. They initially included university graduates, media workers, sportspersons, artistes and musicians. Domestic workers and artisans were subsequently added.
Each country also has specific legislation to guide this process. Ours, the Caricom Skilled Nationals Act has been in place since 1996! The free movement of Caricom skills is thus not only an obligation under international law through the Treaty, but is now domestic law.
It is also a law that is being incorrectly applied. I do not, for example, see the sense in requiring the existing holder of a “skills certificate” from one country to apply for another in his/her destination country. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Foreign Minister, Dennis Moses, take note please. A few countries have already corrected the error.
What is not in the Caricom law, of course, are deviations from substantive immigration regulations. The loosely-used phrase “free movement of Caricom nationals” does not have any particular basis per se in the law our immigration officers employ as the ultimate authority on their practice and behaviour. In fact, Section 8 of the Immigration Act overrides not only the best intentions of the CSME process but the efforts of “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons” and “homosexuals or persons living on the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals” to enter our country.
Hopefully, the overdue CCJ judgment related to the barring of homosexuals - the Maurice Tomlinson Case against T&T and Belize - will serve to overturn these idiotic prohibitions and, in the process, provide this country with an opportunity to bring our immigration laws in line with the objectives of the Caricom process and the civilised world.
Additionally, as Jamaican colleagues pointed out to me while I was there recently, it is not as much a matter of the “what” – since people understand the strictures of immigration law – but the “how”.
For example, Jamaican businesses have offered to help upgrade immigration holding facilities to ensure unwelcome visitors are not treated like cattle. Why can’t the TTMA and Chamber here make a similar offer?
Cold concrete, limited toilet facilities, water and biscuits are unacceptable – especially when your country has signed on to a treaty that recognises a sense of regional fraternity.
Many of us also do not recognise that apart from the pre-colonial era, the free movement of people actually existed for a brief period under sunshine legislation in place for the Cricket World Cup in 2007. I remember subsequently enquiring at a press conference hosted by former Barbados Attorney General, Mia Mottley, whether the legislation had been as grossly abused as initially feared. Nowhere, it appears, did the roaming migrant hordes appear.
At the opening of last week’s Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development meeting in Guyana, Deputy Secretary-General Manorma Soeknandan called for a rapid response mechanism to resolve “situations” when they arise at national borders. “It is clear,” she said, “that more sensitisation has to be done among our border officials in relation to the rules that are already in place and the procedures that should be followed.”
I would contend the “sensitisation” needs to take place much higher up the ladder. Some people have been hearing but apparently not listening.