Caricom’s first woman secretary general?

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) has begun the important search for a new secretary general (SG) to replace Mr Irwin LaRocque, whose second term ends in August, which could give the regional bloc its first woman SG.

Two women have emerged as the leading candidates, both of whom hold PhDs and have worked in the 48-year-old Caricom Secretariat for many years.

Belizean Senator Dr Carla Barnett, junior minister for labour, local government and rural development, is a former Caricom deputy secretary general, while Ambassador Manorma Soeknandan of Suriname currently occupies that post.

We support the election of a woman to the post of SG, but not simply because they are women. The best candidate must be selected regardless of gender, and we are happy to note that these two prospective candidates meet the requisite academic and professional qualifications and experience.

There is, of course, the possibility that other candidates could emerge by the time the search for a new SG ends. What is important, however, is that the person appointed will face the daunting task of leading a post-pandemic Caricom.

The necessity for a vibrant Caricom has oft been debated. In our view, the potential of the regional bloc as a force for good is itself impatient of debate. And that is not to suggest that there are not real-world issues about which we will often have to agree to disagree.

A new SG must be robust in addressing the enormous implementation deficit of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), as well as the need for coordination in external policy.

One sometimes senses an inability to agree on common foreign policy objectives, such as in relations with the United States, China and Taiwan. We certainly would have preferred to see greater coordination in sourcing the vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus pandemic, instead of the seemingly heavy reliance on the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility.

It is always going to be clear that only a nimble Caricom Secretariat can deliver the benefits of economic integration and combined support for a common Caricom in international affairs.

The new SG will need to lead a refreshed Caricom Secretariat, even if the halcyon days of outstanding men like Messrs William Demas, Alister McIntyre, Sonny Ramphal, and Roderick Rainford cannot be recreated.

To attract the right person, heads of member governments must increase the remuneration package to make it comparable to that of the chief executive office of a major company operating in the Caribbean.

The days of expecting people of talent to serve only out of a commitment to regional integration are also gone. A realistic package would include a decent salary, along with housing, business travel, as well as a car and driver. Adequate provision must be made for the perpetual regional and global travel.

The short time time between now and the departure of Mr LaRocque suggests that the process will be rushed, as we expect that the heads will make the decision on a new SG at a special meeting in May.

A search committee should be quickly established, and we suggest that the eminent statesman and former Prime Minister of Jamaica Mr P J Patterson is an excellent choice as chair. The committee should headhunt suitable candidates and not wait on applications.

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