Op-Ed: Jamaica, Trinidad and CARICOM

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By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

At the close of the 33rd regular meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in St Lucia this month, the CARICOM Heads of Government issued a communiqué.

One of the highpoints of the communiqué was the proposed development of a Caribbean Investment Program, which, though in its theoretical stage could very well find funding from the international financial community because of its regional character.

I considered the CARICOM Communiqué disappointing, however, because it failed to embrace the CCJ issue and the Jamaica/Trinidad LNG negotiations as important parts of the discussions.

Sadly, the communiqué did not address directly the Caribbean Court of Justice which apparently is going to be the final Appellate Court for the region.

Barbados, Belize and Guyana are now committed to the jurisdiction of the court, both with respect to the interpretation of the Caricom Treaty but also with respect to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the court which relates to civil and criminal matters.

Trinidad and Tobago has said it wishes to accede to the CCJ’s criminal jurisdiction but not to the Courts civil jurisdiction.

To many, the latter’s 50 percent approach is not logical and derogates from the venerability that an institution such as the CCJ should have. Some commentators think that Trinidad’s position is a vote of no-confidence in the court.

The view can certainly be held that it would be both embarrassing and incongruous to headquarter the Caribbean Court in Trinidad and yet have no cases to be determined at the court from its host country.

This particular point could be resolved by the Legal Affairs Committee of Caricom through cooperation from the Heads of Government themselves, rather similar to the way that the Christopher Gayle cricket issue was resolved.

Jamaica has announced its intention to join the Caribbean Court of Justice, and may have to hold a referendum in order to comply with the creation of a new court consistent with the guidelines outlined by the Privy Council’s Lord Diplock in Moses Hinds v The Queen.

In order to create a new court, Jamaica’s Parliament must comply with its own Constitution and create a court which is independent and provides for the security of tenure for the judges.

This is consistent with the Westminster Model discussed by the Privy Council in Hinds. Unfortunately, such compliance might involve submission of the issue to a referendum.

There is intense academic debate as to whether a referendum is required to achieve Jamaica’s full participation in its accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice. There is some pressure from CARICOM for Jamaica to join the CCJ at all costs, but Jamaica should weigh all the issues including its own constitutional requirements.

The safest avenue might be to hold the referendum in order to avoid future collateral attacks of the constitutionality on the Caribbean Courts of Justice, which could lead to regional embarrassment or confrontation in CARICOM.

Although Jamaica’s, opposition Jamaica Labor Party has criticized CARICOM on the question of the body’s practical impact on Jamaica, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller says she is very keen on CARICOM’S future.

Simpson, Miller like Norman Manley, the founder of the ruling People’s National Party, is a regionalist who believes in the power of cooperation between the common-law jurisdictions of the Caribbean islands.

Jamaica though, is going through bad economic times, and the country may well look to CARICOM regularly for economic strategies to overcome its current economic obstacles.

Jamaica’s publicly-discussed LNG policy is the subject of bilateral discussions between Minister Phillip Paulwell of Jamaica and Minister Kevin Ramnarine of Trinidad.

The big LNG issue for Jamaican energy is the question of supply. Without a regular source of supply of LNG, the country’s LNG policy is dead in the water.

Trinidad’s LNG carries with it two enormous benefits: one being the duty-free status of LNG and the second being the short period of time required to ship the LNG to Jamaica from Trinidad, which is approximately two to three days. These issues would not have been discussed extensively at the Heads of Government meeting.

The Trinidadian acquisition of Air Jamaica last year, previously brokered through CARICOM, has lead to the discharge of most of the Jamaican employees and almost all of the Jamaican pilots. Although the acquisition has preserved Air Jamaica’s customer base, it has been viewed by some in Jamaica as a national capitulation or failure.

Hopefully the Trinidad/Jamaica LNG talks will end with a better tone.

Perhaps the communiqué issued to close the next CARICOM Heads of Government meeting could be completed two weeks after the conference so that all of the conference issues that were discussed could be included in the final document. This would make it easier for lawyers, academics, trade and media professionals alike.

CARICOM and the continuing cooperation between CARICOM member states is vital for the continued progress of Caribbean peoples.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

 

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