Address By His Excellency at the Launch of the UWI Global Giving Week

Address By His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC
President Of The Republic Of Trinidad And Tobago
At The Launch Of The UWI Global Giving Week In Trinidad and Tobago
April 29, 2016

My Caribbean brothers and sisters and fellow UWI Alumni, a heartfelt welcome to Trinidad and Tobago. I am proud of my esteemed and distinguished Alumni for this highly commendable global giving initiative.  As a UWI Mona and Cave Hill Alumnus, the honour is mine to offer patronage for a project that will enhance the game changing and evolving role of UWI in Caribbean Education.

We face today a CARICOM region burdened with the effects of climate change, human and drug trafficking, crime and an encroaching underdevelopment.  These endless sessions of regional talking have not been productive, amounting at times to “Diplomacy without Action”, and we need to arrest the decline and rot that is taking place in the Caribbean Region.

We need greater collaboration and cooperation in our search for real Caribbean integration.  Fighting among ourselves for economic scraps is not going to benefit anyone but someone else.  We shoot ourselves in the foot and when we are not doing that, we are firing shots across the bow of Caribbean unity.

Look at West Indies cricket.  West Indies cricket is dear to our hearts, an active and working symbol of Caribbean integration.  Former West Indian cricket captain Clive Llyod opined, “Cricket is the ethos around which West Indian society revolves.  All our experiments in Caribbean integration either failed or maintained a dubious survivability; but cricket remains the instrument of Caribbean Cohesion- the remover of arid insularity and nationalistic prejudice.”  We therefore owe the sport of cricket a debt of gratitude for the mighty task it has accomplished in bringing Caribbean people together.  And it must be disconcerting to us all when we view the imbroglio taking place between the WICB and our 20/20 World Champions, and is cause for pause.

The only other entity that has been a success in forging the tenets of Caribbean integration has been the University of the West Indies.  And that too is suffering from the vagaries of the internalization of education structures and the creeping insulation of the education system in the Caribbean.  It appears, unlike what went before, that every island in the Caribbean wants its own University, its own Engineering Faculty, Its own Legal Faculty and its own Medical Faculty, and as much as it possibly results in easier access to education, it is rupturing the CARICOM spirit and the sense of “Caribbeaness” that our generation benefitted from.  There is a type of dysfunctional strife in the region that militates against the spirit of the Caribbean integration movement, and we Alumni need to fix it.

I will be honest with you, I do have a deep concern about what is going on in the Caribbean with two of our leading countries: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, not to mention other pockets of strife not as publicly ventilated among other countries in the Region.  Nobody wins a trade/migration war and everyone, regardless of the islands you come from or go to, in entitled to fundamental respect, treatment and equal human rights.  Do I need to remind all of us here today that we have all signed off on conventions, memoranda of understanding and the CSME that we cannot and must not selectively follow?  The bottom line, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana and OACS countries, is simply this, an African proverb that encapsulates the futility of fighting among ourselves:

“When two brothers fight, a stranger reaps the harvest”.

In April 2011, the UWI Institute of International Relations published a Report on Caribbean Regional Integration, based on opinions expressed by a wide range of regional stakeholders.  By analysing the constraints facing the integration movement and recommending how these might be addressed, the team sought, in the words of the Report, “to re-energise the development process” and “to halt the perceived stagnation of regional processes and shift them into a growth and development trajectory”.

The Report  suggests that the stakeholder community, which includes The Political Leadership; Regional Institutions;  Civil Society; the Private Sector; and Development Partners , is constrained by “a lack of vision, weak implementation of decisions, mistrust, poor leadership and institutional decline”.  Some five years later, the region continues to be plagued by these very same challenges, so that the recommendations outlined in the Report remain as relevant today as they did in 2011.

The free movement of persons across the region is seen as an essential factor in an ever closer union among the people of CARICOM member states.  But the Treaty of Chaguaramas identifies the categories of persons to whom the “free movement” condition would apply.  The fact that the immigration question continues to be a matter of ongoing tension and regional mistrust is, in part, a leadership issue.

As the UWI Report reminds us, Regional leadership, especially the leadership of Heads of Government, is critical to the regeneration/advancement of the integration process. No one is denying that the integration process is complex.  But there has never been a lack of ideas and proposals as to how this complexity may be effectively addressed.  The Report suggests that what is lacking is “the unequivocal political commitment to regionalism among CARICOM political leaders, and lack of leadership on, OR champions of, the regional project”.  This has led, in part, to the so-called “implementation deficit”, the unwarranted delays that frustrate the best efforts of those who actively promote the development of a Caribbean Community.

Ladies and Gentlemen, ever since the English-speaking Caribbean took its first step towards a single federated state in 1958, Caribbean thinkers, along with development experts within and outside the region, have been emphasising the benefits that would accrue to our countries if we adopted a shared/united approach to the challenges that we face intra-regionally, and in our interactions with the extended world community.  Today, Caribbean societies are confronting even greater difficulties in treating with such issues as crime and security, health issues, and, of increasing importance, the danger posed by climate change.  The need to pool resources has therefore never been more urgent.  As the UWI Report asserts:

“The longer, meaningful reform waits, the greater the political, social and financial costs of inaction, and the more diminished becomes the real value of “sovereignty” to individual Caribbean countries faced with existential threats”.

I do recall the growth personally of my “Caribbeaness”, having done a First Degree in Mona, Jamaica, a Second Degree in Cave Hill, Barbados and having taught Politics and English at St Augustine.  For many, many years when asked about my citizenship by a foreigner, I would proudly tell them that I’m a “TrinJamBaj”.  I don’t say it any more but I feel it, it remains in my heart and at the end of the day that is what really matters.  Because for me it represents a guiding light in the strength, power and importance of Caribbean integration

Every time I stand in these fora, I am amazed at the width and breadth of persons represented.  Doctors, Lawyers, Judges, Engineers, Military professionals, Pilots, Journalists, Sports personalities, a timeless list of influential persons.  And I stress influential.  Because as Alumni that is what we are: Influential.  We have the ability to influence and affect every single sphere of society.  So if that is the case, why don’t we do just that?  The Vice Chancellor’s initiative is the most powerful admonition that can be given to any morally upright citizen or Alumni: Give Back.

As UWI alumni in Government, in Business, in Law and in Politics, as those who sit next to the platforms of political power, you have to fix this.  This issue of migration. Migration is a way of life from time immemorial and nations survived as a result.  And they survived.  With many evolving to be bigger and better nations because of migration.  We must not declare war on each other, rather our declaration must be one of peace, hope, growth, unity and brotherly love.  As Alumni we have to make a stand in the sight of wrong especially when wrong is becoming right.  As professional UWI Alumni, you must not be sycophantic, but independent and true in dispensing your responsibilities.  And if your leader is wrong, whether Prime Minister, President or Governor General, Chairman, Managing Director, you respectfully, and I repeat respectfully, tell them they are wrong, and then tell them what is right.

If we are serious about genuine social and political transformation that will foster change in the region, a vehicle for such transformation is genuine Service leadership. And it is through that service leadership that we as Alumni must truly lead rather than be led.