Saturday, February 28, 2015

CARICOM: We've got company!

Well, in case you didn't already know, the leaders of the CARICOM nation states held their 26th Inter-Sessional meeting here in Nassau, Bahamas for two days starting on Thursday, February 26th.

The Bahamas chairs the CARICOM grouping, with prime minister The Right Honourable Perry G. Christie as the chair. The outgoing chair, and current prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, was on hand to hand over the reins (no pun intended) to the current.

Of course, these meetings are incredibly boring. As boring as watching paint dry, or watching a rock race. In fact, if you were to speak to any of the participants in this year's events, or participants from events prior, they would most likely tell you that aside from it being a chance to "get out of the house", so to speak, they would pass on these meetings just out of the sheer boredom of it all. But, these meetings are very necessary and vital to bridging the gaps of understanding between CARICOM nation states.

Fact of the matter is that through these meetings, Caribbean leaders have very little other opportunity to meet and greet one another through their busy schedule. While the events are boring, they must lead to impactful and fruitful dialogue about the problems that ails individual states and the region at large.

Also, the main discussions at these meetings are not the formal meetings for show-and-tell, but the back-room discussions and sub-committee’s between the leaders and their aides.

One of the first statements out of these meetings came from former CARICOM Chair Browne as he expressed solidarity with Venezuela amidst reports that a coup is looming. We hope too that the stability of Venezuela remains an important item on the Western Hemisphere's agenda, and not just with CARICOM.

Of course, the issue in Venezuela is more complex than the rumblings of a coup just for having a coup's sake. For starters, the president, Nicolás Maduro, former vice president under former president Hugo Chavez (deceased) was a former trade unionist of the ultra-left-wing kind. It's no secret that he is also a little "aggressive" with regard to internal politics, and is more of a Bolivarian idealist than his predecessor.

Furthermore, Venezuela is having challenges economically. Quite clearly with regard to low oil prices that has affected not just budgetary allocations currently, but also will affect the next fiscal year's budget and more than likely social spending programs will be either slashed in half, all out cut or just knowingly and wilfully underfunded.

As said on a previous article on oil prices falling, Venezuela is well below it's break-even point, and talks of social disruption, rumours of coups, or calls internally for the Venezuelan government to step down or at least shuffle their leadership, should be expected. Not just in Venezuela, but every single oil producing country that is feeling the sharp decreases on oil prices. May they all go with God!

A second item, as we gleaned from the end summary by the current CARICOM Chair Christie, was this issue of Marijuana decriminalization. Yes, the dutchie. Tu-Sheng Peng. Ganja. Weed. Herb. The "healings".

Without question the moves in the United States of America on the decriminalization and subsequent legalization of marijuana has prompted anyone with a brain cell left in their head from all of that inhaling to think about the issues as it relates to ending the prohibition on cannabis internally.

We hope that the move towards ending the prohibition in the Caribbean is met with all seriousness, and the criminal records of the young, and not so young, are not only expunged but these people are culturally integrated and if need be, compensated, for this clearly damaging policy inflicted upon them. A policy that has consumed most of their productive lives. Consumed all for a few ounces of weed. Not for international trafficking, not for mass local distribution, but just because a 17 or 18 year old decided that he was going to experiment like most 17 and 18 year olds do!

While I am not a fan or a staunch user of drugs of any kind, the studies and evidence on marijuana is more than telling. Especially when compared to legal, over the counter drugs and other mind and body altering substances that are legal like alcohol. We can only hope that a common sense approach is met and one of the Caribbean states would take the mantle to test out a sensible policy that strikes a keen and even social balance with regard to the decriminalization of marijuana that all other Caribbean states can follow.

The third and most important plank of this year's CARICOM meeting was with regard to regional banking. Yes! The big elephant in the room.

According to larger international bodies the region launders too much money, stashes too much money for the rich, steals from international investors and funnels terrorist money and monies for other illicit acts world-wide. Yes! It's only the Caribbean that does this through their banks. Not Switzerland, not in New York, not in Andorra, not Guernsey, not in Liechtenstein, not Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Algeria. Just Caribbean regional and offshore banks!

The hypocrisy is laughable. Laughable even more so in light of a bank leak from the HSBC in Switzerland that claims to have tens of billions of dollars in accounts. Just one bank in Switzerland.

Apparently, there are 55 passport holders from the Bahamas alone that have a reported $7 billion stashed away in HSBC. The Bahamas was the sixth largest amount of passport holders. But passport holders are what they really are, and not necessarily 55 Bahamians with a net-worth of over $7 billion dollars that have their personal money stashed with HSBC in Switzerland.

You see? In The Bahamas we have this financial instrument called "International Business Companies", or IBC's.

To cut a long story short, I can incorporate an IBC and stand as the "director" of the IBC or fund. I have a Bahamian passport and can act on behalf of the shareholders, or the people with the money, to shuffle their money around in any way, shape or form that I am directed to do so. So, when found, the transaction is done in my name, as a Bahamian citizen, but the money is certainly not mine. Even though I wish it were.

Of course, detailing exactly who are these passport holders would solve all of this instead of assuming any, none or all of them are Bahamian citizens with their own personal wealth.

Some of the people arguing for greater transparency and reforms in offshore jurisdictions may have money stashed away in an offshore jurisdiction, or a private fund that no one knows a thing about or has had personal business transacted through a private banking account. Just like the Bill Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from donors as gathered from the information on the same HSBC leaked list most recently.

There is a case to be made on greater cohesion on banking and an understanding on how some need to do business from all sides. Let's just be fair about it.  

What should be addressed with regard to greater protection for the financial services sector in The Caribbean are the overall benefits for the risks taken by and for those in the sector. To say quite frankly: It is immoral, unconscionable, disgraceful and just flat out cowardly that we transact, or facilitate, on a yearly basis, billions upon billions of dollars but the net benefit for those in the sector and their relevant economies is minimal, relatively speaking.

It has to be more than just doing it for pride, or saying that we have to protect it because it makes us feel good inside to say we have to protect it. It can't be that we are going through such lengths for this financial services sector because of emotional strings and nothing beneficial for the rest of us, or the majority of us. Has to be more than just that!

So, as we wrap up this most recent CARICOM meeting. We wrap up! See you next year, God's willing!
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