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Sir Alister McIntyre: The CARICOM years

The following excerpt is taken from Sir Alister McIntyre's memoir, The Caribbean and the Wider World: Commentaries on My Life and Career, published in 2016.

 

In early 1974, I was carrying out a short-term assignment with the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington when I received a telephone call from the Jamaican Mission to tell me that the then Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Vin McFarlane, was in Washington and wished to see me urgently. Later that evening I met him at the Embassy. He told me that his Prime Minister had asked him to brief me on some informal consultations he was having with his colleagues in the other islands about filling three important regional posts that were then becoming available. The first was the imminent departure of Sir Arthur Lewis as President of the Caribbean Development Bank; the second was the consequent replacement of William Demas as Secretary-General of CARICOM, should he be appointed to the Caribbean Development Bank; the third was the vacant post of Vice-Chancellor at Mona, following the resignation of Sir Roy Marshall. The heads of government wanted to hear from me which of those vacant posts I would be interested in filling.

I told McFarlane that I knew that Demas was reluctant to leave CARICOM, but would do so if I was agreeable to offering my candidature as his replacement. I told him also that, in my view, Aston Preston was the best candidate for the vice-chancellorship and I would not wish to be a contestant for that post. Accordingly, he suggested to me that I should accept the post at CARICOM if it was offered to me. Following the discussion with McFarlane, I received, in short order, an offer of the post of Secretary-General.

Accordingly, my family, which then consisted of my wife Marjorie, my son Andrew, and my baby daughter Helga, and I arrived in Georgetown in September 1974. My son Nicholas was born later while we were in Guyana.

In succeeding Willie Demas as Secretary-General, I felt confident that I could build on the solid foundations that he had already laid. In so doing, I decided that my initial focus should be on strengthening the structure of the secretariat as it moved to support new areas of work, while responding to immediate requirements for advancing the technical work in two areas: one was the proposed Caribbean Food Plan, which was seen essentially as a response to the economic and financial crisis then taking place in the region, and the other was the proposed negotiations for entry into an association agreement with the then European Common Market. Accordingly, much of my initial energy was devoted to these tasks, and I proceeded immediately to take up the substantive work that Demas had left behind.

The Caribbean Food Plan

Apart from organizational matters, I took a direct interest in the substantive work programme, principally the technical work on the Caribbean Food Plan and the Brussels negotiations. As far as the Food Plan was concerned, the initiative was taken by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who proposed that, as a response to the oil crisis at the time, existing food deficiencies, and development needs for higher income and employment in all of the member states, a regional development plan should be set in motion. He consulted with Prime Ministers Burnham, Barrow, Manley and others. Prime Minister Manley agreed and drew attention to Jamaica’s urgent need for the construction of an aluminium plant, which was not feasible in Jamaica because of the unavailability of the energy needed to achieve sufficiently low power costs. He suggested that Trinidad could erect a plant to convert the alumina to primary aluminium and return it to Jamaica for use in fabrication industries.

In agriculture, the two principal needs identified were for corn and soya as inputs into the production of animal feed. These two products, in turn, constituted the basis for an expanded livestock industry to meet growing demands for meat and meat products. In relation to fisheries, it was considered that catches in the Leeward and Windward Islands could satisfy a substantial part of the regional demand for those products.

As Secretary-General of CARICOM, Willie Demas was called in by Dr Williams to assume responsibility for developing the Food Plan, since this was essentially a regional matter. Willie conceptualized it into a Caribbean Food Plan, to be jointly formulated and implemented by the member states of CARICOM, which would be aimed at substantially reducing major food deficits in the region. This entailed the preparation of pre-feasibility studies and the drafting of statutes for a Caribbean Food Corporation, which would be the implementing agency for the Food Plan.

Because of the urgency of the situation, the Food Plan proceeded by attempting to implement major projets before the entire programme had been worked out, costed and the financing of it arranged. Accordingly, the secretariat was urged into action to work out high priority projects for meat and fish production. My predecessor had assembled a very knowledgeable group of technocrats to prepare porjects for beef production in Guyana and black belly sheep in Barbados, both of which would supplement local production in supplying the region’s need for meat; and for corn and soya production in Guyana and Jamaica as inputs into animal feed. Projects were also being designed for increasing the supplies of fish in the Leeward and Windward Islands. The secretariat had organized small technical groups with representatives from member states to follow up these projects. At the same time, other possibilities were being discussed for projects in the remaining member states.

Despite the valuable work that was going on, I was very anxious to place the existing programme, together with additional project ideas, under the discipline of a formal programme containing a draft financial section in which the financing could be fully discussed. Once the draft was ready, I would propose convening a Heads of Government conference to secure formal endorsement of it. I had already discussed the matter with Willie who, as President of the Caribbean Development Bank, would have assumed the lead role for financing. Both Willie and I had already had preliminary conversations with sources of development assistance, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and major bilateral sources. We had positive responses, although no commitments could have been made at that stage.

All of these preliminary actions were disrupted by the major disagreement that occurred between the prime ministers of Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana over the decision made by the last two to seek associate status with COMECON – the grouping led by the Soviet Union and including virtually all of the socialist Eastern Europe. As it turned out, this became a major disruption of the CARICOM work programme and slowed down significantly progress towards putting a number of major integration initiatives in place. Advances of project finance were terminated by Trinidad & Tobago and this brought to a halt, among other things, the corn soya project in Guyana and the budget for the Caribbean Food Corporation, which was intended to be the administrative agency for implementing the Food Plan; this brought the entire initiative to an unfortunate suspension.

 

Sir Alister McIntyre, who died on Saturday at age 87, served as Secretary-General of CARICOM from 1974 to 1977. He later served a decade as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, 1988-1998.

He served as a Director at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and later in the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

After his retirement from the UWI in 1998, he was appointed Chief Technical Advisor at the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery.

He was also a key member of the Sir Sridath Ramphal chaired West Indian Commission, 1992, which made far-reaching recommendations for strengthening the regional integration process, in its report titled Time for Action.

 

 

 

 

 


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