A team of experts hired by Caribbean community leaders is moving ahead with a mandate from leaders to recommend an overhaul of the way the Guyana-based regional secretariat operates, identify and eliminate challenges and set the stage for a new era for the integration movement, officials said this week.

The mandate flowed from a decision by leaders at the 2012 mid-year summit held in Suriname, where leaders had reviewed the report of a team of consultants as to how the regional headquarters secretariat could better serve the trade bloc given the plethora of political, social trade and other changes since CARICOM was established back in July 1974. The regional secretariat has been operating in Guyana from its inception, but with a growing mandate of responsibilities in recent years, the widely held view is that the time has come for a complete review of the way it operates, including staffing levels and financing, among other issues.

Experts say they are focusing especially on improving the secretariat’s outdated and sometimes problem-plagued information and communications systems, hiring qualified communication experts to promote the work of the trade bloc through a region that stretches from Guyana and Suriname on South America’s Caribbean coast to Belize in Central America.

“There is still some way to go, but change is underway,” said Secretary General Irwin La Rocque at the end of a weekend meeting of community ministers in Guyana. Noting that the time has come to review operations, he said that experts reviewing operations have pointed to difficulties the secretariat encounters in retaining highly qualified staff and challenges in obtaining funding from Western donor nations and agencies.

“Taken altogether, these factors, along with the challenging economic and fiscal situation faced by our member states, affect the ability of the secretariat to maintain and improve on our service to the community and the implementation of the work program,” he said.

Some governments have also complained about the slow implementation of decisions taken by leaders and those at the ministerial level, blaming various forms of inadequacies at the regional headquarters for the problem, but senior staffers say they are overburdened by travel duties, servicing meetings and still having to complete desk tasks and reports before jetting off to yet another meeting again somewhere in a region where air travel is not that well organized. As a result, leaders decided to form an expert group to review the situation and come up with recommendations for improvement by next year.