May 31, 2016 - 5:03pm

Speaking at an SLP press conference today, the Representative for Soufriere and Minister for Social Transformation, Hon.



JUNE 10, 2012

[Protocol acknowledgements]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some five months ago, we assembled in Saint Lucia to take stock and to review the state of affairs of the OECS Economic Union, to consider and formulate plans, and to concretize the steps towards its full operationalisation.

It will be recalled that while the Revised Treaty of Basseterre establishing the OECS Economic Union was signed by OECS Member States on June 18, 2010, it in fact became operational a full seven months later on January 21, 2011, after the necessary legal and other requirements were met. This marked the commencement of our region’s transition towards Economic Union. .Since January 2011, therefore, the OECS and its Member States have been working progressively toward full and comprehensive operationalisation of the Economic Union.

The Fifty-fourth Meeting of the OECS Authority was concerned with ensuring that as the Economic Union progressed into becoming an operational entity, it would be interwoven seamlessly into the institutional fabric of our societies, and indeed into the lives of the people of our region.

Our assessments focused on, among other things, the state of implementation of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, and the legislative and other arrangements which needed to be pursued in those Member States which were yet to enact the Revised Treaty into domestic law.

Those Member States were provided every encouragement and the necessary technical assistance to help surmount the significant challenges which were found to exist within their jurisdictions, and in particular, to complete the procedures necessary for enactment of the Revised Treaty Bill, accession to the Revised Treaty and fulfillment of the ratification process.


We also considered the critical matter of making operational the organs of the Economic Union, paying particular attention to the necessity for effective functioning of the OECS Commission, and the need for urgent activation of the Councils and the OECS Assembly. The Commission continues to streamline its operations on the basis of rules of procedure and other guidelines established for its smooth functioning, and has had some seven formal sittings to date. In the meantime, the necessary technical work is being pursued toward the activation of the councils, in particular the Economic Affairs Council, through which the Economic Union protocol is to be managed. In addition, work is continuing apace toward the inauguration of the OECS Assembly, the forum through which elected representatives of the people of the Eastern Caribbean States will seek to represent their interests in matters affecting the Union.


Also receiving attention was the perennial question of financing – of the Commission, as well as the wider enterprise of the Economic Union itself. In these matters, firm assurances of the commitment of Member States were received, even as due regard was paid to the long-running global economic and financial crisis and its debilitating impact on our region.

The Authority had also paid attention to matters relating to the overall economic and social development of the OECS region, but particularly in respect of private sector development, private/public sector engagement, and sustainability in the productive sectors. The continuing global economic and financial crisis had induced greater urgency in the Authority’s deliberations.


One area of particular interest to the Authority was the matter of relations between the OECS and third countries, and in this regard the application by the French Overseas Departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe for associate status in the OECS was viewed as a positive and promising development. The Authority warmly embraced the overtures by these two islands to forge a closer relationship with our member states.


Since our last encounter, much work has been undertaken in furtherance of the Economic Union agenda, but much has transpired in the external sphere to give us cause for continued alarm. The catalysts to boost confidence at the global level are meager, and the world economy continues its slow, Sisyphean struggle out of the recession of the last four years, giving definition to a crisis that is as much about global leadership as it is about economics.

The economic spotlight is now focused more intensely than ever on Europe where a long-festering crisis of opposing economic ideologies has come to a head, with the leadership of the Euro Zone in the typical fashion of opposing camps, promoting and prescribing solutions to the crisis in all-or-nothing terms: austerity versus expansion!

The picture continues to be uninspiring in other quarters – a slower last quarter growth performance in China and India, continued uncertainty in the US in respect of investment and job growth, and continued political instability in the Middle East with the expected global economic consequences.

The story of the last four years is one that does not bear repeating. It has been told and retold ad nauseam, and every articulation of that story generates its accompanying depression. The sad lesson which surfaces consistently from that story is that we have over the years, faithfully and with all confidence, reposed our trust and hopes for our future with those who have been the cause of our predicament in the first place. And so we keep waiting, in vain it turns out, for our economies to be jump-started via a remote switch located somewhere in China, Europe, the USA, Brazil or India.


The other, and more inspiring, chapter of the story is that, notwithstanding our small size, our inherent vulnerabilities, our resource constraints, and all the other characteristics which define our condition as Small Island Developing States, we do have the capacity (forged through the accumulated wisdom of the Caribbean historical experience) to bring about meaningful change in our condition through our own effort. Over the years, OECS Member States have exhibited a refusal to be bound or hamstrung by the constraints of physical size, choosing instead to give greater weight to the power of their ideas. In so doing, the OECS and its Member States have developed a capacity and reputation for “punching way above their weight. Indeed, they have exhibited often enough, the ability and resourcefulness to address seemingly intractable problems through the design of home-grown answers specific to their condition, and the OECS Economic Union is precisely one such answer.

We continue to promote the OECS Economic Union as the preferred approach to dealing with the challenges encountered in our quest for sustainable development. Ours is a unique model with no parallel among small states, and it might indeed be a model that is in many important ways superior to even the more mature integration arrangements involving larger states. For example, while manifestations of failure in EU member states are viewed as national problems (hence the Greek or Spanish crisis),and the solutions often prescribed in similarly national terms (such as the Greek, Irish or Portuguese bailout), manifestations of failure in OECS member states are treated as if they were OECS-wide problems. The handling of the Stanford, CLICO and BAICO debacles is illustrative in this regard, and lends validity to suggestions of a higher level of sophistication and maturity in the OECS arrangement compared to others.


Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it appears that history has played us a card such that in a rather peculiar way, international developments (including the global economic and financial crisis of the last four years) have served to provide validation of the model which the OECS has been pursuing since 1981, and to increase the level of confidence in the OECS in respect of our institutions, our people, and the relevance and applicability of the tasks which we have set ourselves in furtherance of the Economic Union agenda.


There are two lessons which can be learnt from this: the first is that we have to stay the course, confident in the knowledge that ours is an enterprise yet without parallel, without which it would have been impossible to realize the numerous successes that have characterized the OECS experience and enhanced the living conditions of our people in so many profound ways; the second lesson is that we must learn the art of anchoring our achievements within ourselves, and never be tired of telling our story – to the world, but more importantly to our people. Ours is a proud record of success with which the people of our region must identify. Moreover, this enterprise on which we have embarked since 1981 is but a means to achieving social and economic progress for the people of the Eastern Caribbean. Its success can only be sustained if the people, in whose interest it has been fashioned, believe in it to the extent that they are prepared to defend it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, since Saint Lucia assumed the Chair of the OECS at the 53rd Meeting of the Authority in May of last year, two events of profound significance have occurred, with a third to take place in the coming days.


Last year on August 1st (a date symbolic of West Indian freedom), free movement of OECS nationals was instituted within the single space, and given the force of law. That such an event took place without fanfare defies comprehension for two reasons: the first is the deep socio-economic, cultural and political significance of free movement for the people of our region. In addition, the strong, positive passion evoked by the notion of free movement is familiar to us all – there is a yearning in all of us to travel this region of ours without restriction. The second reason is the deep fear that the notion of free movement has evoked among our people over the years. As an aside, the existence of these two directly opposing sentiments defies understanding, except perhaps if one is a psychologist - but it is not unusual for persons to champion the cause of free movement for themselves while at the same time expressing fear of free movement by others!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this development is the fact that over the last ten and a half months since the introduction of free movement there has been no avalanche of persons seeking to displace fellow OECS nationals from their jobs. Interestingly enough, there appears to have been no significant change in the pattern of travel within the OECS. Instead, what the introduction of free movement has done is to guarantee to OECS nationals the right to unrestricted travel within the single OECS space. And this is in itself a matter of fundamental import.

This development is also important for reasons to which I have referred earlier – namely the need to highlight our successes to the world and to our people. Further to this, it carries significance because it points to an important responsibility which we must shoulder as leaders, namely to assuage the fears of our people, especially when the basis of such fears is questionable. Indeed, ours is a responsibility to lead – after all, that is why we are referred to as leaders!

However, the benefits that our OECS citizenry now collectively share must be guarded carefully. Our economies are small and so are our businesses. We have tried to protect certain economic opportunities for our citizens and as such we must be mindful that we define our arrangements carefully, otherwise, we may become overwhelmed and lose our identity individually and collectively.


The second event of significance to which I refer was the meeting in early May of this year, of OECS Leaders of Parliamentary Opposition which I had the pleasure and honour to host in my capacity as Chairman of the OECS. In my view, this meeting represented a unique opportunity for us all, governments, opposition and the people we represent, to bring about a qualitative shift in the governance of our region. As I had indicated at that meeting, there appears to be among our people, a certain sophistication which manifests itself in a constant thirst and striving for improvement in the arrangements through which they are governed, and a desire for the ultimate in transparency and accountability. They have come to expect from their leaders the maturity which would cause the people’s interest to be placed above all else, requiring all of their representatives to work together to promote that interest.

One of the lessons which I have learnt during my sojourn in the nether land of the opposition is that governance must be about inclusion, particularly in the context of small size and human resource scarcity. Personally I am now more than ever convinced of the value of engagement and inclusion, and believe these to represent the surest route to sustainability and long term success.

While the report of that meeting is a matter for consideration at this 55th Meeting of the Authority, I am sufficiently convinced of its value to recommend publicly, that a Meeting of the Authority and OECS Leaders of Parliamentary Opposition be a regular feature of our calendar of meetings.

In that regard, I am moved that the time has come in the region where we must rethink and restructure our political architecture. Notwithstanding our maturing democracies, it is evident that our institutional superstructures of our states require adjustment. We have won the right to our independence and we should proudly and consciously make these reforms on our own volition; not for the compliance of external requirements or the appeasement of others. Mature societies act freely and not only when forced to. We must at all levels begin to address the intra-party synapses: the relations between governments and oppositions, majorities and minorities. If we are to expect better governance, then we must find the courage and the determination to reform our parliamentary processes and our electoral machinery and practices, which certainly would not be complete without considering better modes and controls regarding the financing of political campaigns.

The manifestations suggesting the need for reform are clear. Far too many of our territories must deal with post-election challenges, largely to dispute election results. Of course, the Courts are the right sanctum for settling such matters but their frequency of applications towards the bench is sufficient to suggest that our systems require modernising and adapting.


Lastly, the May meeting of Leaders of Parliamentary Opposition was held in preparation for the third event to which I referred earlier. That third event is the inauguration in Antigua and Barbuda on June 15, 2012, of the OECS Assembly, the organ through which the people of the OECS will have their interests represented in matters relating to the Economic Union by their elected parliamentarians.

This event has tremendous significance as it reinforces the people-centred focus of our Union, and highlights the importance which is attached to developing and enhancing governance arrangements for the single OECS space. The OECS Assembly is expected to symbolize and also to concretize the involvement of the citizenry of the OECS region in the further development and consolidation of the Economic Union. Membership of the Assembly will therefore carry with it a heavy and sacred responsibility, since it is through the participation of the membership that the voice (the views and concerns) of the people of the region will find expression. It is hoped, therefore, that the OECS citizenry will be paying close attention to the deliberations of the Assembly to ensure that their hopes and aspirations for the region are being promoted and championed.

I have every confidence that the OECS Assembly will meet and even surpass the expectations that are placed upon it, and that it will survive as a proud symbol of the noble aspirations that have guided the enterprise which our fore bearers embarked upon some thirty-one years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen, notwithstanding our achievements to date, there is still much more to be done. These matters will be the subject of our deliberations over the next two days, and I am confident that we will all bring our considerable experience, resolve, commitment and the trust that we share for each other, to bear on the many issues that are before us.


Colleague Heads, it has been a great honour and privilege for Saint Lucia to have served as Chair of the OECS over the past year, one which has been most eventful for our Organisation and for me personally. Today, the responsibility passes to St Vincent and the Grenadines in the person of Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves, and this gives me every reason to remain confident in the future of our Organisation. I wish to assure Prime Minister Gonzalves of my full support as he assumes the Chair, and to thank most sincerely my colleague Heads of Government, the OECS Commissioner, the Director General and the staff of the OECS, for the support extended to Saint Lucia and to me personally over the period of our stewardship.

I thank you.

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