Address by PM Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, OECS Chairman, to 54th OECS Authority
A SEARCH FOR NEW RESOLVE AND COMMITMENT
Dr. Kenny D. Anthony
Honourable Prime minister of Saint Lucia
Chairman of the OECS Authority
on the occasion of the
Formal Opening of the 54th Meeting of the OECS Authority
Ladies and Gentlemen
I acknowledge with humility and appreciation the congratulations and words of welcome extended to me today and over the last few weeks since my return to office. Please allow me to reciprocate by welcoming all of you who are visiting our shores, whether for the first time, or returning for yet another St Lucian experience.
Let me also offer congratulations to fellow colleagues on their recent achievements. First, to the Hon. Orlando Smith, on his latest victory at the polls, and his election as Premier of the British Virgin Islands; then to the Hon. Rueben Meade, on the elevation of his office from Chief Minister to Premier, and consequently on his becoming the first Premier of Montserrat. I recall that when I journeyed to Mona, Jamaica in 1974, on the Federal Maple to do my first degree, it was then a young Reuben Meade who met the entourage of West Indian students in Montserrat and was our host for the entire period that the boat remained in port. Those were truly days of adventure when simply being West Indian had value. Finally, I extend congratulations to the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, on the favourable court ruling regarding his participation and subsequent victory in the Dominica elections.
Colleagues, it has been five years since I shared your company as a member of this august body. At that time, our Organisation was in a celebratory mood, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the OECS and our embarkation on the road to Economic Union: the goal to which we have committed ourselves, our respective countries, and our people. The times were certainly different then. While there was no shortage of challenges with which to contend, nowhere in our contemplation was the global financial and economic crisis which we now witness.
Over the last five years, in my period of purgatory, I have had the opportunity to reflect on much – in particular, the character, substance, and quality of governance and the attendant arrangements at national and regional level. I have come to the conclusion that while we have done much to promote the development of our individual countries and indeed our region in various spheres, there is still much more to be done if we are to succeed in placing our people sustainably at the forefront of a modern global community. Accordingly, I have recommitted myself to seeing that work advance, in my country and inevitably, within our OECS region.
POWER AND EXAMPLE
The small size and resource limitations of our countries notwithstanding, I remain supremely confident of our capacity for global leadership through the sheer power of the ideas and examples which we offer. This is because our capacity to “punch way above their weight” has been demonstrated often enough, both internationally and within the wider Caribbean.
Armed with this confidence, and our manifest capacities as OECS leaders, I believe we have the will, the capacity, to further this enterprise of OECS integration with new resolve, dedication and passion. We are uniquely placed to provide encouragement and example to our colleagues in the wider region, in particular CARICOM, by successfully operationalizing the OECS Economic Union.
MARKING OUR MILESTONES
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, on June 18, 2011, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the 1981 signing of the original Treaty of Basseterre. What should for us have been a momentous occasion passed quietly. Indeed, there was very little by way of public fanfare, media coverage or political comment. And this, in the very year that the OECS Economic Union was pronounced operational!
What this suggests is that our preoccupation with day-to-day undertakings, grappling with pressing problems and immediate imperatives of these difficult times, we - politicians, academics, journalists, business-people and ordinary folk - have lost sight of the significant, the strategic, the heroic subject in the bigger picture: our own progress toward self-realisation as a single people.
There are at least two lessons here. The first is that all our accomplishments along the road to regional integration, all of our triumphs and successes will go un-cherished unless they are properly and publicly chronicled and celebrated in a manner that the very people in whose name we work, can see, hear, feel and understand the full significance of our progress.
The second lesson is that we need to overcome the frenetic engagement in daily crisis management – the urgent and frantic quenching of fires both real and imagined - in order to focus on that which is truly important and strategic to our cause. Colleagues, if we continue to neglect matters of significant, long-term importance in favour of the picayune “immediacies” of the ordinary and the mundane, then I suggest that our quest for development will come to naught.
COLLECTIVE VISION AND EMPOWERMENT
The exigencies of our times demand that we cease to be constantly reactive. We must instead take time to address the directional issues, the culture building issues, the deep analysis of problems, the assessment and seizing of new opportunities, and the visioning that would allow us to build lasting structures for the future.
For these reasons, this 54th Meeting of the OECS Authority cannot be business as usual. Much work has already been done. Some of our major benchmarks have been achieved, and within the deadlines that we have set: Treaty signing on June 18, 2010; Operationalisation of Economic Union on January 21, 2011; and Free Movement of people on August 01, 2011.
Notwithstanding these milestones, there is still much more to be done. We cannot therefore afford inertia or complacency. Our history, as much as our common future, dictates that we press ahead, undaunted and focussed, to complete the task that we set ourselves a few short years ago. Only in so doing, will we be truly empowered to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of the people who sent us here.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the strategy of collective empowerment was understood by our forebears more than three decades ago, when as architects of this Organisation, they affixed their signatures to the original Treaty of Basseterre. In so doing, they set the foundation stones of integration and took a veritable “leap of faith”, armed with the understanding of the principle of “strength in unity”; a principle so fundamental to the ethos and evolution of our Caribbean society.
They embarked on an improbable journey that found no parallel among any other group of small developing countries. Today, we are the beneficiaries of that proud legacy bequeathed to us: a legacy made manifest by the evident successes of joint diplomatic representation, functional cooperation and policy harmonisation. That same ethos gave birth to this OECS Secretariat, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Eastern Caribbean Stock Exchange, the Regional Government Securities Market (the RGSM), the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, and the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority.
As the 30th Anniversary of this seminal occasion draws to a close, we would do well to honour those leaders for the foresight and vision they mustered in response to the exigencies of the day. Rather than fall apart, they pulled together to mobilize the abundant human energy of our people and motivate them to achieve their full potential.
Twenty years after the Treaty of Basseterre, a new generation of leaders, surveyed the emergent global landscape and recognized that the time had come for re-examination and review of OECS prospects. They recognized that the need to abandon outmoded notions of development and to explore new development paradigms. The time had indeed come to make another quantum leap towards bolder and more innovative modalities for the management of regional affairs.
Consequently, the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, establishing the OECS Economic Union, was signed here in St Lucia on 18th June, 2010. It is the outcome of that second quantum leap, the provisions of which seek to upgrade the regional arrangement by creating a single Economic Space through which capital, goods and labour resources can flow unimpeded for the betterment of the OECS people.
To be judged worthwhile, this single economic space must also deliver qualitative improvements in the governance and decision-making structures of our Organisation. It must moreover, herald more coherent implementation of decisions, and the development of social institutional infrastructure consistent with effective regional sovereignty.
In furtherance of these aims, new institutions, such as the OECS Commission and the OECS Regional Parliamentary Assembly, will serve to “lock in” mechanisms for greater consultation, collaboration and coordination of regional policies between key stakeholders at the national and regional levels. Also anticipated, must be improvements in public scrutiny of regional initiatives through the meaningful involvement and engagement of the people’s representatives in Parliament.
Another major tenet of this new dispensation is the absolute commitment by OECS Heads of Government to removing all restrictions to the Free Movement of OECS nationals. At the 53rd Meeting of the OECS Authority held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Heads of Government committed to doing so by 1st August 2011, confirming that free movement of persons and of labour is one of the principal features of the new arrangement. In making that commitment, Heads further confirmed that free movement is indispensable to accelerated development of the region and therefore cannot be merely a goal, but a guarantee to all OECS nationals.
THE IMPERATIVE OF PROGRESS
Colleague Heads, Ladies and Gentlemen, any genuine development of the OECS must be premised on the involvement of the OECS citizenry. In respect of economic development, the creation of a free, unified internal market cannot be realized unless the appropriate conditions are put in place that would allow the productive potential and capacity of the people of this region to flourish.
If we are to deliver on the long-term development objectives of the region, realising acceptable rates of economic growth, creating new employment opportunities, and ensuring social equity and improved standards of living, the free movement of persons and labour and the rights contingent to these, must be secured within the Economic Union Area.
We need to end the cynicism that has be-devilled our efforts in the past at deepening our integration efforts. We must persuade our citizens to believe in us, to trust us as we embark on this journey to create an economic union. We must, by our example, collectively and individually, build confidence by implementing what we have agreed.
I therefore wish to encourage those OECS Member States which have not yet done so, to put in place the required legislation and administrative arrangements to give effect to the right of Free Movement in accordance with the provisions of the Revised Treaty, and to do so as a matter of urgent priority.
I also wish to encourage those Member States which have yet to bring the Revised Treaty of Basseterre into domestic law, to do so expeditiously in order that we can all proceed with the business of getting the OECS Economic Union functioning in a way that truly resonates with the people of our region. Without the enactment of the enabling legislation by all Protocol Members States, the operationalisation of the Economic Union simply cannot proceed.
Our cause cannot accommodate lingering doubts about its value and importance to the people of the region. Neither can we, in our leadership of the OECS, waver in conviction or discipline. We have to commit unreservedly to the logic of collective sovereignty and the realisation of economic benefits to which our people are universally entitled.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL RENAISSANCE
Regional integration, like every other idea, begins in the mind, and will flourish as long as there is manifest commitment to its achievement. Notwithstanding the critical role of the political directorate, such commitment cannot reside only at political level. Industry, labour, professional associations, faith-based and community organisations, all have leadership roles to play. This cause, this initiative, pleads for all of us, every citizen who calls the OECS home, to play our part to move integration forward.
As such, a psychological renaissance needs to take place which begins with the sharing of ownership with our people. Integration cannot be the sole preserve of Governments. Similarly, it is imperative that we see our endowment of regional resources as a common endowment, and do everything necessary and possible to ensure that our nationals, who are our collective constituency, have access and expertise sufficient to develop this endowment, equitably and fairly.
In our perpetual search for investment and employment opportunities for example, we can draw inspiration from the Economic Union which has achieved a single financial and economic space larger than the sum of its disparate economies, and which in the worst of times, continues to demonstrate the principles of collective survival.
PERSPECTIVES ON BUSINESS
It is also imperative that our business people shed the habit of defining themselves in purely nationalistic terms, as St. Lucian or Vincentian or Antiguan business people. We must make it plausible and profitable for them to see themselves as OECS business people, with regional opportunities to pursue and regional resources at their command.
To the OECS private sector, I say, your businesses are vehicles for the production of goods and services. As Economic Union creates the scale and conditions necessary for greater efficiency and productivity, it falls to you to translate these conditions into tradable goods and services.
The OECS private sector – alone or in partnership with OECS governments - must develop appropriate business structures which exploit the comparative and competitive advantages of the region and which drive export-led growth. The sustainable growth and development of our small economies, as well as the future of the Economic Union depend on such success.
THE PROSPECT OF IRRELEVANCE
Ladies and Gentlemen, the future of this OECS enterprise is centered on our ability to work in tandem: to build through creativity, intellect and imagination, a self-reliant, self-respecting, tolerant, enterprising and productive community. As said elsewhere, “we live in an increasingly interdependent world in which small states face the real danger of moving from a structural position of dependence to a structural condition of irrelevance”. In order for us to prosper in this rabid global environment, we must therefore, champion the imperative of unity, and from that minimum position, release the considerable resourcefulness for which our Caribbean is renowned.
DISPROPORTIONATE ECONOMIC IMPACT
The world in which we live is changing faster than the proverbial speed of thought. Advancing technologies ensure that all manner of consequence arrives at our shore no matter how far removed we are from the epicentre. Two glaring examples come to mind: The first is the global financial crisis and its “knock-on” effects which continue to have disproportionate impact and severe adverse consequences on the small, open economies of OECS.
The fallout from this financial crisis has led to a decline in foreign direct investment, remittances, tourist receipts and official development assistance all of which are critical to our survival. As a result, the macroeconomic and financial conditions of the ECCU continue to be deleterious to economic resilience and growth.
Accordingly, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank has forecasted that “the near-term macroeconomic and financial outlook for the ECCU area remains highly uncertain” and has revised its 2011 growth outlook downwards to 0.4%. Thus, the impact of the financial crisis has been felt even more acutely than previously anticipated.
This presents additional pressures with respect to debt burdens, liquidity and access to finance, as well as our susceptibility to exogenous shocks, particularly natural disasters. Slow recovery in the economies of major trading partners constrains the ability of OECS countries to generate real economic activity through growth in exports of goods and services. Under these circumstances, the imperative of a larger regional economic space cannot be understated.
AT THE FRONTLINE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The second dilemma surrounds the challenges posed by global warming and climate change. As small island developing states, we find ourselves on the frontline of the climate crisis. Our way of life, our livelihoods and our actual lives could hang in the balance. For us, climate change poses not just a development and security threat, but an existential threat!
Warming oceans, rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events are not phenomena lurking on the fringe of some distant future. For the tiny fishing village in the Grenadines dependent on the ocean for food, income, recreation, transport and culture; for families in low-lying capitals like Castries, St. John’s or Basseterre; for farmers in Dominica or Grenada living in mortal fear of next year’s drought or hurricane season, such threats are real and ever present dangers.
For all these people, the adverse effects of climate change are already being felt. Indeed, for all of us in the OECS, Climate Change is here and now. Consequently, the breakdown of global Climate talks in Durban, South Africa is not only lamentable, but troubling and speaks of an acute failure in global leadership.
These two examples are just snapshots of the seismic shifts taking place in the global landscape. When considering our future from this perspective, the imperative for a unified approach on present threats and challenges remains persuasive and compelling as had been the case on the march to self-government and independence. It also becomes clear that we must formulate a more sophisticated and strategic approach when engaging the international system.
Such engagement must translate into productive dialogue, into partnership and collaboration, particularly with complementary and like-minded entities, both governmental and non-governmental. This would certainly enhance our capacity to effectively address our problems, improve our development prospects, and ensure the continued viability of our region.
For these reasons, foreign policy coordination and joint diplomatic representation assume a critical importance. Geopolitical dynamics bear serious political, social and economic implications for the OECS, and demand strategic responses. Tighter foreign policy coordination must therefore be used to leverage the external environment and raise our regional and international profile in the interest of our peoples’ development.
CONCLUSION: A DISTINCT CARIBBEAN PEOPLE
Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is adrift and desperate for answers to increasingly complex issues. These include political, economic, moral, religious, and environmental issues to which no single state can have all the answers, and which no single entity can resolve. But together, we must believe that we can resolve many of the limitations currently facing our region. Even with our limitations, we can provide leadership, vision and an exemplary approach to the management of our affairs. Such is Caribbean ingenuity.
The deepening and strengthening of our Union is the means through which we can make an indelible mark on the world. The key to unlocking and releasing the full potential of our people lies in the confidence we place in our own values and principles, and in our own ability to distil wisdom from our experience as a people and the legacy of who and what we are: a distinctly Caribbean people.
We have at our disposal, the appropriate means to interface with the international system and draw resources from it on terms which are favourable to us. The OECS can point the way forward, forging alternative pathways to peace, prosperity and progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen, however fraught with myriad challenges, these can be exciting times for our region, ripe with opportunity if we unselfishly mobilize our collective energies.
As the incoming Chairman of the OECS Authority, charged with steering the integration process through these uncharted waters, it is my intention to work with other OECS Heads of Government to ensure that OECS Economic Union achieves its intended destination.
Mindful of the historical significance of the task at hand, I give you the undertaking that I will work to address the expectations and aspirations, not only of the present-day citizenry of our proud region, but also of those indomitable and visionary stalwarts in whose footsteps we now thread.
I thank you.
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