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Address By The Honourable Prime Minister Of St. Lucia Dr. Kenny D. Anthony To The 40th Meeting Of The Oecs Authority November 10, 2004

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NOVEMBER 10, 2004


Excellency the Governor of the British Virgin Islands, Honourable Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and Members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Members of the Diplomatic Corp, Distinguished Delegates, Staff of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Members of the Media, it is indeed a pleasure to welcome you to the Fortieth Meeting of the OECS Authority, in the beautiful British Virgin Islands.

Before proceeding further, allow me, on behalf of my colleague Heads to extend our deepest appreciation to the Chief Minister, Dr. the Hon Orlando Smith and his administration and the people of the BVI, for the warmth with which they have received us, and the exceptional arrangements which have been put in place both to facilitate our meeting, and to cater to our comfort. Our sincerest thank you.

Permit me the opportunity to extend a personal welcome to Mr. Paul Thibault, the President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and his delegation, and to thank him for accepting the invitation which I had extended to him some time ago, to visit the OECS. We expect to sign documents pertaining to a CIDA/OECS Contribution Framework Assistance Programme tomorrow, during the morning session of the Authority’s Meeting. The Contribution Agreement speaks to a project valued at Cdn$3.75m – geared principally at the strengthening of the capacity of the OECS Secretariat to provide strategic policy support to our Member States.

The challenges of these times require a strong secretariat, and we welcome the covenant of this important institution. We also look forward with interest, to the exchange of views scheduled to take place between Mr. Thibault, my colleague Heads and I, tomorrow during the session which I referred to earlier.

Introduction: In Chaos and Crisis

Colleagues, to say that the OECS is at the crossroads is probably an understatement. To say that we are doing little about it is probably not. Recent developments in our region offer sad testament of our chronic vulnerability and the inadequacy of our response capacity.

This meeting takes place against a background of the recent devastation in Grenada. Our sympathies lie with our sister island, her government and her people. Of this there can be no doubt. Our sympathies however genuine, are not enough. What Grenada needs now is our tangible support in meaningful and material ways. I have been assured by my colleague Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers that this has been forthcoming but it must be sustained. It will be a long hard recovery process; one that must be made more tolerable by our unflagging solidarity.

None of us would wish to be in the shoes of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, in the circumstances which he faces. Keith Mitchell has to face on a daily basis the consequences of Ivan’s wrath, the destruction of what he created and produced over several years. But he is a tenacious man, a courageous man, a man of faith and hope, a man who has been tried and tested. I can only say to him that we all share his anguish, his unfathomable pain but believe that the resilience of the Grenadian people will triumph. Grenada will rise again!!!

Leadership and Responsibility

I say this in order to highlight our considerable concern and collective effort as an organisation, and indeed as a region in this time of hardship. We readily acknowledge the leadership of the OECS in the multi-agency assessment mission to Grenada within days of the tragic events of September 7, 2004.

But while acknowledging our speedy response, we should not be so self-congratulatory as to miss this opportunity to assess ourselves by measuring the true capacity of our systems to deal effectively with pervasive and persistent challenges to our sustainability.

There, But for the Grace of God

Considering the force and sheer size of Hurricane Ivan, Grenada’s plight might easily have been shared by any of its neighbours. This begs the question: what if two or even three of the OECS economies had been simultaneously ravaged. What then?

What would we muster by way of recovery? What would be left of this fledgling economic union of supposedly sovereign states? What would be our economic options, and how then would we persevere with the ideals of integration? These issues of challenge and commitment will be the central theme of this address.

Déja Vu

Regrettably, the last seven years, have been replete with rhetoric, both public and private, hailing the value of our organisation and its role in achieving our integration objectives. We can readily refer to the recent review committees which reaffirmed the ideals of integration and the value of the OECS organisation in the furtherance of our economic development. Yet, the commensurate commitment in terms of resources has not followed. The result is a much-applauded but hopelessly under-financed organisation.

We may also recall that some 4 years ago, firm commitments were given by member governments to stay current; at that time contribution arrears had peaked at EC$10 million and massive write-offs were effected. Even as we spoke of unflagging commitment, our inaction returned our organisation to the same sorry state. We face today, an equally high arrears position as four years ago. Taking both the write-offs and the arrears into consideration, this would represent some EC$20 million in unrealised revenue to our organisation. How then can we speak credibly of commitment? What message are we sending to our donors and sympathetic multilateral agencies?

Colleagues, the time has come to resolve this issue once and for all. Let us tell our regional constituency that we must introduce, collectively, a revenue measure to meet our obligations to our regional organisations. Let us, as always, be the example for the rest of the region.

Unrealised Dividends

Perhaps we should more fully consider the anticipated dividends to be realized from integration and cooperation. If it is our expressed view that we must sustain and deepen the integration process we should also contemplate the benefits we risk foregoing by our failure to do so.

Despite our agreed charter and our target of 6% growth, the objective reality in our region is characterised by chronic low levels of real growth. This scenario is, at least in part, perpetuated by our inability to generate adequate levels of economic activity to produce such growth. This is, of course, directly related to the inadequacies of national economic systems functioning as disaggregated units.

In many instances, we have nearly exhausted our respective local capacities to generate adequate growth in the face of the overwhelming externalities which confront and constrain us: Globalisation, Trade Liberalisation and the resultant diminishing economic spaces. Against this backdrop, we must acknowledge diminishing returns from expensive, often archaic public sectors, declines in traditional exports, creeping poverty, and shrinking recurrent revenues associated with lower tariffs and dismantled protectionism.

These conspire to constrain public investment, reduce employment and further entrench low levels of growth. The immediate implications of low growth are social and economic dislocation with eventual political instability. The implications of political instability are only too obvious to dwell upon here.

Illusive Progress

While we readily accept that our future progress is directly linked to our ability to cement the integrative momentum, particularly with respect to the external agenda of common interests in trade, we seem unable to translate this realisation into tangible action. While we are aware of our admirable progress in such areas as telecommunication sector liberalisation, air space management and pharmaceutical procurement, we seem unwilling to equip our organisation with the means to replicate these successes in other areas of endeavour.

In these particular examples, we have created new economic space and realized considerable savings and other benefits. However, commensurate benefits have not accrued to the organisation through which these advances were made possible. While we reaffirm, in principle, the importance of the OECS as a magnet of cohesion and collective action, the potential of which exceeds even CARICOM, we have not quantified that principle in practice. The irony of our inaction is palpable.

It is equally ironic that failing to invest in our own institution, we become distracted by the potential gains form alternate alliances outside the immediate family. In considering our options we should bear in mind that in today’s environment of reciprocity, all partnerships require commitment and fulfilment of obligations commensurate with potential benefits.

Policy Priorities

If we are not to condemn ourselves to economic oblivion, there are some immediate priorities which should concern us. In the case of Grenada, there is a need to derive and implement a formula to share among ourselves that burden which Grenada has to now carry. This is an inevitability to which we must address our collective efforts.

In that context, we must also address dimensions of our collective capacity regarding the following: Post-Disaster Management; Emergency Resource Mobilisation; International Response coordination; and not least, Reinforcement of National Security Systems for the maintenance of law and order in crisis situations. Internal to our organisation must be equal consideration of the leadership role we expect our organisation to play in such crises and the resources we are prepared to place at its disposal so to do.

Moreover, it is clearly appropriate to begin active consideration of how we can build resilience systems. That is how we can proactively reduce the region’s vulnerability. This touches on such areas as redefining and upgrading building codes; empowering communities to enforce and monitor new standards; improved preparedness and disaster mitigation processes; appropriate land use and food security; energy policies and the need to generally shift main-stream focus from mere responsiveness to active resistance.

Development Delayed

Of similar importance is the issue of implementation at national level of decisions and initiatives agreed at regional level. It should by now be clear that development delayed is development denied. If we are certain that our organisation is a fundamental cornerstone of our future progress we can no longer shy away from implementing those initiatives that can deliver the benefits we have expressly promised to the people of this region.

Our agenda commits us to consider governance arrangements for the Economic Union Treaty. This is inseparable from the issues of delegation of authority to the centre, and we must address it responsibly. It is an inescapable ramification of our long-term strategic collaboration. While we must acknowledge and respect the particular needs and political circumstances within individual states, we must also recognize that if we continue to jealously guard a withering power, rather than pool our collective energies, we may well reap the loss of that sovereignty that we so cherish.

Only a few years ago the European Union was but a dream; a mere fraction of the integration model to which the OECS had committed itself. Now our progress pales by comparison. Where we might have been a model for the world, we risk being an anachronism in the shadow of more accomplished integration initiatives, elsewhere.

The proposal to create a three-tiered process for the implementation of legislation to give force to regional decisions must be comprehensively considered. Similar attention must be paid to resolving national constitutional issues arising out of an OECS Economic Union. These are not simple tasks by any means. But nor can their difficulty justify their removal from our agenda.

New Arrangements

In this context we must move with decisiveness on the initiatives envisioned in the revised OECS Treaty which, among other things, foresees the creation of OECS citizenship. This provision, with its inherent rights to movement, employment, residence, ownership and democratic participation, would give deep meaning to the concept of a single political space within which the children of our common legacy may re-cross the void created by artificial and unnecessary political barriers. This implies not just the removal of national barriers between reciprocating states, but the creation of a new status, a new enlarged space, and within it, a newly empowered OECS citizen.

Of similar import is the need to create a regional constituency. It is possible that one reason for the disconnect between national and regional priorities is the absence of a truly regional community to which we might be beholden. The truth is that while we aspire collectively at regional level, we continue to conspire, with more narrowly focussed domestic interests driving our agendas.

This conflict can only be addressed by the creation of a regional constituency where the broad objectives of the integration movement are translated into their natural domestic components. It is imperative, therefore, that we create and institutionalise permanent interactive mechanisms for high-level collaboration with the regional constituency.

We must more routinely meet our regional social partners, whether private sector, civil society or labour movement, and so generate those practical partnerships critical to fundamental change. We cannot continue to debate in splendid isolation only to discover that our vision is incomplete and our initiatives short-lived.

The logic of this imperative is easily demonstrated when considered against ongoing FTAA, COTONOU and WTO negotiations. National and regional positions to be defended within the context of such negotiations must be based on meaningful consultation, as much as sound leadership. The people of the Easter Caribbean cannot be divorced from those processes which will determine their very future. That future must perforce be designed in “ex-ante” consultation.

Similarly, in our quest for enhanced growth with equity, we must address issues of production, productivity, competitiveness and labour efficiency. As we transition from traditional to service based economies, automatic transformation cannot be decreed. The need for collaborative consultation is obvious, and we must seek ways to make our institution more relevant, more effective and more accessible to
the average OECS citizen on whose behalf we serve. The need for mechanisms to energise the collective natural and human resources at our disposal has to be assessed in the light of the new governance structures soon to be considered. In so doing, we will be reminded that the ultimate objective of this integration process is to create a larger social economic and financial space wherein opportunity, income and welfare are simultaneously enhanced.

Conclusion: Consensus is Intricate

Regrettably, although we may have shared objectives, achieving consensus on modalities is an intricate process. While we may agree on the destination, the path of progress must still be carefully and sensibly traversed. Let these facts be recognized for what they are: signals of the complexity but not the impossibility of our journey.
If I have spoken in absolutes, it is only to express the urgency and inevitability of our destination, and not to reduce to naive simplicity any task ahead. Notwithstanding, the collective aspirations of the OECS people cannot be subjugated by short-sightedness, or narrow interests which threaten, in the long run, to hasten our collective demise. If one truth remains clear and unadulterated, it is that insularity is not an option.

We are in the enviable, perhaps inevitable position of having reached the middle of the stream where the current is strongest. However daunted we may feel, the truth remains that there is little wisdom in standing still or attempting to turn back. We must link hands, hearts and minds and proceed, together.

I thank you.


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