KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC – Leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have been told that they must seek to expedite several of the measures contained in the agreement establishing an economic union within the sub-region within the next 12 months.
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Stephenson King, the incoming OECS chairman, told the opening ceremony of the 53rd Meeting of the OECS Authority that it was necessary to bring to completion the project on free movement of the people of the sub-region “so that one of the fundamental promises of the economic union can be realised.
“That is , the right of our people to fulfil their desire to move easily and unrestrictedly within the space of the Union, without being treated with suspicion, without undue formalities and interrogations, without imposition of unwarranted limited time to stay.
“This OECS space must be seen as our house, within which we can move freely and easily from room to room, and partake as a matter of right of the benefits that that house have to offer,” King told the ceremony.
He said another important work must include advancing the completion of the integration of the sub-region’s market for the production of and trade in goods and services, by identifying and removing all the obstacles, whether these are institutional, administrative, or legal.
“Over the year we must move to significantly establish a real single economic space. However, we must not just put the arrangements in place. We must make that space begin to work. We therefore have to intensify our approaches and our efforts to common action in the productive sectors, including tourism, agriculture, processing and manufacturing, and across the range of services, which our single space enables to be undertaken.
“ We must see how best we can combine our physical and human resources to our fullest competitive advantage. We must look at what we have to do to enable goods imported into the economic union to move freely once they have passed an initial customs point. We must attend to these matters over the next year,” King said.
He said while he is aware that preliminary work has been done on several of these areas, and that there are recommendations for consideration by the leaders “we must take action, and not just remain stuck at the point of recommendations or good intent.”
King said that the recent recession had a significant impact on the sub-region, but appealed to his fellow leaders to ensure that their financial contributions to maintaining the organisations are kept.
The St. Lucia Prime Minister said that the issue of crime, which he labelled as a “monstrosity” had to be dealt with firmly, noting that the sub-region has seen unprecedented spikes in murders and other homicides.
“A central feature in this picture is the ubiquitous drugs and narcotics trade which underpins so much of the crime that pervades so much of our society. The important thing is not simply to regale ourselves with the horrors of crime. The real issue is what are we going to do about it?
King said that criminal activities had now become a cross border issue and it was necessary for the OECS “to put in place a collective machinery to wage a relentless war against crime and those things that fuel it, whether it is the drug trade; dysfunctional family and social relationships; real unemployment; or the disinclination to work and the preference to prey on those who are prepared to be law abiding citizens.
“Whatever drives crime must be dealt with and dealt with together in the OECS,” he said, adding “in the same way that we are seeking to integrate and enlarge our production and trading space within the OECS, so too must we create a single police and real legal space to enable us to engage in effective action against crime”
He said there were proposals already before the leaders for consideration “and we must move assiduously on these”.
Apart from ensuring the overall development of the sub-region’s human resources, education and other aspects of socio-economic development, King said that there was also need to complete what he termed “our own internal political arrangements.
“We must do everything we could to facilitate the fullest possible engagement in the process of our non-independent members and Associate Members. We therefore must very clearly define the rules for their engagement to allow them to avail themselves of such benefits of membership that should accrue to them. We also have to finalize, in the shortest possible time, the matters needed to operationalize the governance structures of the organization within the new context of this Revised Treaty of Basseterre.”
He said while it was also important for all the various stakeholders within the OECS to do their work, “this can only be the basis of clear understanding and common interpretation by all of us, of what is expected of whom, and this must be set out in functionally efficient rules and procedures.
“We must strive to ensure efficiency and flexibility in applying the Treaty provisions, and avoid mechanisms and arrangements that unnecessarily clog up the system and result in confusion and undue burdens of costs. “
He also said that there was need to further develop the model that positions the sub-region strategically on the international scene.
“ We must enhance and expand our collective presence in various parts of the world where it is advantageous and beneficial for us. This is something we have been doing now for some time, and we have in fact established a model that has been looked at and is being looked at by others, including the wider CARICOM. We must build upon our gains and carry this process forward,” King added.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.