Please check against delivery
One of my starkest memories as Chairman of the OECS is the shock I experienced upon landing in Dominica and seeing the trees of the Nature Isle stripped bare and the landscape transformed into an unending mass of brown.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 left a significant trail of death, destruction and dislocation in a number of our Member States. While the storm’s fury showed nature at its worst, it also brought out the best in us as individuals, communities, nations and institutions.
Relief supplies provided by Member States, friendly countries and international agencies ranged from technical expertise, security, water, food and critical supplies such as tarpaulins and medical care. In addition, the OECS was instrumental in supporting efforts towards food and water security, medical relief and supplies, logistics and transportation and psychological support.
The road to recovery will be long for many but goodwill and the demonstrated support of Member States and the wider regional and international community are a source of optimism.
The OECS has been leading the charge towards designing and defining a comprehensive Resilience Framework which would underpin the work of a Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition and an Accelerator. This process has been consultative to ensure that the views and expertise of all regional institutions and minds are engaged and that the Coalition is truly Caribbean.
The Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition is an initiative spearheaded by Caribbean government leaders and supported by private- and public-sector partners and multilateral institutions. The Accelerator brings together an unprecedented group of leaders to set out and implement, a shared vision for transformative climate action in the Caribbean. It was announced at President Macron’s One Planet Summit in Paris in December 2017, in which Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, and I participated, along with global private sector leaders. To date, the Accelerator has garnered the support of 12 Caribbean government leaders and over 35 other partners.
Regional integration is not a philosophical or academic exercise. The Revised Treaty of Basseterre articulates specific actions by which we must re-configure OECS member states into a single financial and economic space, characterized by the free movement of people, free circulation of goods, unfettered movement of capital and the right to provide services and establish businesses. The displacement of thousands of citizens during last year’s natural disasters brought home very clearly the urgency of accelerating the work necessary to bring the economic union to fruition.
This must include the implementation of the regime governing rights contingent to free movement agreed by the Authority in November of 2015. These rights go to the very heart of the single space, securing for our people non-discriminatory access to critical social services such as education and health care, and the guarantee of continuity for the family unit when the principal beneficiary moves. Moreover, the Treaty mandates relating to policy coordination and cooperation in significant matters such as foreign affairs, agriculture, tourism, other services, ICT, education and health must be executed with increased vigour.
It is my considered opinion that the real value of regional institutions lies in their ability to enhance the quality and or reduce the cost of governance in Member States. It is imperative, therefore, that we examine our institutional architecture and find avenues to improve the synergies between regional and national outlook and operations.
In so doing we must encourage the participation of our citizens in creating the vision for our region and so strengthen their sense of ownership of the integration process. This is the only way in which we may be able to guarantee the success we seek in this endeavor.
The international political climate in which we operate has become no less hostile than the natural environment. While we have defined climate change as an existential threat, so too is the denial of ready access to ODA resulting from the graduation of our Member States to Middle Income status, the arbitrary and unilateral blacklisting of our countries as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, or the removal of correspondent banking arrangements.
This situation is exacerbated by the evident absence of the inclination to, or opportunity for dialogue or the representation of our interests at the tables that truly matter.
In these circumstances, I urge that we revisit relationships with our current partners and agree on the means by which they may be enhanced to our mutual benefit. Simultaneously, we must be assertive internationally, extending our outreach to new partners who pursue objectives and espouse principles that are consonant with those of the OECS and take cognizance of our peculiar characteristics and needs as small island developing states.
Our agenda for this 65th Meeting provides us an opportunity to address these pressing matters. It covers a wide range of issues from international relations to climate change responses and the operation of our regional institutions. The annual work programme and budget of our Commission will also be discussed, in order to ensure that the objectives of the Organisation are articulated and programmed in a practical and achievable manner. I thank the Director General of the OECS and the hard-working staff of the Commission for their service to date and their support during my Chairmanship. I look forward to consolidation of the work the Organisation has done to date and greater progress on the integration agenda as we move into the future.
From time to time, the Authority has the honour of sharing time with special friends. The OECS and Barbados have had a long-standing relationship, and so has the Prime Minister with many of us. I extend a very warm welcome to the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Mottley, who has been invited to participate in deliberations with Heads of Government. Among other matters, we will exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern and explore avenues for increased cooperation between the OECS and Barbados. I look forward, with great anticipation, to this engagement.
Colleague Heads of Government, I welcome you all to Saint Lucia. I want to express my deepest gratitude for your support during my tenure. The 2017 to 2018 period was, I daresay, unprecedented in terms of the challenges which our region confronted. Our mettle was tested and we proved our ability to stand. Prime Minister Gonsalves, you can rely on my support and continued commitment to the attainment of the goals of the OECS.
As we tackle our agenda in caucus and plenary sessions, I look forward to full and frank conversations among us all on the matters on which we agree, as well as those on which our views diverge. This is necessary if we are to maintain and enhance our sense of community, while appreciating our individual sovereignty. Above all, we must keep in focus our duty, ultimately, to act always for the benefit of the people of the OECS.