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I first came to St. Lucia. It was my first trip alone as a child. And I came here having won a Barclays Spelling B competition. I wasn't yet 13 years old. It was in St. Lucia that I first attended a political meeting. I was mesmerized in spite of the fact that it was in Patois.
I stayed with the Cenac family and I was in Soufriere. I spent a morning with Sir Allen Lewis who insisted that these young girls from Queens College stay with him. And spend the morning talking with him in spite of the fact we were not yet teenagers and I was impressed that a Governor General could take the time to want to engage such young minds at that stage.
It is ironic that my first trip to the CARICOM region as Prime Minister of Barbados is to St. Lucia. It is equally ironic that it was also after a victory.
Sixty-five meetings for any institution is not two meetings. And I therefore come to my brothers and sister here conscious that this is an institution that is mature. This is a region that has reflected in this institution, the hopes and aspirations of the people, and Barbados in spite of our being outside of this institution, has been ever conscious that these are our brothers and sisters. You are our family.
And I therefore come to St. Lucia this afternoon conscious that much of what we face is common, the challenges that have confronted us are similar, but in spite of the cooperation between our people, our private sector, we have not yet seen the level of inter-governmental cooperation that matches that which our people have been engaged in at a personal level and at a level of our private sector.
I believe that this opportunity that you have afforded my country, is one that has to be pursued to see where it can take us. We don't know. But what we do know is that conversation and dialogue are absolutely critical in order to be the bedrock of progress as we move forward.
The reality is that as we heard just now, 2017 was a year that reminded us of our fragility. There but for the grace of God goes any one of us. And the only way we can move forward conscious that we've already started another hurricane season is by recognizing that our fragility requires of us an effort and a commitment that goes beyond anything that we have seen thus far.
It is impossible for any one of us to confront the realities of climate change without cooperation. I make the point all the time that Barbados which revels in the fact that our educational system has delivered so many over the decades, can find itself confronting issues of access tomorrow if a hurricane hit us rather than seeking to perfect the qualitative aspects of our educational system.
All of us are vulnerable.
It is against that background that irrespective of our membership in CARICOM that we must find modalities to help each other in this Caribbean region particularly as we confront the issues of climate change and our ability to adapt to boost our resilience as we go forward.
The most evident aspect of it on a day to day basis to our population is the movement of the sargassum weed. We have had to confront it as you do across the rest of the region. But we believe that our best efforts are when there are cooperative. And to that extent our ability to be able to harvest the sargassum weed collectively and to be able to maximize what economic benefits we can get from it rather than treating to it as a nuisance that affects our coast and our tourism industry is the way in which we would wish to pursue discussions.
Similarly we have come to this point to recognize that these meetings mean nothing unless they bring benefit to our people and we're conscious that whatever the modalities are for deepening cooperation between Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, we would wish to be able to ensure that we confront at all times, those things that are immediate concern to our people.
I am conscious that wherever I go in the Eastern Caribbean, there are those who are concerned about the manner in which they are allowed to move within our ports of entry and in particular also my own. And that with respect to those who are traveling in transit, the inability to be able to clear Immigration if you are there for longer than two hours continues to be of major concern to many of our citizens.
It makes no sense because it limits the extent to which those who visit our shores are capable of adding to economic activity in our countries and to that extent prior to traveling here I have asked what are the legal obstacles preventing the movement of people who are within our jurisdiction, in our ports of entry who are in transit but who are now being precluded from leaving the airport and the sea port. I am yet to receive an answer that makes sense.
In the circumstances this is one of the first areas of priority that I would wish for us to discuss because our people are precluded from doing that which is most natural. If you are in a port of entry for six or eight hours there is no reason to be treated as a prisoner of war within the precincts.
Similarly, I have now to resort to the use of YouTube to be able to see what it is happening in Castries or Kingstown or any other part of the Eastern Caribbean. It is not good enough. And I believe that a simple cooperative exercise particularly now that we have the access of technology to upload and download the relevant news, that there has to be a deliberate effort because when we start to share news and information as I will speak to later when we go to Heads of Government within CARICOM as opposed to the Single Market and Economy. When we start to share information with each other then we realize how we are confronting the same issues and that many of the things that are being viewed as partisan political activity can be appropriately put in context when people realize the challenges are similar and the options equally are just as similar.
I hope that we can treat to these issues before we come to the one that is perhaps the most attractable but yet requires our resolution more than any other. And that is inter island transportation. I look forward to engaging with my colleague heads and particular fellow shareholders and hopefully soon to be other shareholders within the context of Liat.
But I do so cognisant that modalities that were relevant decades ago cannot continue to be relevant as we enter the third decade of the 21st century and that a review of governance structures while at the same time recognizing how we operate, is absolutely critical if we are to ensure the viability of an airline that is really the life blood for this region.
Similarly, it is time that we stop talking about inter island ferry transportation and do it. I am aware that unless we move to the stage where we can facilitate movement of not just people but the movement of vehicles and the movement of cargo, we will not get the full benefit of the space that we have the honor to occupy.
In the circumstances, we have on a parallel track, to assume a position of readiness for the work that must be done to facilitate that action when it comes. There must be mutual recognition of insurance. There must be mutual recognition of licenses. There must the ability equally for us to see how far we are prepared to go for mutual recognition of domestic incorporation such that we don't impose on our citizens, the additional costs and time of having to go through all of these exercises again, simply to facilitate movement within our region.
These speak to a deeper functioning cooperation at a time when the world will legitimately ask itself the question, what is the viable size for small states? Given the complexity of governance that small states face, how can we continue without finding deeper forms of functional cooperation to reduce the costs of government and governance to our individual states.
My people in Barbados stand ready to engage in this conversation. What the modalities will be ultimately will be determined by our conversation and by our flexibility. We accept that our lead responsibility for CARICOM Single Market and Economy is a critical one, is as critical today, as it was when the Grand Anse declaration was signed again in the late 1990s. And we look forward to participating at Heads of Government at the end of the region because we see the Golding Report not as pointing in a direction of despair but one that creates the opportunities for recharging the regional movement for the purpose for which it was originally formed.
We stand ready to participate in that cause not just as the lead country for CARICOM Single Market and Single Economy in the CARICOM Cabinet but equally as a proud member of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean which is our natural home. We are family. And as family, we must be prepared to prioritize discussions among ourselves on the things that matter most. I call it the revolving three: that whatever are the three most important issues to our people, let us continue to engage on them. And when we solve one, add the next one because in so doing we will bring a reality of what integration must mean for our people as we move forward as those who have been given the privilege of leadership.
I look forward to the Caucus and I thank you truly for affording me this opportunity in my first speech at a sub-regional, or regional level to be here in St. Lucia with you because whether in opposition or government, the people of the Eastern Caribbean have been our close brothers and sisters, I thank you.
And I simply wish you Happy OECS Day!