June 25, 2010
Make Economic Union more people-centred

Fri, Jun 25, 2010

SEARCHLIGHT unreservedly welcomes the signing by leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) of the OECS Economic Union Treaty in St. Lucia last week. It is a positive step forward along the path of regional integration which not only strengthens the process in the smaller islands,{{more}} but which can serve as a catalyst to speed up the foot-dragging wider process in CARICOM. As such, whatever the weaknesses of the Treaty itself, and however much we may regret that it has taken so long to have it signed or that it will take another seven months to be operational, it represents another milestone along a path that we all have no alternative but to travel.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that there are multiple benefits to the people of the OECS from the establishment of such a Union. Not only will it widen our economic space, a vital prerequisite for spurring economic development, but it will also provide opportunities for further growth and development. In particular, the provisions for freedom of travel and the right to engage in economic activities anywhere in the region will be welcomed throughout the entire sub-region. It will be left up to us, governments and people alike, to determine whether we make maximum use of the opportunities provided.

To be frank, the main threat to the success of the Economic Union can come only from pettiness on the part of our political leaders or selfishness on the part of business people seeking to protect their turf. There are those in our midst who will attempt to fan the dying flames of narrow nationalism to suit their own ends and to try and exploit inevitable stresses and strains which will occur as we move forward. Any pandering to these negative tendencies only undermines the progress we have achieved thus far. This precious mechanism we have forged must be preserved at all costs.

One positive feature we must applaud has been the support of opposition parties for the process. True, some have not exhibited enthusiasm for the process and others have raised concerns about the level of consultation, but there is no recorded manifestation of objection to the Union. This is a welcome departure from the oppositionist politics which has marred our political development, and parties such as our own New Democratic party must be complimented for their maturity in this regard.

Having outlined all these positives, it was sad to note that industrial action on the part of employees of a vital artery feeding the same economic space, LIAT, the regional airline, almost ruined the signing ceremony itself. Whatever the pros and cons of that particular dispute, the action served to remind our leaders of the importance of stable industrial relations. It also brought into focus the critical issue of regional transportation, for the success of our venture into deeper economic partnership will, to a large extent, depend on how we handle this challenge. LIAT remains a litmus test of the commitment of our governments to the economic integration goal.

Finally, one cannot help but notice how people-empty the signing of such an important commitment to joint economic development really was. Such a ceremony should have had very broad participation on the part of the people in whose name it was signed. We here in SVG were busy with our calypso semi-finals, and it stands to reason that other activities took precedence in the minds of the people of the rest of the OECS at the same time that our leaders were signing. That is not surprising, considering that our leaders, in their infinite wisdom, did not even make space in the Treaty for the involvement of non-politicians, particularly from business, labour and other important sectors of civil society in the organs of the Union. It will be Prime Ministers, other Ministers of Government and Parliamentarians who will constitute all these vital organs. Not even the OECS Assembly has made provision for such civil representation. In so doing, we are weakening popular support for these institutions even before we begin. That is to be regretted. If Economic Union is to be for the people, they must have meaningful roles in it.