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May 21, 2004



While the OECS and CARICOM have made substantial progress in the deepening of regional integration, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the progress.
Addressing regional leaders and their delegations at the opening of the 39th OECS Heads of Government meeting at the Peace Memorial Hall, the Prime Minister called for more work to be done to have the process realised and urgently.{{more}}
Dr. Gonsalves told his colleagues that while Caribbean people are relatively pleased with what has been accomplished so far on the issue of regional integration; they are very critical of the slow pace on the matter of the freedom of movement of the people.
The Prime Minister said that in his view there was an absence of an expeditious urgency among the regional policy makers. He lamented that many of the people “have been blowing hot and cold on the question of freedom of movement”.
Dr. Gonsalves said he wants to hear louder the unequivocal support of the people and non-governmental organisations of the process “certainly with the OECS first and then in the wider CARICOM”.
“I want to hear also from the people that they want the issue of political union to be kept on the front burner in the OECS,” Dr. Gonsalves said, adding that many leaders and he are committed to at least a fully articulated confederal political union.
On this question Prime Minister Gonsalves said, the leaders might well be ahead of the people.
Also addressing the opening session was Director General of the OECS Authority Dr. Len Ismael who welcomed St. Lucian Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony as incoming chairman of the OECS, as she thanked the outgoing Chairman, Montserrat’s John Osborne, for the work done during his tenure.
The tone of the opening session was lighthearted at times with much banter from the various speakers and laughter from the Hall; perhaps moreso from Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in his maiden address before the OECS Heads.
Spencer, who was elected to office only two months ago, thanked his Vincentian counterpart for his positive response to a missive sent while still on the opposition benches to Caribbean leaders on the question of good governance in a parliamentary democracy. Spencer said he had pleaded for empathy on the question. He thanked Dr. Gonsalves for being the only sitting West Indian leader who responded to him.
Spencer spoke of the financial difficulties being faced by the OECS and said that his own country is partly to be blamed for these problems. He said efforts are being made at the moment to repay the dues owed by Antigua to the OECS and gave the assurance that this would not happen again under his administration.
He said that the OECS was meeting at a time when it faces problems from the outside world that impact on the unit, that are not of our making.
He mentioned the “protracted oil prices in Iraq” [which] has contributed to a record high in the price of oil meaning record prices at oil pumps and “spiralling increases in the economy” which impact on the competitiveness of the tourism product.
Also addressing the forum was outgoing chairman of the OECS John Osborne.
This meeting has a packed agenda of wide ranging issues. Among them is the question of advancing the OECS Economic Union process. The Meeting was expected to receive a report on plans for a new Treaty to more adequately provide for deeper integration of the sub-regional organisation.
It was also expected to hear an update on how the constitutional review process in the Member States fits into the movement towards an Economic Union.
One other issue of much interest was presentations by two companies on design features for an OECS passport.
The question of a proposed OECS Prison Service was also discussed since, as Antigua’s Baldwin Spencer said, “regional crime, regional prison”.
Economic development issues are also high on the agenda. Heads should receive recommendations coming out of the recent inaugural meeting of the OECS Council of Tourism and consider proposals for greater collaboration in the yachting sector and the promotion of an Eastern Caribbean shared space for the sector.
The Heads also planned to deliberate among other issues, a plan of action for the OECS agriculture sector; policy issues related to air transportation, energy, ICT, and energy resource management. They should also have received plans for the creation of an OECS Business Forum.
The Heads should have been given an assessment of performance of the OECS School system and presentation on the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network. Discussions on strategic issues in the ongoing external trade negotiations for the Caricom Single Market and Economy CSME), World Trade Organisation (WTO), Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and European Partnership Agreements (EPA) were also planned, as was the progress of the OECS Judicial and Legal Reform project.
The meeting ends today.