R. Rose
May 21, 2004

One passport, one people

Heads of Government of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) conclude their 39th meeting in Kingstown today, hoping to complete an ambitious agenda. The meeting is considered yet another significant signpost along the road towards the full integration of the small-island states of the Eastern Caribbean, itself a pioneering effort in the wider picture of Caribbean regional integration.
Among the items high on the agenda are a Plan of Action for the implementation of an economic union between the states, the crucial matter of air transportation, the related and now very topical issue of energy (especially in light of the high price of oil); the Constitutional Review Process and a report of the consulting firm on the implementation of a common passport for OECS citizens. All are very important issues, which touch the lives of the people of the sub-region.{{more}}
Take the OECS passport for instance. If successful, it would indeed be a bold move in helping to forge some sort of common identity for the Eastern Caribbean states and beginning to broaden our horizons beyond the narrow confines of our own shores. The implementation itself would require overcoming a lot of negative attitudes which arise from those same narrow physical boundaries and the false illusions in some islands that they are “better off” than others. The reality is that we are all precariously perched on a knife’s edge.
Should external factors impinge on us negatively, overnight we can see the progress and stability of which we boast evaporate before our very eyes. A devastating natural disaster, collapse of the banana industry, external threat to tourism (such as the aftermath of 9/11) or the fallout from global trade agreements, any of these can deal us a knockout blow, so vulnerable are we.
This is why the integration project is such a vital necessity; enhancing and harnessing our capabilities while providing some sort of cushion at a national level against external shocks.
We need not just to Hope that it succeeds, but to try our best to ensure that it does. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. There are other reasons why I, for one, am a firm believer in bringing the islands closer together.
Top of my list is that a wider economic and political space creates the opportunity for us to rise above the sharp political divisions we continue to harbour at the national level, the deep-seated and entrenched separation along party lines. Nothing is wrong with political competition, healthy debate and even rivalry. But we, not just in SVG alone, are taking it to an extreme stage, which makes it counter-productive and impedes national and regional development at all levels.
Whether Grenadian, Antiguan, St. Lucian, Kittitian or Vincentian, we are all in the same boat together with our fortunes tied to a common currency and a common approach to the problems we all share. Those who continue to believe mistakenly that our salvation lies in the blind adherence to this or that party are in for a rude awakening. It is imperative for our survival that we recognize that in order to go forward, we must join hands, strategize to maximize our opportunities and to overcome our obstacles.
In all this, we must insist that the leaders emerge from the grandstand model and deal with practical measures to benefit the people of the region and not just seek cheap, politically attractive solutions. How to rationalize air transport in the region, not just keeping LIAT in the skies but making it SERVE the people of the region, improve its efficiency and competitiveness and cut out all the slackness and waste?
How to work out sensible negotiating positions to ensure that the small-island states are not swamped by the tidal waves thrown off by hostile international trade agreements? How to ensure that closer unity brings benefits to the people of the sub-region, improves their quality of life, helps to facilitate development which is stable, all encompassing and sustainable?
How to give OECS citizens a greater sense of pride and confidence in the future? How to make our political system more relevant, more participatory, more inclusive and definitely not exclusive, less divisive and more people-oriented?
These are the challenges that our leaders face this week. Are they up to the mark? Can they stay the course?