Remarks by OECS Director General H.E. Dr. Didacus Jules
at the Opening of the Symposium on the Single Domestic Space
Antigua & Barbuda 30th May 2016
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Next month June 18th will mark the 35th Anniversary of the formation of the OECS and the 5th Anniversary of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre.
Once upon a time thirty five years ago, we had a dream of unity and we took the necessary steps to shape our common purpose and create a shared destiny.
The Revised Treaty of Basseterre which entered into force five years ago clearly defined the parameters of that aspiration. The major purposes included:
- Promoting cooperation among Member States at the regional and international levels
- Maintaining unity and solidarity to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Member States
- Striving for the “fullest possible harmonization” of foreign policy
- Establishing the Economic Union as single economic and financial space
- Providing an institutional forum to discuss and facilitate constitutional, political and economic changes
Twenty-three specific areas were outlined for action in the Revised Treaty:
- Mutual defense (including Police and Prisons)
- Judiciary and the administration of justice
- External representation
- International trade agreements and external economic relations
- Financial and technical assistance from external sources
- International marketing of goods and services including tourism
- External transportation and communications including Civil Aviation
- Public management and administration
- Tax Administration
- Regulatory and competition authorities
- Education incl. tertiary education
- Scientific, technical and cultural cooperation
- Intellectual property rights
- Matters related to the Sea and its resources
- Economic integration through the Economic Union Protocol
- Currency and central banking
- Institutional arrangements for economic consultation and information dissemination
- Social protection mechanisms
- Social policy framework
- The development of arts and culture
From this listing of areas of cooperation and harmonization, it is evident that the visionaries who framed the Revised Treaty of Basseterre did so in fidelity to the wider aspiration for regional integration enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. It is also evident from the breadth and depth of the scope of collaboration that the vision was more integral and holistic than a simple customs union or an economic construct – encompassing social policy and protection, arts and culture, telecoms, education and the justice system. Five years after the commitment to this dream, where are we?
We are here in Antigua & Barbuda this week for some collective stock taking. While the Commission has interacted on many occasions with all stakeholders present within the ambit of their individual portfolios, we have not brought them all together to hear each other’s concerns and recommendations. We have colleagues from Customs, Immigration, Ports, Security, Regional partners, all here to map the remaining road that we need to walk together.
The greatest challenge in this symposium will be TO LISTEN. One of our weaknesses in the Caribbean is that whenever we attempt dialogue on a burning issue, individuals are so locked in the prison of their own perceptions that we do not truly listen to contending points of view. This symposium is an opportunity for open ears and open minds. The Ports must listen to the concerns and the constraints of Customs who in turn should be open to the expressions of immigration who must be sensitive to the challenges of security. The challenge will be to listen so as to better understand and not to listen simply to respond.
Where are we along the road?
Like any marathon we all stated the journey together but the pace has not been consistent. We have moved in spurts, we have rested on the laurels of short term gains. We have made progress but we have also occasionally lost confidence in our capacity to be equal to the challenge of the dream.
Ironically there are fragments of the dream that are alive and well but these fragments are so taken for granted that they do not illuminate our thinking about the bigger picture
Within the construct of the OECS, there are several multi-island states and the free movement of people, goods, services, capital and ideas is already a daily reality in these states. We have:
- Antigua & Barbuda
- Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- The Virgin Islands
In addition there are the Inter-island ferries and the schooners that have doggedly plied these waters for many decades. Between Antigua and Barbuda or Saint Kitts and Nevis, no immigration forms are necessary, no passports to be produced, no customs barriers to overcome, no qualifying imperatives. The seed of the integration solution already exists and has been in place for some time. It is for us to refine and perfect that which has already worked in several Member States.
But we are a people driven by external impulse. Sometimes we do things because others require them of us rather than us doing it for ourselves. Cricket World Cup 2007 brought us unprecedented freedom of movement within less than one year. I invite all of you here to reflect back on the glory and the pride of that moment. At first border point of entry, a travel bracelet on the wrist allowed us to move from island to island as easy as a Grenadian moving from Grenada to Carriacou or a Barbudan to Antigua or a “Vincie” to the Grenadines.
It was not a freedom of movement grudgingly administered by immigration and customs; it was a freedom of movement with great pride in its accomplishment. In the euphoria of own experience of that moment, I convinced myself that we would make this the new normal. After all, after such an experience how could one go back to the status quo ante? Well the past reasserted itself with almost spiteful vigor. Thinking dejectedly in the ruins of that experience, I could only take comfort in the words of TS Elliot in his poem The Wasteland: ..”after such knowledge what forgiveness?”
Cricket World Cup; Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Saint Kitts and Nevis …After such knowledge what forgiveness?
We had hoped to include in these deliberations the experience of the European Union and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States). Unfortunately the timing did not permit their participation. Notwithstanding this the European Commission has been a reliable and constant companion on this journey proving both the resources through the 10th EDF and inspirational support through Ambassador Mikael Barfod and his team. We acknowledge and extend our thanks as no marathon can be run without the rehydration of both spirit and body by the race supporters.
The Road Ahead
To conclude: after such knowledge, what forgiveness? Cricket World Cup created the infrastructure for free movement of people; every day people, goods, services and capital flow freely within the multi-island states of Grenada and Saint Vincent, between Antigua and Barbuda, between Saint Kitts and Nevis and within the Virgin Islands.
When we look backward we see five years run with some accomplishments. When we look forward the course still to be run will be as short or as long as our will to complete permits. Our task in this Symposium is to map that remaining journey and to agree on the shortest possible timeline for its completion. Let us talk honestly, listen intently, think creatively and act expeditiously. It is time, in the words of the Caribbean poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite, “to shatter the door and enter the morning, fully aware of the future to come”.