(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday suggested a “regional think tank” be established to examine multiple security threats facing the region.
She was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 34th Caricom heads of Government conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s. Fourteen heads of government of the region are attending the conference.
Such an approach, she said, would also identify ways of improving cooperation between governments and law enforcement agencies in countering illicit activity in the hemisphere.
“We must also attack crime at the root, which means we must develop approaches to combat poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and the rising cost of living,” she said.
For four days leaders of 14 countries will engage in discussions at strengthening the region.
Persad-Bissessar said as conference chairperson, she was hopeful that continued discussions and collaboration on regional security would bring fresh initiatives and perspectives in fighting crime and the drug trade.
She said security threats in this region include, but are not limited to:
u the infiltration of porous borders by organised criminals
u the proliferation of small arms
u the increase in drug and human trafficking, money laundering and corruption at ports of entry
The Prime Minister said regional mechanisms must be developed to combat the multiple threats to security in this hemisphere.
She noted that the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 suggested that only 46 per cent of regional participants felt secure in their respective states.
“We have an obligation as leaders to ensure that our people are secure by demonstrating that we engage in a focused and effective war on crime and criminals,” she said.
She noted that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Trinidad and Tobago and the US provides significant insurance against some of the threats to the state.
In addition, she said in April, Caricom States endorsed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which aims to regulate the global trade in small arms and ammunition, which is estimated at US$70 billion.
“But we need more. We need indigenous regional capacity for intelligence gathering to enhance our capability to combat threats to security,” she said as she suggested the regional think tank initiative.
The Prime Minister said further that there was also need to examine regional transportation and develop a policy to facilitate the free movement of people and thus enhance regional integration and convergence.
“I wish to suggest a ministerial meeting to discuss issues with respect to LIAT and Caribbean Airlines as part of the rationalisation of regional transportation. Such a meeting can also deal with the establishment of ferry services connecting the islands, which would have a positive direct impact on trade and tourism,” she said.
Her Government, she added, has a keen interest in opening a regional dialogue to highlight the issues and challenges facing persons with disabilities and special needs.
Persad-Bissessar also outlined some of the accomplishments achieved by Caricom as it marks its 40th anniversary today.
As she emphasised there was strength in unity, Persad-Bissessar said that Caricom should be expanded to include the Dominican Republic and also Dutch and French Caribbean islands.
The Prime Minister noted that the on-going reform process in the Community must be one that will make Caricom not only more efficient and effective but more relevant as well.
“In this regard, may I urge you to consider expanding our membership to welcome the Dominican Republic into the Caricom family. Perhaps, now is the time to also embrace the Dutch and French Caribbean islands. The Caribbean Sea unites us; it must never divide us,” she said.