In his inaugural speech to the meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government here in Guyana, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Keith Rowley channeled Caricom unity and told his fellow leaders that leadership is not always about being popular but about leading and making tough decisions.
“…One of the weaknesses that generates cynicism among our population is our unwillingness to make certain decisions and to make the decisions that would bind us,” Rowley said to applause from those sitting in the National Cultural Centre at the opening of the 37th annual meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government.
He called for the Single Market and Economy of the region to be placed on the active agenda of Caricom again and though not making a direct reference to the recent Brexit fiasco where the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union, said “…We have seen nothing in Europe from which we can take solace or example.” He also called for ownership to be taken of the opportunities and challenges facing the grouping and for them to be viewed as critical matters to be addressed by the community as a whole.
Rowley, one of the three heads of government making inaugural addresses at yesterday’s meeting, reaffirmed his government’s commitment to Caricom and as a demonstration of this he disclosed that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be renamed the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.
Rowley along with President of Suriname Desi Bouterse and Caricom Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque all expressed sadness at last Saturday’s passing of former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning who was described as being a significant player in the Caribbean community.
“While Caricom has made some significant strides, particularly through functional cooperation in several areas of importance to the community and to the lives of our citizens, it admittedly has faced equally challenging times…,” Rowley said in his address.
He pointed out that in the early years the Caribbean countries were united against apartheid in South Africa, resolute in their position on the economic embargo against Cuba and as a region they were able negotiate successful trade agreements.
“Today we are faced with, among other things, new trials of… [losing] correspondent banking and the unfair labelling of some our countries as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions which we have endeavoured to face with a collective stand,” he said.
He said if the region’s past trajectory is a good determinant to the outcome of these challenges then there is considerable light on the horizon and Caricom must continue to adopt the position that the whole is always better than the part.
Rowley, who is the lead head for crime and security in the grouping, said that under his stewardship his government intends to take an active role in all matters pertaining to national security. “The sustainable development of our community depends on us, the safety and security of our citizens is the foundation our collective future welfare and prosperity. Too much of our economy, too much of our well-being, too much our progress and quality of life depends on security for us not to be focused on the peace and comfort of our people,” he said.
Meanwhile, LaRocque, who congratulated President Granger for readily agreeing to host the meeting after Dominica indicated its inability to do so due to its devastation by a hurricane, said that over the next days the conference will focus on addressing issues which have an impact on the community both from within and from outside the region.
Issues on the agenda include crime and security, which the Secretary-General noted is at a level that is disturbing and has a negative impact on the countries’ societies and economies and as such requires a concerted regional response. The regional economy and some of the economic financial challenges will also be addressed among which will include the issue of de-risking and the loss of corresponding banking which threatens the region’s financial, commercial and trading sectors as well as remittances.
At the conference as well the course of action taken at the intercessionary meeting last February will be reviewed and the next steps determined. An overview of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) will be given, ten years after it was implemented and according to the Secretary-General, the member states remain resolute that it is the only viable option for sustained economic growth.
“While we have made progress there is denying that we could have been further ahead. Although challenges remain in some areas we must do what is required to move the process forward,” he said pointing out that there are challenges related to the region’s free movement regime and the facilitation of travel.
He said while it is accepted that member of states have the right to deny entry, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ruled on the specific circumstances under which they may do so and provided guidance on the procedures that should be followed once that course of action is taken.
Guyana and Jamaica in particular have complained about the manner in which their citizens are treated when attempting to enter countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. It was a Jamaican who had taken the Barbadian Government to the CCJ over the way she was treated by that country’s immigration officers and received a monetary judgement in her favour.
According to LaRocque, to help to remedy some of the problems the training and sensitization of immigration officials for them to act more closely in line of the policies agreed to by their governments must be increased.
Also on the agenda is the reviewing of the Port-of-Spain declaration on non-communicable diseases, since these diseases continue to have an adverse impact on citizens. Brexit is also be on the agenda.
The Secretary-General noted that as the Caribbean celebrated Caricom Day yesterday it can look back with pride on the progress of its integration process and look forward to what can be achieved together.
“As a grouping of small vulnerable states it is integration that would allow us to achieve the level of development that our people desire and deserve,” he said, adding that there is ample evidence of what the region can achieve when its resources are pooled.
Saying that he cannot mention all the issues that should be on the agenda, Suriname’s Bouterse posited that in his country’s opinion it must include the economic challenges that the region is facing. He pointed out that those countries that almost singly depend on the extractive sector are confronted with the reality of decreasing market prices of such commodities. “…We cannot keeping running our economies on market prices that are so unstable… The challenge is very clear, we must move into diversification of our economies and we must develop our service industries to the point where they become solid foreign currency earners characterized by sustainability,” he said.
President Bouterse posited also that the dependency of some nations on tourism has created a tremendous challenge for them, since the decline in the world’s economy has seen a decrease in the number of tourists coming to the region. At this meeting, he said, the Caricom Secretariat could be urged to nominate experts who could advise on innovative ways of creating new packages offering international tourists, both “our white beaches and ecotourism.”
According to the Bouterse, diversification continues to be one of the challenges faced by Caricom states adding that as far as the service industry is concerned it is important to improve the quality in the banking and insurance services offered to the world.
“The challenge is clear Mr Chairman, the consultations that are now taking place must lead to striking the balance between the prime interest of the United States and Europe on one hand and the Caribbean interest on the other,” he said.
Meantime, he said, it is important for South America and the Caribbean to main the status of peace by applying all efforts to promote dialogue and leave violence behind.