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Tuesday, January 17, 2006 


The Caribbean ‘necklace of islands’: Dawn of a new era
by Clarence Pilgrim
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Without a doubt, historians will chronicle the continued evolution of Caribbean society through the eyes of those living in memorable moments of time. Since the rise and fall of the West Indian Federation nothing comes closer towards realizing the dream of a resurrected effort to create a single unified entity than what occurred on January 1, 2006, when the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) took effect, thus formally establishing the newest trading bloc in the world!

The birth of the CSME comes amidst another celebration whose significance is no less important. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will be twenty-five years old on June 18th 2006. The treaty of Basseterre in St. Kitts/Nevis gave birth to the OECS.

It is commendable that this grouping has remained united in purpose over the years to promote, and hold strongly to the belief in the need for common socio-economic development, despite the disappointments of other regional efforts. Notable OECS achievements which can be named are: The OECS Secretariat, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority, the OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement Service, the OECS Export Development Unit and OECS Overseas Joint Diplomatic and Technical Missions
While the OECS seeks to pursue an agenda which is best for the “small islands” this approach to development is being done in the context of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, CSME.

In words which can be applied to all OECS members, Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas said that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) which St. Kitts and Nevis will enter by the end of February “allows for several significant benefits for member countries that include the free movement of goods, the free movement of services and the free movement of capital, thus further integrating the economies within the Caribbean Community making us more competitive globally to deal with a much more hostile environment.”

It is quite clear that members ship of both blocs are not mutually exclusive. It is important to note that the OECS States have clearly demonstrated a commitment to full participation in the CSME, but have expressed concerns over a number of challenges confronting the CSME collective. One outstanding issue for OECS states is the financing for operalisation of the Regional Development Fund

The CSME is about doing business without borders and barriers across the CARICOM region. Fundamental to the successful implementation is good governance. Throughout CARICOM the need for anti-corruption measures is critical to economic development.

Whether it is the arrest of Trinidad and Tobago's Energy Minister on seven fraud charges arising out of allegations of financial bribes from a local government councilor or the details of an investigative report into the alleged corrupt and/or bad management practices in the Antigua and Barbuda Public Utilities Authority, it is quite clear that it cannot be business as usual in this new era of financial probity.

There are numerous issues this new economic bloc must tackle. From how to deal with multinational companies like Digicek and Cable & Wireless in the lucrative telecommunications arena which they are both clawing to corner, to responding to companies like western union who abruptly suspend their operations in certain jurisdictions, knowing full well the financial impact it will have on the flow of money, and not showing the respect for the citizens they serve with the courtesy of an appropriate period of prior notification.

With the coming of world cup cricket, new opportunities are emerging in the areas of goods and services. But the focus appears to only be for the duration of that event. What are the plans for the sustainability for certain enterprises afterwards?

CARICOM needs to establish a strategic planning team (if an effective one is not already in place) to look at both the long term and bigger picture. For example with the completion of major stadiums around the region, isn’t it possible to attract another major sporting event – which is not necessarily cricket?

Where are the brilliant minds in our governments to make things happen? This is what a trading bloc is about, making opportunities exist through inspiration and perspiration - for the benefit of it’s people!

We need to quite clearly identify a sizable pool of resources for the rejuvenation of the existing businesses and the creation of others.

The Prime Minister of Jamaica P.J. Patterson said, “We have seen a great evolution in the integration movement since that signing with regional leaders, such as Eric Gairy (Grenada), Forbes Burnham (Guyana), Michael Manley (Jamaica) and Eric Williams (Trinidad and Tobago), and later the Grand Anse Declaration in 1989 which introduced a new phase in the movement toward the Single Market.”

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning the Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister Ralph Gongales of St.Vincent the Chairman of the OECS – both occupy a place in the history our Caribbean, by being the incumbent leaders at the dawn of the CSME. Both gentlemen now have an opportunity to leave a legacy of clear direction and leadership at this seminal moment.

It is my hope that the spirit of peace and goodwill will reign, and that it would be indeed desirable if we can come together against the forces that are working to divide us as a people.

Let me offer my congratulations to the birth of the CSME and let me wish in advance happy birthday to the OECS. May we show ourselves and the rest of the world that we in the Caribbean Community can unite ourselves with pride and determination in all endeavors.

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