Hon. Billie Miller, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados and Chairman of the Community Council of Ministers;
Other Hon. Ministers;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Staff of the Secretariat;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is once again my honour and pleasure to welcome you to this Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers. It is the Seventh Meeting of this Body – the Sixth having taken place in Barbados in June 2000. As is well known, this Body with the Conference of Heads of Government comprises the two principal Organs of the Community. It is therefore “the Second Highest Organ” and, like the Conference of Heads of Government, is to be assisted in the performance of its function, by the four Organs or Ministerial Councils, namely the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) and the Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP).
It is against this background that this Council has been charged with the “primary responsibility for the development of Community strategic planning and coordination in the area of economic integration, functional cooperation and external relations in accordance with the policy directions established by the Conference.”
I have reiterated these Treaty provisions to stress not only the importance attaching to Meetings of this Council, but also to remind the Council itself of the broad scope of its mandate. Indeed, I have arranged for the relevant extract from Protocol I to be distributed as a means of reminding us all of the scope of the mandate of this Body – an issue to which Heads of Government drew attention at their last Meeting in Canouan in July 2000.
To enable the Community Council to fully discharge this somewhat awesome responsibility, it is necessary to keep the Council Members informed of the progress of key Community activities undertaken under the aegis of the various Organs and subsidiary Bodies. To this end, a suitable mechanism must therefore be found.
This is important, especially in a context where there is a virtual explosion of Community activities. For example, for the year not yet a full month old, apart from the Canada-CARICOM Summit in Montego Bay 10 days ago, there have been meetings of COTED, of COFAP and COFAP with Ministers of the Environment, among others. And since your last Meeting, the COHSOD has met, as has the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP) and numerous other Bodies.
It is not the thrust of my presentation, Ministers, that every Meeting or even every detail of key meetings must be brought to your notice. It is that we must fashion an appropriate instrument to keep you informed of key Community developments and plans. You must be enabled to see the woods for the trees!
A critical function devolving to this Body is that of preparing Meetings of the Conference of Heads of Government. That subject – Preparations for the Upcoming 12th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government scheduled for 14-16 February in Barbados – is on your Agenda. Central to that Meeting of the Conference is the expectation of the Signing of the Agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice. Integral to it will be the conferral of the Award of the Order of the Caribbean Community on the Rt. Hon. George Price of Belize, Sir George Alleyne of Barbados and Dr. Francisco Slinger popularly known as the “Mighty Sparrow”, of Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.
Madam Chair, a quick check will reveal not only a virtual explosion in Community activity, but also a changing nature of that activity from deliberation to implementation. This transformation has great relevance also for this Council which, according to Protocol I, has “responsibility for promoting and monitoring the implementation of Community decisions in Member States”. There is therefore a clear need for a mechanism to ensure the necessary interaction between the Council and the other Organs to achieve the promotion and monitoring of the implementation of Community decisions with which it is charged.
This wide scope of responsibility leads me to point in particular, to the specific responsibility of the Council with regard to what is undoubtedly the Community’s flagship – the establishment of the Single Market and Economy. In this regard, the Community Council has been charged with ensuring “the efficient and orderly development of the Single Market and Economy, particularly by seeking to resolve problems arising out of its functioning taking into account the work and decisions of COTED”. It is quite clear that quite a task lies ahead as the Single Market and Economy increasingly becomes a reality.
Today, however, another reality awaits your attention. That reality is the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community, whose budget lies before you for adoption on the recommendation of the Budget Committee which met on the 12th and 13th of this month. The outstanding feature of the Budget is that it remains structurally the same as its predecessor and in real terms, virtually unchanged. Unfortunately, the many mandates to be undertaken by the Secretariat or to which it must contribute have increased exponentially.
These mandates range from the establishment of the new Working Party on Rice, to that on the OECD Harmful Tax Competition, to participation in Electoral Observer Missions, to public education programmes critical to the establishment of the Single Market and Economy and the Caribbean Court of Justice. In all of this, however, we are bouyed by the belief and are reliant on the conviction that there is scope for improvement in the way all our Institutions do business. To this end, we await with impatience the Report on the Restructuring of the Secretariat with the hope that that Report and those relating to other Institutions serving the development of our Community will, with modest additional resources, help to guide us on to the path of ever greater efficiency.
Madam Chair, though the Agenda may seem formidable, indeed perhaps because it is, I have sought to express these views in the hope that they may help in some modest way to ignite the spark that rekindles the flame of Community building. Too often we lament and build barricades against external threats while at the same time ignoring our own threats to our own development. Non-implementation of our own freely-taken decisions, non-response or excessive delay to requests for information to inform our policy positions, under-capacity of our Institutions, and indeed even down-grading of the importance of regionalism itself. These are as destructive of our future as any external threat so far experienced.
Madam Chair, speaking of threats, those to which our societies are subjected are as much of nature’s doing as they are of our own. Today, we witness with great sadness the disaster that has struck El Salvador and the Indian nation, resulting in horrendous loss of life and destruction of property. I am certain that this Council would wish to convey to their Governments and peoples the deep sympathy and the condolence of the Governments and peoples of the Caribbean Community.
In closing, I am confident that in the firmament of Community Organs and Institutions, there is no Organ better designed and placed to lead our people in the actual construction of a viable Caribbean Community worthy of the aspirations of its people, than the Community Council.
It is against that background and with this conviction, firmly held, that I welcome you here to this Seventh Meeting of the Community Council of the Caribbean Community, and wish your deliberations the greatest possible success.
I thank you.