Your Excellency the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, Governor General of Jamaica, and Lady Allen; Your Excellency Jovenel Moise, President of Haiti and outgoing Chairman of Conference; the Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica and incoming Chairman; colleague Heads of Government; Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of CARICOM; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I cannot begin to tell you how good it feels to be back in Jamaica, a country which, I openly confess, will always have a special place in my heart. And curiously, I must share with you, it started in adversity with my first visit to Jamaica where in spite of a loss of property on the 1st Day and meeting Gilbert on Day 3! Jamaica’s untamed natural beauty has been for me a source of constant inspiration. So too its vibrant, passionate people, the very spice of our Caribbean creativity. Jamaica is a haven where I come, often, to find peace and perspective. And even when I am not here its music inspires me ALWAYS!
I am equally conscious of the profound historic significance of the place where we gather today for this the 39th Regular Session of the Conference of Heads of Government. For it was in Montego Bay, some seven decades ago, that a handful of brave patriots first poured, into that crucible of intoxicating aspirations, the elements from which they hoped to forge the lasting edifice of West Indian nationhood.
I am here today, by the grace of God and the decisive expression of the Barbadian electorate to take my place for the first time at the table of Heads. I am honoured and humbled by the responsibility entrusted to me by the people of Barbados and deeply appreciative of the good wishes and expressions of support that I have received from you. my fellow Heads.
It is no secret that Barbados is currently in a state of deep economic crisis. It is also clear that timely and decisive action by Government and by all of our stakeholders is needed to pull the country back from the brink. I know that you my colleagues appreciate the seriousness of our circumstances and understand the urgent domestic priorities the new Barbados Government is now contending with. You also recognize, and many have told me as much, that it is in the Community’s best interest to see the resurgence of a strong and economically sound Barbados.
Yet at the same time I come here with a simple message. While Barbados must of necessity look inward to fix what is broken, to restore hope and to heal a nation, my Government will not, not ever, stop looking out. For Barbados is very much a part of the Caribbean neighbourhood. Our Caribbean identity is intrinsic to our values, our culture and our way of life. Our region’s people share a common history and I remain convinced that our strength, survival and success lie in a common and shared future. As I have said on many occasions, and will continue to say, over and over: we are always better walking together than walking alone.
And so I wish to reassure you, if ever you had recent cause for doubt, that the Government of Barbados which I have the honour to lead is unequivocally committed to the cause of regional integration and ready to play its full and active part within the Caribbean Community in moving the process forward. We consider it an integral part of our future. As for myself, I am more than eager to get to work in my capacity as Lead Head for the CSME. It is a serious responsibility and I intend, absolutely, to treat it as such.
Mr Chairman, colleagues, I have been absent from these corridors for some ten years, and I accept that there is much I have to catch up on. In several areas of functional cooperation I see encouraging signs of progress. Regrettably, however, in some fundamental areas, particularly in respect of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, I am troubled to find that not much has changed;, not much has moved forward.
MIndeed, many of the same structural, legal and administrative impediments to CSME implementation remain. Even more alarming, so too do the psychological impediments, the closed mind sets in some quarters of officialdom that hunker down in their bunkers and silos jealously guarding their old territory, fearful of and resistant to change. Have we never wondered why this is so?
Among ourselves as leaders, and with teams of expert advisers and intellectuals drawn from within our comfort zones, we continue our self-analysis and introspection. We do so collectively, and sometimes also at the national level. I am told that the Secretariat recently organized another CSME Consultation, and that we will devote most of tomorrow’s proceedings to a Special Session on the CSME. I have also read the frank and sobering Golding Commission’s report on Jamaica’s relations with CARICOM and CARIFORUM which is also on our agenda for substantive discussion.
We certainly do not lack for studies to tell us what is wrong. Sadly these can also sometimes serve, inadvertently, to reinforce the cynicism and pessimism that we as leaders have allowed to dampen our natural enthusiasm for the idea of integration. More and more I find myself asking: Why are we so obsessed with diagnosing what is wrong? When last have we looked to our own people and their actions to show us to tell us what is right?
Too often as politicians we speak to trade and regulations and forget our purpose and passion, the people’s interest. Behind closed doors at retreats and in isolation from our advisers and our populace we have developed noble and lofty ideas and then delegated their execution to the officials below. Because the practical implications have often not been worked out and the recording of the decisions has frequently lacked clarity and precision, a fact attested to by the Caribbean Court of Justice, it should come as no great surprise when these decisions fall victim to bureaucratic inertia or resistance from those who did not participate meaningfully in their design or have not been fully enlightened as to their positive purpose. To borrow a term from business, malicious compliance is often the end result.
The Federation and subsequent attempts at Caribbean nationhood failed in part precisely because they followed a top-down approach instead of a people-driven one. Seven decades later, we cannot afford to repeat those mistakes.
In 1986 National Hero and founding father of an independent Barbados, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow told us that: “the regional integration movement is a fact of daily experience. It is a reality which is lived but which we have not yet been able to institutionalise.” He also pointed to our failure to find a way of using the ‘collective wisdom’ of our people, and to communicate the essence and the cultural infrastructure of the regional integration movement.
Some thirty years later, through trial and error we are moving incrementally, albeit at a pace that may be less than ideal, towards the elusive goal of institutionalising our lived reality. Yet, we will fail again if all we do is box it up within four square walls of regulatory rigidity; we will fail again if , as Errol Barrow put it, we forget its cultural infrastructure.
Our political leadership must facilitate and shepherd, not control and stifle. What is most needed, I am convinced, is for us to give our people the scope to express their natural inclination of togetherness and inclusion in ways that are productive and beneficial to the region as a whole. They should not have to jump through hoops to make this happen. What is equally needed is for us to foster the genuine buy in of our people, especially our young people, at all levels of our Community.
To do so, we must begin by recognizing that in 2018 we now have a constituency of integrationists by intuition and by belief, a generation of educated, worldly-wise, confident Caribbean citizens who learn, live and love together, trade, work and play together, share in each other’s joys and cry at each other’s tragedies. Geographical No boundaries do not exist in the minds of our young people. They fully recognize the Caribbean space as theirs to exploit, with or without the help of Governments, but beyond that they see the whole world as their horizon.
Of one thing we can be certain. TThey will not wait another decade, far less seven, for us to get it right. Nor will they will no longer easily forgive us for any further procrastination or lack of courage. Time is running out for us to harness that passion and empower that energy. For if we are truly to integrate our region then our Caribbean people must be at the centre of what we do. They must understand it, believe in it, own it and promote it.
If we take the time to think about it, there are several areas of functional cooperation within the Community’s single domestic space that work exceedingly well, even though their successes go largely unheralded, and our populations are often unaware that they are in any way connected to the Caribbean integration master plan. In education we have pooled our human and financial resources through CXC to repatriate our external examinations from Oxford and Cambridge, while building indigenous capacity and reinforcing pride in our regional identity.
In public health we cooperate to monitor and protect our single space from pandemics and have taken our campaign against Chronic Non Communicable Diseases all the way to the United Nations. In defence and security, in aviation safety, in climate change, in telecommunications, meteorology and standards, to give just a few examples, the will to work together is strong and the results positive.
And of course the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Faciliy, which must regrettably be pressed into action every year at this time, and the Regional Security Services are perhaps best exemplifies the ethic of teamwork and togetherness in the face of great adversity, where each experience is used to evaluate performance and strengthen capacity for the future. Let me note that these last 2 agencies do not subscribe to the boundaries of CARICOM or language as they confront what true integration of the people from the Caribbean must mean. CoOmmon shared action for common shared challenges regardless of language, size or colonisation.
What all of these efforts have in common is that they operate in non-contentious areas where there are no perceived winners or losers and where shared benefits are easy to identify. In this way trust and confidence are created which in turn help to build a platform for common action in other spheres of our development endeavour. At a time when many in the developed world are already questioning the viability of small states, at a time when our fiscal space is shrinking and the complexity of governance growing, we simply must find deeper forms of functional cooperation to prevent unnecessary duplication of effort and to reduce the costs of government to our individual states. We must demonstrate our political commitment to act regionally instead of nationally whenever this makes practical and economic sense.
Indeed, we already have an effective model in the Caribbean Court of Justice, which operates, with the same bench of judges and the same funding, as the final appellate court of some countries at the national level and as the regional court of all member states in the interpretation of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The area of competition policy and utility regulation policy might also be susceptible to a similar approach. Most Some of us already maintain national Fair Trading Commissions or Utility Regulators , at considerable cost, and yet there is a Regional Competition Commission in Suriname that could be empowered to serve. enabled to serve both functions. Might we not use this and similar Institutions in other areas of shared interest to employ the best of our region’s talent without the constraints of insularity, giving them the experience to enhance our regulatory framework and allow investment to flow into region?
In 2007, we put great effort into creating a single domestic space for our visitors to move freely within CARICOM during Cricket World Cup. All the relevant security measures were in place, and still are, to monitor that space effectively, and the groundwork was laid to make this a legacy project for the benefit of CARICOM citizens. Yet a decade later the momentum seems to have been lost. We did it for those external to our region and yet we seem incapable of doing it for ourselves. I submit that the time has come for us to activate the Single Domestic Space for hassle-free intra-regional travel and to introduce the long-discussed CARICOM multi-purpose I.D. card, whose costs can be met not just by Governments and ordinary citizens but by the business community who will be among its major beneficiaries.
Travel and interaction among our Caribbean people creates understanding, reinforces common purpose and ultimately strengthens regional integration. A Single Domestic Space for hassle-free travel in a sense presupposes the existence of a Single Domestic Space for Transportation. Something is therefore fundamentally wrong when travel to Miami or New York is more accessible and cost-effective for our people than travel to their nearest Caribbean neighbour. We simply have to do better. As the major shareholder in LIAT my Government commits to working assiduously and urgently with its other partner Governments to enhance LIAT’s operations and profitability, while providing an affordable and reliable service to enable our citizens to move throughout the Caribbean.
To get the full benefit of our common space in the movement of people, cargo and vehicles, renewed and focussed leadership is also called for to translate the much-studied inter-island ferry service from concept to reality. To move beyond talk and to actively encourage investment by our Private Sector to unlock new categories of travellers.
Similarly, sustaining a spirit of community and a sense of Caribbean identity requires the constant sharing of ideas and experiences, and the frequent exchange of information. Our people cannot develop a true regional consciousness if they only see themselves interpreted through an external lens.
We need first to protect our common space – our CaAribbean sea. We recognize in Barbados that our maritime jurisdiction covers 400 times the area of our land. So we must first protect our Sea and conserve its marine life. Our Coral Reefs are dying at an unacceptable rate and we MUST commit to their rebuilding as this is the basis of our environment – of who we are and the nature of our lifestyle.
We have long advocated for, but never quite achieved, a Single Domestic Space for Telecommunications and Information. We need a better deal for our citizens with respect to the cost and service of Telecommunications. We need to protect ourselves and the quality of our data from cyber security threats and from destruction of our Telecoms Infrastructure in providing a greater degree of Telecommunications Resilience.
In this era when globally, high-quality, low cost, highly mobile digital technology is fast replacing traditional broadcast infrastructure a real time Caribbean-wide news network must surely now be within our grasp. Not to mention commercially viable cultural content.
It also seems somewhat absurd that we are hard at work building a single domestic space for trade and yet we are currently required to settle our regional trade bills and investment payments in hard currency. It is high time that as a matter of policy we reintroduce to CARICOM a modern Multilateral Payments Clearing Facility which would require us to settle only net differences in hard currency. I recognize that a previous incarnation of this concept did not end happily, but that was because it sort to protect weak currencies when it had no mandate or capacity to do so and it was many moons ago. F, and failure then does not negate the idea’s worth now. I am minded that we are in the country of Jimmy Cliff – who if I could sing I would share his classic “We can get it if we really want…But we must try, try and try.” Properly established, using modern technology and strict oversight, such a facility would allow for cheaper, more efficient digital payments thereby encouraging trade enhancing competitiveness and saving precious foreign exchange.
If I have talked extensively about functional cooperation, it is because contrary to lazy perceptions so many of these efforts work cost-effectively, and work well. And many more excellent ideas have been developed that it is in our shared capacity to implement. In this sense therefore we are clearly always better together especially in a tight fiscal climate and where there may be a limited skills pool.
The challenge for us now is to get to that same realisation when it comes to the matter of the Single Market and Economy. This is by far the most intricate and complex part of the integration architecture, the one that requires the serious heavy lifting, and the one where buy-in is the most difficult to achieve at all levels – the political, the bureaucratic and the popular. For, unlike in functional cooperation, issues of trade and free markets are often perceived to produce winners and losers and decades of preferences have not predisposed us to the notion of competition. The long shadow of globalization, both its promise and its peril, the advent of Brexit as well as the return of protectionism among some of the world’s major players, all do little to diminish the climate of doubt and anxiety. Even within our region, and my own country regrettably, xenophobia can sometimes be deliberately stoked for short-term political gain. “Ever so welcome. Wait for a call.”
And so it is, therefore, that in these uncertain times we as Heads have the greatest responsibility to show resolute and mature leadership. We, above all, understand the history of our journey thus far. We did not get here by accident. Equally, we will not get where we have to go by accident. The road ahead for our region will not be easy but neither will it be is it likely to be as harder than the as the road already travelled by our predecessors. ancestors. We must take courage and stay the course. And we must motivate and educate our people to stay the course with us.
Regrettably I did not have the opportunity to participate in the recent CSME Consultation. It would therefore be somewhat presumptuous of me to comment in detail or to pre-empt tomorrow’s dialogue. In general terms, however, I think it is fair to say that, despite the significant progress made by the countries of the OECS, prevailing economic circumstances within member states will make it difficult in the near to medium term to achieve the level of macro-economic convergence necessary to progress, on a Caribbean-wide basis, towards the CARICOM Single Economy. While pragmatism may be called for, this should not, however, be interpreted to suggest an abandonment of that fundamental goal. There are opportunities for serious functional cooperation on critical areas for economic growth – energy cooperation, capital market integration, e-commerce, food security, to cite just a few.
When it comes to the Single Market, the parameters for the trade in goods are well established, and the mechanisms for dispute settlement are in place and working. As in any dynamic institutional arrangement, there is always scope for ongoing policy discussion and refinement. We should not therefore shy away from holding frank debate and seeking solutions to any matters that cause concern to any of our members. At the same time, however, we should take care to ensure that our focus on implementation issues within the Single Market and on the promotion of intra-regional trade does not divert us entirely from the equally important goal of developing, from our collective regional base, those aspects of production capability and competitiveness that will allow us to better penetrate the international market.
I accept that considerable work has been undertaken by national and Secretariat officials on the highly complex and detailed work programme of institutionalising the other aspects of the Single Market, namely the free movement of skilled nationals, capital, and services and the rights of establishment. I also recognize the sincerity of the commitment of our officials and the legal and technical capacity constraints which continue to hamper their progress. At the same time, however, I am convinced that better can be done.
As a loyal member of the Barbados Labour Party, it is self-evident that I would be very partial to the colour red. That love, however, does not in any way extend to the matter of red tape. From my perspective it seems that in some cases at the national level we have set up elaborate and unnecessarily complicated processes for fulfilling some of the basic requirements under the freedom of movement regime. I refer in particular to the matter of accreditation, and the issuance and verification of Skills Certificates, where so many levels of often duplicating checks from so many different entities lead to inevitable delays, at great prejudice to the career options of the Skilled Worker. This is totally unacceptable.
In 2018, the age of blockchain real time technologies and blockchain securityy, we must be able to do better at real time communication. There are secure and cost-effective ways of ways of simplifying and expediting the verification process of documents and the bona fides of applicants. We must not allow the CSME to be held hostage by the arbitrary processing timelines of administrative entities.
While I fully respect the need for thorough vetting at the same time nothing in our experience of the regime thus far suggests cause for undue alarm. In the case of Barbados, for example, from 2006 to March 2018, our Accreditation Council has issued 2039 Certificates and verified 1122. Out of a total of 3161 certificates processed there have been 10 instances of fraudulent documentation, an incidence of less than 0.3%. It is not reasonable for us to continue to make the innocent pay, in lost opportunities and in frustration, for the handful of the guilty who seek to defraud the system.
It must be made possible for accreditation to be granted pending completion of the more detailed due diligence, in the clear knowledge that we have the means to track and deal with any abusers. We will shift the burden of proof on the Applicant to swear to the authenticity of the applications of certificates being submitted and if proven later to be inaccurate to show cause why the certificate might not be revoked. This will allow almost instantaneous approval of certificates. We will adapt MFN treatment and extend Most Favoured People treatment to our Caribbean people. and presume they are honest and telling the truth.
Let me also use this opportunity to address another topical issue of concern to our outgoing Chairman. I would not know how to lead a Single Market and Economy and require of our brothers and sisters of Haiti, standards that are greater than we require of persons who are not members of our Community or signatories of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. We do not require visas of many countries outside the community.
Accordingly, my Cabinet has agreed to remove the visa requirements for Haiti because in our view it breaches the fundamental tenets that bind us under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas; namely that of treating each other better than we treat anybody else from outside the Community and secondly, non-discrimination. In these circumstances, Mr. Chairman, Barbados chooses to lead by example and not by default.
In the case of Rights of Establishment, again there is time-consuming and counterproductive duplication for CARICOM citizens seeking to register companies in multiple jurisdictions across the region. It is time, therefore, that within the single domestic space established by the CSME our Corporate Registries move to a system of mutual recognition of the relevant corporate documents. We cannot encourage our private sector to invest across the region and yet take no concrete action to facilitate the ease of doing business.
Other issues which I believe demand our priority attention and are reaching us for our signature are the settling of the matter of the Protocol on Contingent Rights and the Protocol on Government Procurement. No investor worth his salt will move without knowing what will …. his spouse or his dependent parents or children. The Caribbean that separated our families is the Caribbean that we must never ever return to.
Despite the many setbacks we have faced and the implementation struggles we now confront in fulfilling our obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas we must never forget that this is by far the most fundamental and far-reaching legal commitment our countries have ever entered into. Yes, it requires determination and endless effort. Yes there are parts that are not yet up to speed, parts that are the subject of contention, and parts that are working well. Some aspects will provide greater benefits for individual states, but ultimately we all find some measure of shelter under the CARICOM umbrella, as we work to bring balanced and equitable results for every member state.
Our countries must work hard to agree to and set Minimum Development goals for our people, anchored by our own developmental goals but buttressed by functional cooperation. These will be in areas of Education, in Health Care, in Public Health and in particular cooperation in eliminating Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). This will reduce the fear that those of our citizens who have not escaped the poverty
I truly believe that regional integration is the only viable path forward for our tiny fragile states whose survival is of little consequence to the large and powerful in the grand scheme of things. We must have the political will and we must make the resources available because we believe there is value and gain to be garnered from us deploying these resources.
Those who wish to opt out, or to cherry pick only what aspects of the integration architecture work best for them might well heed the lessons of BREXIT and the hundred billion dollar divorce bill Britain is now confronting because of the prospective loss of all of the other benefits of functional cooperation that were seamlessly tied to its membership of the Union and taken for granted.
Equally, we must remember that those who secure victory over us do one thing and one thing alone – divide and rule. Lest you think I am citing cliches, look at what is happening with the EU/OECD Blacklisting of our countries or indeed, our seeming inability to extract greater value from our Cruise tourism from the very limited Head Tax. We cannot improve our Cruise Facilities with the limited financing that this HeadTax offers us – but yet we fail to bite the bullet and establish with the requisite negotiating authority, a Caribbean Cruise Commission.
If this allows us to summon the requisite political will, then we must be prepared to provide the resources. Like another previous distinguished Prime Minister of Barbados, Sir Harold St. John, who gave much of his life to the work of this regional movement, I believe in the need for automaticity of financing. Whether, it is through a re-working of the Common External Tariff or some other mechanism, CARICOM will not deliver for our Caribbean people if it does NOT have the finances to deliver and implement. But CARICOM will not benefit as Singing Francine reminded us in her famous calypso – there will be no HONEY for CARICOM (or for us) if it does not get MONEY – and CARICOM will die BUT NOT WITH DIGNITY.
Mr Chairman, colleagues, it has taken us a journey of seven decades and 1 year to reach this point. If Grantley Adams and Norman Manley were watching us from wherever they are this =s evening, they would smile as they see that the crucible is still bubbling. We send back the message to them that while the alchemist has not yet produced gold, there is hope for tomorrow.
And so as current leaders of our Caribbean Community it is perhaps fitting that we should ask ourselves: Are we the Joshua generation, intent upon finishing the business of our founding fathers and leading our people to the Promised Land? Or are we content to go our separate ways, to walk around in circles in a never ending wilderness, devoid of the vision and the courage to seek a new path or try a new strategy?
The choice is ours. But I for one, my friend, will never stop believing (on a Sly and Robbie dub track) that we are always better, always stronger, working together.
I thank you.