COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE 15TH MEETING OF PRESIDENTS AND GOVERNORS-GENERAL OF THE CARIBBEAN REGION, MARCH 29 – APRIL 1, 2016, SANDALS GRANDE ANTIGUA RESORT AND SPA, DICKENSON BAY, ANTIGUA
The 15th Meeting of Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean Region was held at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa, Dickenson Bay, Antigua. The Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, His Excellency Sir Rodney Errey Lawrence Williams KGN, GCMG, KSt. J, GCFO, MBBS (UWI), chaired the proceedings.
Other Presidents and Governors-General in attendance were: His Excellency Mr. Perin Ainsworth Bradley, Deputy Governor Designate of Anguilla; His Excellency Sir Samuel Weymouth Seaton GCMG, CVO, QC, JP, LL.B (Hons) (UWI), Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis; His Excellency Mr. Charles A. Savarin DAH, President of the Commonwealth of Dominica; Her Excellency Dame Cecile La Grenade GCMG, OBE, Ph.D, Governor General of Grenada; His Excellency Mr. Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Her Excellency Dame Calliopa Pearlette Louisy GCMG, GCSL, DSt. J., Ph. D, LL.D (Hons), FRSA, Governor General of St. Lucia; and His Excellency Sir Colville Norbert Young GCMG, MBE, Ph.D., J.P (S), Governor General of Belize. In attendance, as a special guest of Their Excellencies, was Her Excellency the Right Honourable Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Secretary General Designate of the Commonwealth
Also in attendance and making presentations were: Sir Christopher Geidt, Private Secretary to The Queen; The Right Honourable Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice; Mr. Albert Lockhart, Resident Representative, Antigua and Barbuda of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank; Ambassador Diann Black-Layne, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador on Climate Change and Director, Environment Department; Major David Rankin-Hunt, Norfolk Herald of Arms; Mr. Regis G. Burton, Queen’s Young Leader Awardee; His Excellency Dr. Didacus Jules, Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Secretariat; and Sir Clare K. Roberts, Governor General’s Deputy of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Chairman, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams and Her Excellency the Right Honourable Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Secretary General Designate of the Commonwealth addressed the Opening Ceremony.
Governor General Sir Rodney Williams told the wide cross section of distinguished Antiguans and Barbudans attending the ceremony, to include Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston A. Browne, Members of Parliament and other public and private sector officials that the Conference being held under the theme, “The Commonwealth in a Changing Caribbean,” was occurring at a time when the global landscape is changing, hence there was the need to exchange ideas and promote synergies as to how the Caribbean can adapt to them. He noted that the roles of Heads of State are demanding, and are not simply related to honours, instruments of appointments or independence or military functions, but they also include judicial and legislative functions, social responsibilities, community outreach and advisory and encouraging role to Heads of Government. He therefore stated that the Conference is very significant in charting a way forward towards greater collaboration and effectiveness.
The featured speaker was Secretary-General Designate of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Right Honourable Patricia Scotland QC, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, who highlighted the diversity of the Caribbean and called for its celebration and not fear our differences. Baroness Scotland also pointed to that coming together in unity is one of the strengths of the Caribbean region and pointed out the successes of CARICOM, the OECS and the work of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Baroness Scotland outlined that the Caribbean can come together in celebration but it also needs to be there in times of crisis, singling out the existential threat of climate change that presents real dangers for the region and the world.
Baroness Scotland praised the work of the Caribbean in being the starting point that led to the successes in Paris with nations committing to a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2%. She said that there is still much more to be done to include translating commitment into action and learning from each other while at the same time building resilience and mitigation.
The Commonwealth Secretary General Designate also addressed how the region’s vulnerabilities are assessed by developed nations and institutions and quickly pointed out that GDP cannot be the final arbiter of how countries are assessed. She said there was the need for a conversation about how the international and development systems assess the needs of the region and others around the world when they are subject to the level of vulnerability that is unrelated to GDP.
She also praised the uniqueness of the Caribbean young people, urging that in order to create wealthy societies, nations must invest in the social capital by looking at the choices and chances available for all citizens. It was highlighted that the region cannot afford to lose the skill, energy, passion of any of its people, because there is the need to build that social capital if long term health and wealth are to be assured.
THE CROWN AND CARIBBEAN REALMS, THE RELATIONSHIP
The Private Secretary to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Christopher Geidt, KCB, KCVO, OBE delivered a presentation that highlighted the relationship between the Crown and the Caribbean realms. Sir Christopher traced the relationship back to the World Wars and the role played by Caribbean men and women. It was pointed out that while Caribbean nations became autonomous and independent, the relationship between the region and the Crown, while it evolved remained a significant component of the Commonwealth. Sir Christopher also stressed that the Crown now independently related to the Caribbean, remains committed to the service of each jurisdiction with which it is associated as a matter of duty and inclination.
Recognising the right of the jurisdictions of the region to choose their final Court of Appeal, Sir Christopher says that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which has a long history of interpreting laws from many different countries and territories and within a wide range of contexts, will continue to offer services to the Caribbean for as long as it is wanted.
Sir Christopher also noted that the Crown through The Queen and other Members of the Royal Family are determined to play their part in celebrating and projecting the role of the Crown in the Caribbean through working on issues that are vital to the region, including sustainable development, environmental protection and youth opportunity.
Their Excellencies therefore, Reaffirmed their commitment to continuing the traditional bonds of unity and brotherhood with the Crown through Her Majesty The Queen and the Commonwealth of Nations including the Caribbean with the expressed aim of advancing the aspirations of the peoples in an ever evolving Caribbean.
Their Excellencies Agreed that the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Caribbean can and should do more to reinvigorate the relations among our nations, desiring to promoting stability, continuity and national focus as the Caribbean goes through a period of change.
THE ROLE AND FUNCTION OF THE CCJ
Their Excellencies welcomed the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, The Right Honourable Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron. Sir Dennis’ presentation “The Role and Function of the CCJ” sought to establish the case for the region adopting the Caribbean Court of Justice as the Final Court of Appeal as against the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Their Excellencies Recognized that Caribbean countries may adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice as their final appellate court to remove the last vestige of the colonial era.
They Affirmed that the CCJ has symbolic value as the final step in becoming truly independent and cultivating national pride and personal self-esteem while assisting combatting high crime rates in the region.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged that the President of the CCJ stated that the British Government, in its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should take the necessary steps to assist its former colonies to attain full independence by having its own final court of appeal.
With respect to the independence of the court, their Excellencies Noted that the Caribbean Court of Justice has been established as a model of institutional independence. The selection policies of the court are completely removed from political involvement of any government or politician.
To this end, their Excellencies Agreed that the current mechanism of having an independent Regional Judicial Legal Services Commission responsible for the selection of judges is accepted as being exceptional. Further, their Excellencies observed that the use of a trust fund whose income funds the Court’s operation in perpetuity may be considered an international best practice that is effective in insulating the court from political influence and interference.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged that the CCJ has offered many important landmark judgments in both its original and appellate jurisdiction. Among these, the CCJ established that persons other than a CARICOM state can bring proceedings before the CCJ once it has granted leave. It has also declared that decisions of the Conference of Heads of Government are a source of CARICOM law and in the notable case of Myrie v. Barbados  the Court held that CARICOM nationals have a right to an automatic stay of 6 months unless the receiving country can show that they are likely to become a charge on its public purse or they fall within a category of undesirable persons.
Their Excellencies considered the Myrie case also illustrated that the CCJ can in fact champion the causes of the ‘man or woman on the street’ and provide a forum to ventilate grievances that would otherwise go unaddressed.
Their Excellencies were satisfied with the efficiency of the Court as there exists no backlog of cases at the CCJ as it has adopted a practice of filtering cases which have no prospect of success. Of the cases that were allowed to go to full appellate hearing, there were 91 of which 86 judgements had been rendered.
Their Excellencies Affirmed their support for the rights of peoples of the Caribbean to choose their Court of Final Appeal and to express those rights within the Constitutional requirements of respective countries.
THE CHANGING FACE OF BANKING IN THE CARIBBEAN
Their Excellencies welcomed Resident Representative of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Albert Lockhart to deliver a presentation. The aim of the presentation was to describe some of the changes in the banking industry in the Caribbean focusing mainly on the territories of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), which comprises Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These islands have high exposure to banking activities and their commercial banks are among the most critical and essential components of the ECCU economies.
It was highlighted that tools available to banks and the environment for banking systems have changed dramatically in the last 20 years or so. Technology and the legislative environment are having major changes in the banking system over the past 20 years.
Internally, banks are driven to make changes in pursuit of increased profits, and increased market share. This is evident in the restructuring efforts of banks as they seek to optimize operations to cut costs, improve efficiency and maximize profits. On the external side, there are two significant changing agents, specifically technology and the legislative environment. Thus on the external changes, one of the most fundamental changes in the banking industry in the last twenty years is the introduction of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to transmit financial messages. In 1996, ECCB became a member of SWIFT and began live operations with commercial banks in the ECCU member states.
Eastern Caribbean Clearing House of 2015 is another change that occurred in the industry. This institution provides a cost efficient clearing and settlement mechanism for the faster clearing and settlement of cheques.
Their Excellencies Stressed the need for banks to be vigilant of future challenges which may threaten their survival. One such challenge being the threat of ‘de-risking’ (severing of relationships and closing accounts) of banks within the Caribbean by their correspondent banks in the United States and for currency notes to be made available for blind persons.
Their Excellencies Agreed that a letter should be drafted to the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank to seek solutions to the concerns raised and for notes to be introduced with polymer and security features which are accessible to visually impaired persons in the Caribbean region that are using banking facilities. Limitations on the requirements for opening up international accounts and limitations on the access of small business to financing will also form part of the concerns expressed.
THE IMPACT OF GLOBAL WARMING ON SMALL ISLAND STATES
Their Excellencies welcomed Ambassador Diann Black-Layne, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador on Climate Change and Director of the country’s Environment Department to deliver a presentation on the impact of global warming on small island states.
Heads of State engaged Ambassador Black-Layne in robust discussion following her presentation which highlighted that Small Island Developing States are at great risk due to Climate Change. It was highlighted that as a result of Climate Change, the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth were experiencing more extreme rainfall, flooding and more frequent storms.
2015 was the hottest year on record and the driest year for Antigua and Barbuda and most of the region. The Caribbean could be three degree Celsius warmer by 2070 which would mean an increase in chronic illnesses and disease vectors. It was pointed out that within six months in the Caribbean in 2013, there were 5, 294 cases confirmed of the Chikungunya virus; and 180,00 suspected cases..
It was also pointed out that Caribbean tourism economies are at risk with sea level rise of half a meter due to the effects of Climate Change. Coastal development plus sea level rise and erosion reduce value of and the aesthetic nature of Caribbean sites. Climate change also exacerbates Sargassum; with three factors contributing to the Caribbean’s Sargassum influx: increased sea surface temperature, changes in ocean circulation and currents; and nutrients entering the ocean favour seaweed growth. Ocean acidification and high temperatures also bleach coral reefs.
Recognizing the significant threat posed to the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth, Heads Agreed to:
- Support the regional establishment of a Sustainable Initiative Revolving Fund (SIRF) which will support communities and Non-Governmental Organisations and are predictable, consistent sources of financing for planning and contingency;
- Support the efforts to secure financing for adaptation in preparing for droughts, hurricanes and vector borne diseases
- Support the need for the price of oil to be stabilized in order to reduce the rate of burning fossil fuels
- Support efforts to create new and innovative investments for Small Island Developing States
- Support the outcomes of COP21-Paris 2015 and view the decisions as a turning point for action to limit Climate Change below dangerous levels and signaling the end of business as usual for the energy industries
- Support the Article of the Paris Agreement which establishes an enduring, binding and transparent legal regime where all countries make commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage the impacts of climate change. It will shape climate action for decades into the future
THE RELEVANCE OF A NATIONAL HONOURS SYSTEM IN AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY
Their Excellencies welcomed Major David Rankin-Hunt, Norfolk Herald of Arms to the Conference for a presentation on the relevance of national honours systems in independent countries.
Their Excellencies Agreed that the most efficient way for a State to publicly demonstrate its appreciation and gratitude to its citizens for contributing to society is through their National Honours System.
It was also Agreed that for any Honour system to operate properly it must have credibility and to have credibility it must be seen to operate fairly and transparently so that everyone involved in the process can have absolute confidence that the sole criterion for consideration is merit. Also, that one group, class, profession, ethnic mix or gender does not have an advantage over another. That the committee set up to assess the relative merits of the candidates are impartial, apolitical and unbiased.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged the need for the National Honours Systems/Medals of various countries should be publicized in order to sensitize the public to each system and medals.
Their Excellencies further Agreed that the operation of an Honours system provides the opportunity to recognise publicly the outstanding accomplishments of many of the nations’ talented and deserving citizens. It enhances the life of societies and as a result is an important part of civil society.
THE WORK OF THE ORDER OF ST. JOHN IN THE CARIBBEAN AND WIDER COMMONWEALTH
Their Excellencies welcomed Major David Rankin-Hunt, for a second presentation on the work of the Order of St. John in the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged the tremendous charitable contribution of the Order to over forty countries within the Caribbean and the Wider Commonwealth. Over 1.7 million people were treated and 4.3 million people reached by St John in recent years. Currently there are 380,000 dedicated volunteers and staff worldwide, more than half of them are below the age of 25.
Their Excellencies Recognised the work of the Order in first aid care and training, ambulance service, community healthcare, training and development programmes for young people, and other specialized services according to the needs of the various communities served.
ISSUES AFFECTING YOUTHS IN A CHANGING CARIBBEAN – A YOUNG LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE
Their Excellencies welcomed Mr. Regis Burton, Antigua and Barbuda’s Queen’s Young Leader Awardee for a presentation on issues affecting youths in a changing Caribbean from a young leader’s perspective.
It was highlighted that young people within the Caribbean are exposed to a myriad of good and bad habits of leadership, traditional and cultural norms, corruption, accomplishments, lack of interest in youth dreams, poverty, wealth, diversity, greed, crime, abuse, gender discrimination, unemployment, technology and the like. These have led to the creation of productive young people and young people being affected by many issues.
The focus of Conference was brought to bear on three key areas surrounding the lack of professional development opportunities: A lack of career development events, a lack of support for young business owners, and a lack of professional training for athletes.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged the need to create additional avenues for young people to access the support and resources needed to accelerate innovative ideas; foster leadership skills in high school students; create networks and support mechanisms to foster youth advancement and give guidance in accessing opportunities available for young people.
Their Excellencies Affirmed their support for youth development programmes across the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth and agreed that the grouping, through the Conference of Governors-General and Presidents and individual offices should be advocates for youth empowerment, protection and advancement.
THE ORGANIZATION OF EASTERN CARIBBEAN STATES (OECS) – A MODEL FOR DEVELOPMENT
Their Excellencies welcomed Dr. Didacus Jules, Director General of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States to present on Integration in the OECS.
The Presentation offered by Dr. Jules sought to explain and clarify the challenges and opportunities that faced deeper integration in the OECS sub-region.
Their Excellencies learned that OECS integration was premised largely on a common economic framework and shared institutions.
Their Excellencies Accepted that the following three pillars were key to the consolidation of a single economic space within the OECS:
- The consolidation of the architecture of regional integration;
- Facilitating the free movement growth and development of people, goods, services and capital;
- Assuring the security and well-being of citizens.
With respect to Pillar I – “The consolidation of the architecture of regional integration”, Their Excellencies Welcomed the following recommendations:
- Restructure the secretariat for efficiency and delivery;
- Strengthen governance and accession to OECS accords;
- Strengthen democracy and deepen citizen engagement;
- Construction of a New Secretariat and
- The strategic distributed presence of the organs of integration.
With respect to Pillar II: The Free Movement, Growth and Development of People, Goods Services and Capital, Their Excellencies Welcomed the following recommendations:
- The establishment of a Common Commercial Policy;
- Harmonization and management of a Common Trade Policy;
- Protecting tourism in the sub-region;
- Re-invigorating capital investment in OECS;
- Strengthening travel and communications infrastructure in the OECS;
- Full implementation of the provisions for ease of travel across the OECS space.
With respect to Pillar III: Assuring the security and wellbeing of citizens, their Excellencies also Welcomed the following recommendations:
- Designing an OECS Job creation strategy;
- Optimizing human resource development and capacity in the single space;
- Closer convergence of National Insurance Corporations;
- Designing a healthy lifestyles framework;
- Converging poverty intervention strategies in the OECS space;
- Security of homes and communities initiative.
Their Excellencies concluded that ultimately the model of OECS Integration should be encouraged and Pledged to give their support in this endeavour. The Conference Recognized that the way forward for the OECS must be an engagement with CARICOM and CARICOM with the OECS.
HUMAN RIGHTS – THE CARIBBEAN’S RESPONSE TO PREVAILING ISSUES
Their Excellencies welcomed Sir Clare K. Roberts KCN, QC, Governor General’s Deputy of Antigua and Barbuda for a presentation on the Caribbean’s response to prevailing issues of human rights.
Their Excellencies Reaffirmed their commitment to Human rights as rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of our race, place of origin, political opinions or affiliation, sex, creed or language or any other social condition, and that all human beings are equally entitled to human rights without discrimination.
Their Excellencies Acknowledged that there are many prevailing issues of Human Rights in the Caribbean today, namely the Death Penalty, Corporal Punishment, the Police and Human Rights, Crime and Human Rights, Racial Discrimination, the Mentally Ill and Human Rights, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, Prison Conditions and Human Rights, the Rights of Young people and Warehousing Young People.
Their Excellencies Recognised the severe effect of the deprivation of basic human rights on the economic development of countries within the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth and the right to a descent life, especially in the case of persons who are vulnerable and less fortunate.
Their Excellencies Noted the troubling trend of stigma and discrimination contributing to the HIV epidemics in Caribbean countries and supported Government Aids Secretariats, People Living with HIV and other Non-Governmental Organisations around the Caribbean in their various HIV prevention campaigns to include anti-stigma messages.
Their Excellencies further Agreed to be an advocate for the development of a human-rights driven National Plan for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and to ensure that there is inserted in the National Human Rights Plan a section dealing with the strategy to ensure that the human rights of persons living with HIV and AIDS are respected.
Conference Agreed would need to be paid to improving prison conditions to meet international benchmark practices.
Their Excellencies Agreed that the grouping, through the Conference of Governors-General and Presidents and individual offices should be advocates for the advancement of fundamental and essential human rights for the peoples of the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth and the promotion of the relevant treaties and instruments in which standards are set to protect the rights of persons.
ZIKA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Their Excellencies welcomed Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization for a presentation on the Zika Virus and the threat it poses to the Caribbean.
Heads of State Recognised the severity of the threats to the economic development of the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth by the Zika Virus and Supported the need for action by governments, communities, families and individuals to effectively undertake the very critical work of eliminating mosquito breeding sites, including derelict vehicles, discarded tires, uncovered water barrels and other containers.
Heads of State Supported PAHO's integrated surveillance strategy and the need to continue training primary health care workers in identifying and reporting Zika cases in addition to strengthening laboratory capacities
Heads of State Welcomed current information about epidemiology and natural history, including potential link to microcephaly and other fetal malformations, clinical manifestations, modes of transmission and pathogenesis of Zika virus.
Heads of State Supported the plans to identify critical gaps in knowledge, technologies, research infrastructure and regulatory oversight needed to address the current epidemic, and the advancement of further strategies to accelerate the development of vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and novel vector control methods.
SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Their Excellencies welcomed the opportunity to congratulate Her Excellency the Right Honourable Baroness Scotland of Asthal, on her election to the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations and her assumption to high office from 1st April 2016.
Their Excellencies Noted that Baroness Scotland is a leader of exceptional calibre, integrity and achievements, with a clear vision that is complimented by her ability to bring people together to achieve results.
Their Excellencies Expressed their support for her vision, experience and heritage and believe that these attributes will enable her to lead the Commonwealth of Nations, ensuring that it remains relevant and purposeful and most importantly advance the aspirations of the peoples of the Caribbean with whom she shares a common bond.
GROUPING OF PRESIDENTS AND GOVERNORS-GENERAL
Their Excellencies Reaffirmed their commitment made at their previous conference, to the continuing existence and success of the Conference of Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean Community, recognizing that through this “community of interests” among the Heads of State of the Region, their effectiveness will be further enhanced.
Their Excellencies also Supported the need for continuous high-level dialogue and partnerships among the Heads of State which will help to provide timely interventions on the numerous social challenges which face the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth.
Their Excellencies Agreed that although their functions are circumscribed by their individual constitutions and laws, their capacity to influence, intercede and empower is broad in scope and rich in potential and will utilise these privileges to advance the peoples of the Caribbean and wider Commonwealth.
Their Excellencies Congratulated Her Majesty The Queen on her upcoming 90th Birthday on April 21, and discussed appropriate ways in recognizing this significant occasion especially in Realm Countries.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT & APPRECIATION
The Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean Community expressed profound gratitude to His Excellency Sir Rodney Errey Lawrence Williams KGN, GCMG, KSt. J, GCFO, MBBS (UWI), and Lady Williams and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for hosting the Conference. The Heads also expressed appreciation for the warm hospitality and excellent arrangements provided which helped to make the Conference a success. This Conference has allowed the Heads of State to engage in meaningful discourse on important issues and challenges that confront the peoples of the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth. The Heads of State agreed that their continued cooperation will be essential in assisting their governments and peoples to realize their aspirations. The Heads of State welcomed the offer by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Mr. Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC to tentatively host the 16th meeting of the Conference of Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean Community in April of 2017.