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(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community buckled down to the business of the 21st Intersessional Meeting Thursday morning in Roseau, Dominica, without the fanfare of a ceremonial opening, conscious of the pressing matters before them.
Haiti tops the agenda of the two-day meeting and the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica and Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government said the Region wanted to ensure that the Member State remained the central focus of the regional agenda and that the international community did not forget Haiti.

“Haiti requires the support of all of us, and the first item on the agenda of the meeting of the World Bank will be Haiti. One of the important matters we will be putting before the President of the World Bank is to establish a designated development fund for Haiti. Funds pledged by various countries and institutions could be deposited into the account to have better and more efficient access to it, Prime Minister Skerrit said.

At an early morning press conference before heading into the Meeting, Prime Minister Skerrit said the Community wanted foremost for the Haitian government and its people to be at the centre of and leading the process of the country’s reconstruction following the 12 January earthquake.

“We have to ensure that the errors of the past do not repeat themselves where we, as non-Haitian nationals would go into Haiti and determine for them what they need, how they need it and how they should do it, and at the end of the day, nobody benefits,” he told media representatives.

The Hon. P.J. Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, and the Community’s current special representative to Haiti, will brief the Meeting on efforts to champion the cause of Haitians and will also participate in the exchange with the World Bank.

The Region’s crippling debt burden, climate change and matters relating to `tax havens’, are among the issues the Heads of Government will discuss with the International Financial Institutions (IFI).

CARICOM Secretary-General His Excellency Edwin Carrington pointed out that in 1993, the heavy and major constraints of debt burden on the Region were addressed at a Heads of Government Meeting in Roseau and they had called upon the international community and the industrialized countries to seek the IFIs greater understanding of the debt problem and for the adoption of appropriate measures to deal with it.

“The issue is a perennially difficult one,” the Secretary-General pointed out.

The Heads of Government, he said, were not just going to talk, but will “do battle” with the World Bank “to see how we can be expected to deal with this problem once and for all,” the Secretary-General said.

His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana who shared the Press Conference with Prime Minister Skerrit and Secretary-General Carrington, pointed out that a critical part of the growth strategy of the Region was dealing with debt.

In 1993, when Heads of Government were raising the debt issue, Guyana had a debt that was 750 per cent of GDP and was using 94 per cent of revenue, at that time, to service the debt. Today, the figure has been reduced to 45 per cent and Guyana was now using four per cent of revenue to service the debt, the President said.

“What we are trying to do here is to carve out in the international financial institutional structure a special place, given our peculiarities, for debt relief for small vulnerable middle income countries which don’t have to be extended to the larger middle income countries. We can do so on the basis of several vulnerabilities – we’ve made the case over and over again. Clearly, the structure of the debt is different in each country and the solution has to be based on a menu approach. But getting the IFIs, particularly the President of the World Bank, to support our cause – the struggle for multilateral debt initiative – is critical initiative here,” President Jagdeo said.

He added that climate change was also critical to the growth of the Region, hence its inclusion on the agenda of the Meeting with the IFIs was no coincidence.

With regard to `tax havens’, the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) has placed some CARICOM Member States on a `grey list’ of countries which had not substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard. Prime Minister Skerrit said he hoped that the President of the World Bank “could champion our cause in that regard”.

“We are highly indebted countries and we need to be treated in a special and differential manner and this is something the World Bank could also assist us with,” he said.

President Jagdeo added that the term `tax havens’ was an unfair characterisation of the Region.

“The developed world jurisdiction that supports financial services often do less than we do, yet we are lectured; we find ourselves on grey lists, we are at the brunt of penalties because people either don’t know what we are doing to clean up or make transparent our financial sector, or they don’t want to do it for competition purposes. They want to keep us on this list. Clearly that is another systemic issue,” he said.

Management of the regional institutions, security, agriculture and food security, are among the other important issue identified for deliberations at the Intersessional Meeting.

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