The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Chairman, the Hon. Basdeo Panday, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago presented “a CARICOM gift of love” to the people of Montserrat on Wednesday 29 December 1999.
In a ceremony at Lookout in the north of the island, attended by His Excellency the Governor of Montserrat, Anthony Abbott, Chief Minister David Brandt and members of his cabinet as well as the Speaker and Legislative Councillors, Prime Minister Panday officially handed over 15 three-bedroom houses constituting the first phase of the CARICOM Village. The ceremony was the highlight of a six-hour visit to the volcano-stricken island by the Chairman and CARICOM Secretary-General Mr Edwin Carrington. They were accompanied by two representatives of the Barbados Government, Mr Allan Jones, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Lands, and Colonel Deighton Maynard, Chief of Staff, Barbados Defence Force.
In welcoming the Chairman and party to the ceremony, the Hon Brunel Meade, Montserrat’s Minister of Agriculture, Land, Housing and the Environment said the houses were “a CARICOM gift of love” which presented a “ray of hope for Montserrat’s development”.
Prime Minister Panday said the eruption of the Langs Soufriere volcano in 1995, “rocked the entire Caribbean”. He added that when the Hon. Adelina Tuitt addressed the XVIII Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government at Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1997 on the situation in Montserrat, “we shared your pain then as we share your joy now.”
The Chairman said the contribution of the Government of Barbados and the Caribbean Development Bank to the completion of the project could not be overstated. He also singled out the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) for mention. Prime Minister Panday said there could be no “greater gift than the restoration of normalcy to Montserrat”.
Ms Tuitt, Montserrat’s Minister of Education, Health and Community Services gave a brief history of the conception of the project in which she was a central figure. She recalled a meeting of donor agencies in Barbados in 1997 at which the idea was first mooted to erect a village in the north of the island to house residents of Long Ground whose houses had been destroyed by the pyrocrastic flows of the Langs Soufriere volcano.
The idea evolved into the CARICOM Village which was agreed to by the Heads of Government at the Montego Bay Meeting of the Conference. When completed, the Village will comprise no less than 25 housing units, the first phase of which being pre-fabricated three-bedroom housing units manufactured in Cuba. The construction began in mid 1998 and was completed in October 1999.
Ms Tuitt praised the contribution of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Rt Hon. Percival Patterson and the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt Hon Owen Arthur. She reminded the audience that Prime Minister Patterson, the then Chairman of CARICOM, turned the sod to signal the start of the Village in August 1997, and was instrumental in getting the project started, and Prime Minister Arthur ensured its completion.
The head of the Barbados delegation, Permanent Secretary Jones, apologised for the absence of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Housing, but stressed that they were there in spirit. He said the Government of Barbados was committed to forging ever-stronger links with its Caribbean neighbours, and viewed its contribution to the Village as an opportunity to demonstrate its Regional commitment.
Following the handing-over ceremony, the visitors inspected one of the housing units and met with the occupants who expressed great satisfaction with their new home. The Chairman, Secretary-General and other members of the visiting party were also high in praise for the standard of the units.
During their visit, the Chairman and party paid a courtesy call on the Governor, met with Chief Minister Brandt, paid a brief visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and held a press conference before leaving for home.