- Honourable Frederick A. Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Public Service of The Bahamas;
- Other Honourable Ministers and Other Heads of Delegation;
- All Staff of the Secretariat;
- Distinguished Delegates;
- Ladies and Gentlemen.
I welcome all of you to this Fiftieth Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers with a wish is for a productive, successful and prosperous 2023.
As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Community this year, as we prepare to commemorate the vision and courage of those who went before us, this is a year to renew our commitment to the Community and enrich this unique legacy for those who will follow us.
I congratulate the new Chairman, the Honourable Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Public Service of The Bahamas, an experienced hand to guide the Council in this auspicious year. When this Council last met, the Honourable Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize, was in the chair and I thank him for his astute leadership at this time. The heavy calendar in the second half of last year worked against convening this meeting in November or December last year, so regretfully we did not have the pleasure of meeting under the chairmanship of the Honourable Albert Ramdin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and International Cooperation of Suriname.
In welcoming new Members, Honourable Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, and Honourable Joseph Andall, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Export Development of Grenada, I look forward to their fresh perspectives and an infusion of new energy into the discussions of this Council, as it seeks to play the pivotal role laid out for it.
Each meeting of our Organs, Councils and Bodies represents an opportunity to work together to deliver results to improve the lives of the citizens of our Community. The particular responsibility of this Council as outlined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, places it at the center, the organisational and operational core of much of the Community’s aspirations.
As the second highest Community Organ, this Council is tasked, in Article 13 (3) of the Revised Treaty, with:
“(a) approving the programmes of the Community on the basis, inter alia, of proposals emanating from other Community Organs;
(b), amending proposals developed by the Ministerial Councils or request them to develop proposals for the achievement of Community objectives, and have responsibility for promoting and monitoring the implementation of Community decisions in the Member States.”
Article 13 (4) goes on to set out, at a more granular level, the tasks of this Council as:
- … examine and approve the Community budget;
- mobilise and allocate resources for the implementation of Community plans and programmes;
- establish, subject to the provisions of Article 26, a system of regional and national consultations in order to enhance the decision-making and implementation processes of the Community;
- promote, enhance, monitor and evaluate regional and national implementation processes and, to this end, establish a regional technical assistance service;
- function as a preparatory body for meetings of the Conference;
- ensure the efficient operation and orderly development of the CSME, particularly by seeking to resolve problems arising out of its functioning, taking into account the work and decisions of COTED;
- receive and consider allegations of breaches of obligations arising under this Treaty, including disputes between Organs of the Community;
- on the instructions of the Conference, issue directives to Organs and to the Secretariat aimed at ensuring the timely implementation of Community decisions;
- undertake any additional functions remitted to it by the Conference, arising under this Treaty.
The reality is that this Council has primarily been organized to discharge 2 of these 8 functions set out in the Treaty: (i) examine and approve the Community budget; and (ii) function as a preparatory body for meetings of the Conference.
The 3 tasks aimed at enhancing the decision-making and implementation processes of the Community are: (i) regional and national consultations; (ii) establish a regional technical assistance service; and (iii) issue directives to Organs and to the Secretariat – all aimed at promoting timely implementation of Community decisions very seldom figure on the agenda of this Council.
I do not say this to cast blame; there is enough of that already being thrown around by others in explaining the slow rate of implementation of Community decisions. I say this to emphasize the importance of this Council seeking to exercise these functions in the future.
When the Heads met in Suriname last July, the impatience for improving performance was clear, whether it was in the conduct of Heads Meetings, in the implementation of decisions generally, the focus on matters of critical importance to the Community such as climate change/climate finance, agriculture development, transportation, and crime and security. These are all matters that, up to a few years ago were found on the agendas of this Council.
Part of the solution to addressing slow and uneven implementation is the work on improving Community Governance, which Heads have agreed is to be done. This Council has a critical role in moving this forward. As a part of that process, the Secretariat must do better in ensuring that the matters that this Council is to consider are prepared and circulated in a more timely manner to facilitate proper consideration by Members of the Council, well before the meeting.
This is something that we at the Secretariat are seeking to improve, as part of the revamping of the governance processes which Heads of Government have mandated the Secretariat to work with the Lead Head of Government for Governance in the Quasi-Cabinet, through his Minister on this Council. This improvement will apply to all of the Councils of the Community.
Your work, therefore, should help our citizens to recover from real challenges, assist in furthering integration of our economies and societies, and building a truly resilient Region.
Chair, Ministers, if we are to meet the challenges of 2023 frontally and accelerate the realisation of the vision of this Caribbean Community, then it is imperative that we engage with the tenacity that building this safe, prosperous and viable society requires.
We have made significant progress in the first 50 years of our Community, and the aim must be not only to build on that success, but to surpass it over the next 50.
This is the first Ministerial Council meeting of the year, and it gives you the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of this landmark year with very meaningful, engaging and fruitful discussions today.
I thank you!