BahamasConference of Heads of GovernmentGuyanaMemberPress ReleasesSpeeches


Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Chairman, Prime Minister Hinds, Colleague Heads of Government, distinguished delegations, Heads of regional and international organisations, Ladies and Gentlemen.

May I begin by thanking the Government and People of the Republic of Guyana, and you, Mr. President, for the excellent arrangements made for this meeting, and for the kind hospitality shown to the Bahamas delegation here in Guyana.

I am indeed honoured to address this august gathering, looking forward as I am to my test meeting as the newest Prime Minister at this Twenty-Third Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

Permit me at this time to share a few reminisces with you. One was as a sixteen year old being selected to represent the Bahamas in international athletes at the 1960 West Indies Federation Games as a result of the intervention of the Honourable Lester Bird, now Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. The Bahamas team had already been selected and Prime Minister Bird, who was then a renown Caribbean athlete advised our local association coach that I clearly had more talent than those that had been selected. Needless to say he was right, because two years later, I became the second Bahamian to win a medal in international competition.

Another is as a student at Birmingham university and having cause for pride in the achievement of the West Indies Cricket team, particularly Lance Gibbs and Rohan Khani, who played for a local club team. I even had the illusion, for a very short time, that I could become a medium pace bowler. These experiences have resulted in my sharing with many of you the same degree of anxiety and frustration during bad moments and joy and triumph in good moments of West Indies Test Cricket.

As Minister of Health of the Bahamas, I joined colleague Ministers of Health of CARICOM in various countries in the Region, to share our vision for Health for all. Similarly, as Minister of Tourism, I worked cooperatively with colleague CARICOM Tourism Ministers for progress in our Region's premier industry. So you may agree, there is a Caribbean soul standing before you.

I have just come our of an electoral experience with the people of my country in which I invited them to join me in a partnership for governance. I have made a commitment to a national agenda based on continuous consultation. For we have come to accept that unless our people are sufficiently informed and educated on all the issues affecting them – trade liberalisation, globalisation, health, crime – they will not be in a position to fully participate in the process and initiatives we propose will not experience the degree of success we desire.

In 1983, The Bahamas signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing CARICOM, and with it, signalled our commitment to the process of regionalism. There is now a successor Treaty, and as we move forward, it is my duty on behalf of the people of the Bahamas to reaffirm this commitment, while at the same time recognising our special circumstances and challenges that we must overcome.

I wish to assure the Community that my Government's attention is now fully tuned to the implications for the Bahamas as a member of CARICOM under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, particularly as we progress towards the wider goals of World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership and participation in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). We appreciate the realities of the global environment and the importance of working with CARICOM, the WTO and FTAA processes in order to protect our national and regional interests. However, other governments in the region and my predecessors in office, we do have some concerns that should not be ignored. One of these concerns is the free movement of people. It is significant to note that the study commissioned by the CARICOM Secretariat, “The Implications for The Bahamas of Participation in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy” clearly pointed to the fact that ” the Bahamas already accepts more workers from other CARICOM countries than any other CARICOM member…”Surely this is an important reality in the context of the Revised Treaty.

Whatever issues there are with regard to the Revised Treaty, I am committed to removing the uncertainties from our relationship with CARICOM through intense consultations with the Bahamian people, colleague Heads and the Secretary-General. My Government intends to conclude the assessment of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in the shortest possible time. But as I have said, we are pledged not to proceed further with any new arrangements of a fundamental political and economic character without the fullest consultations with the people of the Bahamas. That process of consultation with civil society is still ongoing. A consultation is a must because my colleagues and I believe that without consultation, the ambitious intellectual and political goals of CARICOM will flounder on the rocks of the rejection of our peoples. Integration must not only be led from above by the political directorate. There is a corresponding obligation to create the framework for it to be driven by our people. This must become a real people's movement.

I believe that Owen Arthur, Lester Bird, P.J. Patterson, Edwin Carrington, Rex Nettleford and other leaders must be known personalities in the Bahamas and Bahamians must see CARICOM as relevant to their lives. In other words, all of our people must be able to see, hear and feel CARICOM, its leaders and institutions as living, not as an intellectual idea, removed from the daily lives. For CARICOM to succeed, our people must see CARICOM's success as tied to their own.

The Bahamas joins our CARICOM sister states in welcoming Haiti as a full member of CARICOM, now that the Haitian Parliament has voted to ratify the Treaty of Chaguaramas. This is particularly significant to the Bahamas because it will provide yet another important forum to dialogue with our southern neighbour on matters of mutual interest and of common concern to members of the Caribbean Community.

Mr Government looks towards the day when we can move Bahamian- Haitian relations beyond the paramount issue of illegal immigration to economic, trade and cultural issues.

The Bahamas has always had the highest national commitment to the campaign to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS and its programme, under the leadership of Dr. Perry Gomez, has been recognised throughout the region as a model programme. We consider HIV/AIDS to be a threat to our nation's security, to our region's security, and to forward progress. One of the important aspects of our CARICOM relationship is the fact that we can lend assistance to one another. The Bahamas is prepared to share its expertise in this area to the extent of our resources.

As Prime Minister of the Bahamas, I am also concerned about the reverses in tourism. The prompt and observable downturn in our tourism earnings and resulting impact in a large number of sectors in our economy following on the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States underscored the vulnerability of the industry to influences far removed from our shores. These facts were confirmed in the Tourism Summit that the Bahamas hosted in December 2001. Yet in recent years our countries have become increasingly dependent on tourism for employment and foreign exchange which imposes upon us an obligation to ensure that our people are fully aware of the relationship between the quality of their lives and the quality of their contribution to the development of the tourism.

The initiative to develop a sustainable tourism promotional campaign for the Caribbean has the Bahamas full understanding and support, notwithstanding the need to forge agreement on mechanisms. At the same time, we must in CARICOM place greater emphasis on reducing the cost of tourism inputs in our countries to enable and sustain greater profitability within our tourism sector. We are prepared to play our part in developing these initiatives. I look forward to working more proactively with my colleague Heads to enhance regional tourism in the years ahead.

Security and stability across the Caribbean region is critical to the quality of life of our people. Our region has, in the establishment at Nassau of the Regional Task Force on Crime and especially violent crime, in the region. The illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and firearms other organised crime activities, underpin much of the crime our countries are experiencing. In this regard, it cannot be emphasised enough that we, the member states of CARICOM, are, by accident of geography, the victims of the ever-burgeoning trade in illicit drugs. We straddle the two lanes and flight paths between the producer countries in South America and the vast consumer markets to the north of us. In short, we are caught in the middle. The fact that we are principally transit states must continue to be at the forefront of our efforts to secure increased more diverse levels of support from producer and consumer states alike in our common struggle against drug trafficking and its crippling effects upon our societies.

The task Force has been charged with examining the causes of crime in the region particularly the factors that underpin the rise in criminality. My Government intends to carefully study the Task Force's report and recommendations, which should inform a regional crime prevention and crime fighting strategy.

The Caribbean Community has undergone substantial change since its establishment in1973. My Government believes that CARICOM's accomplishments over thirty years have been significant to the growth and development of member states and the region, and should be celebrated by us all. Our challenge as a new generation of CARICOM leaders, however, is just where do we take CARICOM from here.

Our viewpoint in the Bahamas is that we must advance pragmatically the process of integration represented by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. I repeat that integration must be driven from below, and not only from above. Our strategies for the conduct of CARICOM's external relations must be so designed as to ensure that CARICOM plays more than a marginal role in international affairs. It must be included as an active participant in decision-making, particularly in relation to the reform of existing international institutions. Greater cohesion in political forums seeking agreement on major political issues; and collective bargaining are also, in our view, vital to the Community's future development. No where is that need more critical than in our ongoing efforts to urge that the OECD maintain a level playing field in respect of its initiatives against zero tax and low tax jurisdictions. We continue to expect that OECD will require of all its member states and others materially in competition, the same standards and timelines it expects of those countries identified as tax havens in the OECS's reports.

Mr Secretary-General, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Prime Minister, colleague Heads, I expect that we will have a productive meeting as I get to know you all and you come to understand this new leader and the new face of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. I recommit to the processes in which we are engaged. I pray that God will guide all our deliberations.

Thank you.

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