(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) I am pleased to join my distinguished colleagues, our Secretary General LaRocque and the other members of the CARICOM delegations who have all converged here in Suriname in conveying profound gratitude to Your Excellency, President Desi Bouterse, your Government and people of the Republic of Suriname for the unique hospitality extended to us here in your beautiful country. Indeed, when we look back in the annals of our history as a region and as a Community of people, motivated and integrated by our own uniqueness, we will always remember the importance of our meeting here today.
We congratulate and welcome for the first time to the Conference, our new Head of State of Guyana, H.E. President Ramoutar. We also reflect on the long and distinguished service of his predecessor, H.E. President Jagdeo, who has worked on the continued development of the region. I wish also, at this juncture, to congratulate our new member of the Bureau, Hon. Dr. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia for his victory at the polls – a victory, which has brought him back to the table of Conference. His experience will augur well as we endeavour to further combine our energies to guide the decision making process in these critical times. I am also delighted to welcome back to the fold Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller. We look forward to fruitful engagement throughout your tenure. Today holds much significance to your leadership and participation as we join with the international community in celebrating International Women’s day.
I must also recognize our Secretary-General who is with us for the first time in his capacity as the new CEO of the CARICOM Secretariat. Ambassador, your task is great as you have come to the position at a time of transition and transformation from an era characterized by the long distinguished and sterling service of His Excellency Sir Edwin Carrington, former Secretary General of CARICOM and the invaluable service provided by H.E. Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite, Deputy Secretary-General. I have no doubt that you will apply yourself and provide the leadership that is so critical at this time for the Community’s machinery. We are acutely cognizant of the fact that these are, indeed, trying times and our region is being called upon to defend itself, and to chart a way forward, in the murkiest of global waters.
Over the past six months, prevailing global conditions imbued the responsibilities of the CARICOM Chairmanship with a special import – and this made the opportunities for in-depth consultation and collaboration with you, Fellow Heads, invaluable.
Your wise counsel, divergent views, and solidarity represent, in my mind, essential, though intangible, institutional assets, which I know our new current Chair, President Bouterse, will find to be of great value.
This meeting is being convened at a critical juncture in our integration movement when we appreciate the need to move from the crossroads where we stood at the beginning of this century and reiterate firmly from the caption of the Report of the West India Commission to enunciate our own expectation that ‘ the time for action is now’. If the thrust of that seminal report on the way forward with the CARICOM Community held relevance then, our deliberations today on the current Report submitted by the consultants that treat with the restructuring of the CARICOM Secretariat is of even greater significance almost two decades later.
As outgoing Chairman, I wish to underscore the need for optimism. In light of our goals for efficiency and a strengthened governance mechanism, this meeting will see us more steadfast in our resolve to move beyond the enunciation of our priority in this regard and to see the realization of our vision. This requires all hands on deck, if the ship of this Community is to sail safely through the turbulent waters.
Colleagues, the world in which CARICOM was born is no more. Geo-political, socio-economic, and other global stresses have caused our operational landscape to be ever-changing, and our problem-solving challenges ever more complex. CARICOM, therefore, must continue to adapt and re-invent itself – never in terms of our undergirding values, purpose, and principles, of course – but certainly in terms of how we function, how we operate, the extent to which we are, or are not, efficient, effective, relevant with a sharper focus on being more results oriented.
The goal, form, and practical thrust of regional integration, for example, are still being debated and examined in the streets of Kingston and Kingstown, Bridgetown and Basseterre and will be done this week in Paramaribo. And so, in light of ever-changing global and regional conditions, it remains CARICOM’s essential responsibility, along with all of us gathered here today, to provide greater clarity and form regarding the ideals of integration so that we inspire hope and confidence for the people of our region who are questioning our resolve to truly transform their lives.
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I remind you that these are not easy times. The global uncertainties, the genesis of which for the most part is external, still pose significant challenges to our region, we are on the edge. At first, the EU, which is one of the major donors of development aid to our region looked anxiously westward, deeply concerned about a possible contagion effect. Now, not only do they know that the crisis was indeed “contagious,” but they themselves are now fully in its grasp. Similarly, due to the interconnected nature of the world economy and our own economic linkages with both North America and Europe, we too, have found ourselves, over the past two to three years, anxiously looking both eastward and northward, because uncertainty there means uncertainty here. I reiterate that the ‘TIME FOR ACTION IS NOW’ and requires a demonstration of political will to engender real and sustainable transformation.
As outgoing chairman, I wish to underscore the need for optimism and to highlight some of our achievements over the past months. These include but are no means limited to our ongoing efforts to inject new vigour into the advancement of the process to set the region on a path of renewed focus. Being fully cognizant of the need to be strategic, CARICOM must position itself to become more meaningfully engaged, though not subsumed, into other regional groupings. However, we must continue to forge strategic alliances recognising that their respective strengths and resources can assist the Community in propelling itself towards a platform for strengthened functional cooperation. We must purposefully pursue our goals as a region focusing on acquiring enhanced risk-management capabilities and sharpening our negotiating capabilities.
Expanded intra-regional economic activity is a priority for us all. And intra-regional sea and air-links are key to both expanded economic activity on the one hand, and the undergirding of a truly “Caribbean” frame of mind on the other. Unpredictable fuel costs and unreliable fuel supplies, however, are a 21st century reality. The challenge, therefore, is for us to meet the need, both of the Caribbean to know that there are reliable air links that cannot and will not disappear – overnight – simply because some businessperson thinks they should, as well as the imperative that [ii] any such service under the region’s control be truly competitive.
Then, there remains the challenge of climate change, our region’s contribution to which is utterly miniscule, probably not even measurable. We should, nonetheless, consider adopting specific, region-wide, lifestyle changes as a means of raising awareness of this phenomenon and its implications. And we must, at the same time, take very seriously our need to convince the world of the importance of those who have caused this climatic shift, bearing the financial burden of the associated disasters that do not merely “befall”, but indeed pound, states like ours.
Colleagues, the issues that challenge us to take collective and decisive actions are, indeed, profound. Whether the issue at hand is security, crime, or protecting our region’s reputation globally, we must be resolute in our responses. And the people of the Community expect from us not only technical proficiency, but, indeed, visionary leadership. On the issue of security we understand the importance of regional and international co-operation – both as a matter of law-enforcement, and as a matter of crime prevention. We have worked together on this important issue, and I have every expectation that we shall continue to do so.
Our security apparatus and the mechanism that in large measure accounted for our successful hosting of world class cricket must continue to evolve and be the vanguard of our defence against the new and emerging threats to global peace and security. While we build strong collaborative ties with our traditional and non- traditional partners in strengthening our capabilities to address the real threats associated with 21st century criminalities, let us continue to commit the necessary resources and to devise creative means for the sustainability of our crime and security framework and the management and delivery of our agencies that have been established to sustain the enabling environment for growth and development in our respective borders.
Finally, Fellow Heads, Caribbean nations have traditionally been respected across the globe as bastions of peace, justice, and democracy. We have been able to enter any chamber and assume any role without anyone ever raising even the slightest question about our individual nation’s – or indeed our Region’s – honor. This is of incalculable value. Let us strive, with all our might, to keep it this way. Most importantly, let us commit ourselves to remaining alert, vigilant, and resistant to anything, within the region, that might taint this reputation that our forebears worked so very hard to build, and in a spirit of utmost faith and trust, bequeathed to us. This is the confidence with which we are to face our deliberations today.