Remarks by the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, QC, MP, Prime Minister of Barbados, at the Opening Session of the 31st Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Barbados
Thank you very much.
Distinguished colleague Heads, the Secretary-General of CARICOM, the distinguished Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, distinguished Foreign Minister of Canada, the distinguished former Prime Minister of Ireland, the Heads of all of the regional institutions: CARPHA, Impacts, Caribbean Development Bank, University of the West Indies, CARICOM Development Fund, the Regional Security System, our distinguished representatives from the US E and our representatives from the Caribbean Private Sector Movement and the Caribbean Congress of Labour and above all else, the young people of the Caribbean as represented here by the school children of Barbados.
I want to, first of all, thank the outgoing chair of CARICOM, the Honourable Allen Chastanet, for his passion and commitment over the course of the last six months with respect in particular to the fight against the climate crisis and for the fiscal sovereignty challenges that he has continued to carry the baton for us, whether on either side of the Atlantic as it relates to the list that I would prefer not to refer to colour, because we don’t accept the notion of the list being any colour for us.
I’d like to thank also members of the CARICOM Secretariat, because the truth is, without the hard work being done by this Secretariat, we would not be in a position to be here this morning to address each other and to advance the cause of Caribbean people.
We have reached an interesting point in 2020, and it is said that 2020 is usually associated with perfecting a finer vision of ourselves. In this instance, we need not only to perfect a finer vision of ourselves, but to act to create that finer vision. And it is against this background that we meet here at Bridgetown, recognising that we face a world in which challenges continue to present themselves. When we left Castries in July last year, we had no clue that we would be facing a potential pandemic in the world with COVID-19. We didn’t have any idea that our ability to function as a single domestic space would be threatened by that development.
Equally, we didn’t realise that we would be able to rely on one of our regional institutions to be first the front-line protection and another regional institution to be the platform and bedrock upon which we can fight this virus. And what am I referring to?
The creation of the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security in 2006, followed by the Joint Regional Communications Center, was done initially to prepare us for Cricket World Cup 2007. But we understood then that its legacy and its enduring benefits would serve a Caribbean community for much longer. It is that agency that is able to track the movement of people, thereby putting our border security officials on notice as to where risk is likely to occur with people entering our countries. The ability for that agency to be linked in real time to Interpol, to the US Department of Homeland Security and to be able to have access to the travel histories of persons allows us to be able to make that determination at the level of our border security officials who we thank for being our frontline warriors in the protection of our people. At the same time, CARPHA, a relatively new regional institution as well, has proven its worth to us by being able to ensure that along with the Pan American Health Organization, a number of our countries are today now in a position to be able to test quickly for whether persons within our jurisdiction have been infected with this dangerous virus.
I start at this point because I want our Heads to focus on the challenge and the response. And I want us today to remember that “F” comes before “I” and that I mean, specifically that family comes before ideology. This is a critical, critical moment for us as a community to understand that whether the challenges be with respect to chronic NCDs, which is the insidious killer among too many of our people, or whether the challenge be the more talked about and definite existential crisis of climate affecting us, not just through hurricanes as it literally, literally has torn many of our countries apart from Dorian with Bahamas to Maria and Irma with Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands, and too many of our countries to mention, or whether it is violence that has genuinely become a public health disorder with a level of killings across our community that is unacceptable for any community, any part of the world, or whether it is the challenges to our fiscal sovereignty or whether it is the challenges to multilateralism that are taking and making aim at the integrity of our freedom of association are small groupings. We have to determine how best to confront these challenges.
I believe on behalf of the people of Barbados that there is always strength in unity. We have come from a movement across this region in the 1930s where we face common challenges and where our people, without the benefit of political organization or labour movements, found a way to respond and to be able to signal that we were prepared to take control of our destiny. I say to us today that if those who had no benefit or political organization and those who had no benefit of labour movements could find it possible to rise to the challenge to meet those challenges, which in some instances were far more devastating to the average citizen than these that we speak of today, that we ought to be able to find the resolve to understand that we meet here today, not because we share a common ideology, but we meet here today because we are family. We are kith and kin.
And whether it is at the level of countries or it is at the level of homes and communities, being kith and kin must stand for something. We will not always have sunny days. But it is when the days are cloudy that we determine how best to move forward with the character that defines us as being resilient and has been able to reach the mountaintop in spite of the valleys that we have to traverse on our way to the mountain top. I say so conscious that we have some self-examination to do as well. The CARICOM Secretariat, which keeps us together, is now functioning with 30 million Eastern Caribbean dollars less than it did 10 years ago. The CARICOM Secretariat is now functioning with 40 people less than it did 30 years ago.
But we demand more of them against the challenges that I identified at the outset of my speech. And we therefore need to ask ourselves whether we have the appropriate governance and funding models to ensure the sustainability of this family movement that is so vital to our being able to bring prosperity to our citizens. I ask us today whether the time has not come for us to recall the Rose Hall Declaration in Jamaica in 2003 that led to Prime Minister Gonzalves’s leading a prime ministerial subcommittee on the entire issue of governance within our community and our ability to be able to ensure effective execution and seamless implementation of decisions taken by Heads of government at this our highest decision making body within our community.
Indeed, I ask us to reflect on the parallel with our own sovereign entities. To have parliaments without an executive that is functioning is to have an idle exercise in frustration for our people. It simply could not work. And for us to believe that we can have a heads of government conference twice a year that will allow us to make decisions that have the force of law without the capacity to seamlessly execute is an idle exercise for us as well.
I therefore hope that we can summon the will within us to ask Prime Minister Gonzalves to dust off the papers and the technical working groups, and to come once again to us with a modality that can allow a more effective implementation of the decisions of heads of government, particularly as it relates to the CARICOM Single Market and Single Economy.
I am equally conscious that in life we have to be able to explain to people that in this modern world where everyone expects instantaneous action, that we are involved in activity that more often than not is about respect for process in order to attain the results that we want. It is against that background that we continue to labour in the vineyards of being able to create a more seamless opportunity for doing business and moving and living and enjoying this region for our people. We believe that our ability to have regional communication that is affordable and accessible is an absolute priority. It is against that background that we also recognize that the digital economy can play a new and powerful role in the development of our economies, period.
But power comes with responsibility.
Our teams have been working with operators in the telecommunications sector across the region and indeed, Prime Minister Mitchell, who is the lead prime minister in this area, has, along with the CSME team, worked with the operators to shortly announce a modest fixed single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals to cover the cost of data for popular social media platforms including those that offer messaging and calls. The rate will include an amount of local and regional voice calls, and over time this CARICOM rate will include more services. This is what it means to be family taking decisions. At Castries, we recognized and reflected that the roaming rates within this region are punitive and that in many instances people are bankrupted when they go from country to country because they have no idea as to what these roaming rates will present themselves to be.
Once we have reached agreement on the rate and service level, the operators will make the necessary technological changes and we have full expectation that the new fixed single CARICOM rate can go live in this year 2020. The appropriate regulation, however, of the digital economy extends beyond prices, services and taxes. Prime Minister Mitchell recognises this, as do other lead prime ministers for different areas that are affecting our society. Our people must therefore be safe from cyberbullying, from disinformation, from graphically violent language and images, from hate speech, from discriminatory and racial and xenophobic speech. Prime Minister Mitchell’s team shall be working with all of the other organisations within the region and the international community to ensure that we keep abreast of these developments.
Similarly, we have recognised that we need to be able to resolve the issue of transport and that is a work in progress. While all of the members of the Conference of Heads are not shareholders in LIAT, it is fair that is necessary for me to report that LIAT now has a new board with a renewed mandate to be able to ensure that regional affordable transportation is made available to Caribbean people. To run a country without transport is to condemn that country. Similarly, to run a Community without affordable transport is to condemn that community.
Indeed, we are conscious as we welcome the Honorable François Philip Champagne with us today, that he is here in the stead of his prime minister, who, because of similar reasons for blockade of transport, cannot be with us and we empathize with the people of Canada as they resolve this difficult challenge that they are facing this week.
We look forward, however, not just to be unable to resolve matters of air transport, but we also want to move aggressively towards the resolution of the maritime transport issues. The private sector who will be presenting to us later this morning on the production integration plans that we settled at Port of Spain in the St. Anne’s Declaration of December 2018 will have the opportunity to be able to reinforce that we need to have the logistics for the movement of our goods and our people in place if we are going to be successful with respect to expanding the economic pie of the region through their continued investment.
Similarly, the CSME and CARICOM depends on the ability to recognise that in a single market and a single economy, there will be winners and there will be losers. Those who had the precedence to settle the revised treaty of Chaguaramas understood this by the inclusion of Chapter 7 in that revised treaty. For those unaware, Chapter 7 establishes the CARICOM Development Fund that is intended to assist disadvantaged countries, disadvantaged sectors and disadvantaged regions. With the best will in the world, this fund cannot be sustained purely from the contributions of the more developed countries as they are known in the revised treaty of Chaguaramas.
It is against this background that I hope that this meeting will reflect and resolve on the best way to ensure that the CARICOM Development Fund is capable of better accessing funds both regionally and internationally, to ensure that those who may have been affected or been disadvantaged as a result of our commitment to come together can benefit by being able to have access to concessional funding that they would not otherwise have access to.
Indeed, the reality is, that we have discussed on so many occasions that there are over 50 billion US dollars in savings within this community, most of which are attracting no more than 0.1 percent, and we give the return on investment to foreign depositors when we pick up foreign loans but we are not finding a way to unlock the savings of Caribbean people, to finance the development of Caribbean people. We trust and pray that this conference will make appreciable progress in that regard this day and tomorrow.
I’d like to finally reflect on the threats once again as I close.
Threats are part of life, we take risks every day. Indeed, our grandparents taught us that nothing ventured, nothing gained. I hope and pray, particularly in the presence of these young people for whom we act today, but who will act for us tomorrow, that we take courage and recognize that it is in the interests of those who are not of this community to advance their own individual causes. The only people capable of defending our causes and our future and our development is us ourselves. We may not do it overnight. We may not do it in a year. We may not even do it in a decade, but if we recognize that this integration movement is one of the most successful integration movements that was established in the 20th century, we then better appreciate the responsibility that we have to care it, to nurture it and not allow for any kind of political or diplomatic embolism to threaten its existence.
I trust and pray that we come to this moment, therefore, conscious that as family, nothing can separate us and no one shall get in between us. It is against this background that we therefore recognize that it is principles that shall guide us always. And if we are faithful to those principles, then we shall always find a way home. Principles may be inconvenient, but they guarantee our protection and our integrity. I trust and pray, therefore, that in spite of the problems either of our region, within our community or outside of our region and community in our globe, global community, that we will remember that we stand here because those who fought in the 1930s and those who created the political institutions that flowed therefrom understood that without unity they could achieve nothing but with unity they could turn back the mighty hands of global empires who sought to suppress people for centuries.
Let us today pray that we hold on to those examples. And in holding on to those examples that we use the opportunity to bring along our brothers and sisters within the region conscious and I use know the words of that distinguished Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite, who has now gone to a different place and who we will officially bury on Friday. I can find no better way to end than to use his language of his great poetry, included in his 1999 “nine mesongs fe the new millennium”.
And I quote, “If you live on an island. Love it. Love it. Love it. But remember, no man is an island. And that no island belong to one man. Be always part of something larger than yourself. Something that will make you larger than yourself. Part of the island. Part of the region. Part of the main. Educate yourself, your children and your community into these things in the way they should go, in the way we should grow. So think on these things. Dream on these things. But above all else, act on these dreams.”
Let us, as a conference of heads of government of the Caribbean Community, represent the dreams and aspirations of the Caribbean people. Let us act on these dreams. Thank you.