Categorized | Local, News, Regional

Gonsalves upbeat, urges support for integration movement

By Peter Richards

PM Ralph Gonsalves (at CARICOM)

PM Ralph Gonsalves (at CARICOM)

ST. JOHN’S Antigua, CMC – St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Tuesday urged support for the regional integration movement, insisting there is still much to shout about over the past three decades.

Addressing the opening ceremony of the 35th CARICOM summit here, Gonsalves, the outgoing chairman said despite the design limitations of CARICOM, its possibilities have borne fruit, even if unevenly, in its four articulated pillars of coordinated activities.

He said functional cooperation; economic integration, including trade; the coordination of foreign policy; and the combining of regional security initiatives were achievements the regional integration movement had achieved over the years.

“In each of these areas, much progress has been made over the past 41 years of CARICOM’s existence, and especially so since the Revised Treaty some 13 years ago.  Still, there is much work to be done.”

Gonsalves said that over the past six months of his chairmanship, consolidation and advance have been evident on several items of integration including the freedom of movement of persons, especially since the Myrie judgment in October 2013.

He said there was also the continued utilisation by the private sector in CARICOM of “the right of establishment” so as to facilitate enhanced regional investment, job and wealth creation; the relatively smooth working  of the free trade, customs union, tariff and non-tariff arrangements, and payment systems in the single market.

Gonsalves also pointed to other areas of achievement including the improved coordination of the regional security apparatuses; the continued coordination of foreign policy “despite some hiccups or a few episodes of dissonance and the on-going progress being made on a swath of functional integration subjects such as health, education, culture, sports, elderly, women, the youth, persons with disabilities, and social security”

But he told the audience that the absence of a dramatic forward-movement in CARICOM’s affairs ought not to invite “unwarranted criticism or a paralysing cynicism.

“Neither must we fall prey to a smug satisfaction about consolidation and progress in the face of foot-dragging in some critical issues and an unacceptable implementation deficit on items upon which we have solemnly agreed.”

Gonsalves, one of the region’s longest serving head of government, said deeper integration, beyond a single market and functional cooperation, among countries which are predominantly resourced-challenged islands “faces obstacles not encountered by resource-rich nations in an economic union on a continental landmass.

“Islandness naturally produces an outward gaze, enlarged by globalisation; but it engenders, too, an intense inward look which the very external pressures mistakenly magnify, among some citizens, an illusory localism or parochialism as a strategic option.

“Further, given the profound resource limitations of most member-states of CARICOM, and the unevenness of their resource-endowments and socio-economic development, the challenges attendant upon a deeper integration push are exacerbated.  An on-going economic slow-down worsens, on the ground, the condition for a deeper union.”

But he said it is the region’s “ very smallness, our islandness, our scarcity of resources, and the global economic down-turn which necessitate a greater cooperative, integration effort.

“These limitations, in concert with our extant possibilities as largely middle-income developing countries, ought more assuredly to prompt us to move faster towards a single economy and improved regional governance.”

He said that in this venture, political leadership is vital.

“Our doubts must no longer detain us and we must ever more love and care for CARICOM for without it, despite its many false starts and disappointments, our people would be diminished in their quest to enhance, in their own interest, their capacity to address, most optimally, the internal and exogenous challenges which beset them.

“ In all these reflections, we must never forget CARICOM’s accomplishments which constitute a part of the permanent landscape of our region’s political economy,” Gonsalves said.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister said the three-day summit will deal with what he described as “many important items” including consideration and approval of the strategic plan for CARICOM 2015-2019; the Report of the Commission on the Economy; the imminent coordination of CARICOM’s policies on climate change and the post-2015 development agenda as they affect Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

He said there would also be an update on the trade negotiations with Canada; the approval of the draft Terms of Reference and composition of the Regional Commission on marijuana; the advancing of the historic quest of Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery; the review of the Draft Protocol for a special Carve-Out for the OECS in the context of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas among other agenda items.

But he said that the Caribbean must continue to keep on the front burner, the “unacceptable denial of citizenship to persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic” as  a result of the Constitutional Court ruling in that Spanish-speaking Caribbean country last year.

“The basic facts that have sparked the justifiable regional and international outrage on this matter are well known and need no elaboration here,” he said, recalling that in late 2013, the CARICOM Bureau took a strong stance in demanding an appropriate corrective from the government of the Dominican Republic and laid out “a no-business-as-usual” position in CARICOM’s relations with the Dominican Republic.

“The Bureau’s stance was re-affirmed at the Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of CARICOM in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2014.”

Gonsalves said that since then, “the long-awaited reform law on “nationalisation” was enacted by the competent authorities in the Dominican Republic.

“This law has been rightly condemned regionally and globally as a not-so-clever smokescreen to con the unsuspecting that a real reform has taken place.  In reality, this so-called reform law covers only a minuscule proportion of those persons of Haitian descent who were arbitrarily denationalised, hitherto.

“I urge my colleagues not to wobble on this issue and remain firm.  It would be wrong to cave in to this unworthy sleight of hand by the authorities in the Dominican Republic.  The persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic, who have had their human rights abrogated or denied, deserve CARICOM’S continued support.  And it still cannot be business-as-usual with the Dominican Republic,” he said.

Gonsalves said it was equally important for Caribbean leaders to acknowledge that there is “genuine material hardship among huge sections of the region’s population as a consequence of the global economic meltdown of September 2008 and continuing, the severe impact of several natural disasters” as well as the still unresolved debacle of the collapse of insurance companies, BAICO and CLICO, especially in the OECS member-states.

He said the capital and liquidity challenges of many indigenous banks, the enormous fiscal overhang and correspondingly unsustainable debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratios in most CARICOM countries, were also factors that should be acknowledged.

“Undoubtedly, this economic and fiscal conundrum demands continued urgent corrective action nationally, and regionally.  The conversation on these matters is at the top of the agenda; national solutions are at best partial; and a concerted regional approach is required to improve our economies, create wealth and jobs, manage much better our fiscal and debt condition, and strengthen the social safety net.

“The task ahead is not easy; but we must keep our focus accordingly.  Civil society, including businesses and trade unions must appreciate the continuing difficulties and act responsibly.  There is no magic wand; hard, smart, and productive work has to be the preferred option over profligacy, leisure, pleasure and nice-time.  All hands are required to be on deck.  Facile solutions are but mirages.  We must dig deep into the recesses of our Caribbean civilisation to summon all that which good and sensible in us, as we go forward,” Gonsalves told his regional colleagues.

 

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By Peter Richards

PM Ralph Gonsalves (at CARICOM)

PM Ralph Gonsalves (at CARICOM)

ST. JOHN’S Antigua, CMC – St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Tuesday urged support for the regional integration movement, insisting there is still much to shout about over the past three decades.

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Addressing the opening ceremony of the 35th CARICOM summit here, Gonsalves, the outgoing chairman said despite the design limitations of CARICOM, its possibilities have borne fruit, even if unevenly, in its four articulated pillars of coordinated activities.

He said functional cooperation; economic integration, including trade; the coordination of foreign policy; and the combining of regional security initiatives were achievements the regional integration movement had achieved over the years.

“In each of these areas, much progress has been made over the past 41 years of CARICOM’s existence, and especially so since the Revised Treaty some 13 years ago.  Still, there is much work to be done.”

Gonsalves said that over the past six months of his chairmanship, consolidation and advance have been evident on several items of integration including the freedom of movement of persons, especially since the Myrie judgment in October 2013.

He said there was also the continued utilisation by the private sector in CARICOM of “the right of establishment” so as to facilitate enhanced regional investment, job and wealth creation; the relatively smooth working  of the free trade, customs union, tariff and non-tariff arrangements, and payment systems in the single market.

Gonsalves also pointed to other areas of achievement including the improved coordination of the regional security apparatuses; the continued coordination of foreign policy “despite some hiccups or a few episodes of dissonance and the on-going progress being made on a swath of functional integration subjects such as health, education, culture, sports, elderly, women, the youth, persons with disabilities, and social security”

But he told the audience that the absence of a dramatic forward-movement in CARICOM’s affairs ought not to invite “unwarranted criticism or a paralysing cynicism.

“Neither must we fall prey to a smug satisfaction about consolidation and progress in the face of foot-dragging in some critical issues and an unacceptable implementation deficit on items upon which we have solemnly agreed.”

Gonsalves, one of the region’s longest serving head of government, said deeper integration, beyond a single market and functional cooperation, among countries which are predominantly resourced-challenged islands “faces obstacles not encountered by resource-rich nations in an economic union on a continental landmass.

“Islandness naturally produces an outward gaze, enlarged by globalisation; but it engenders, too, an intense inward look which the very external pressures mistakenly magnify, among some citizens, an illusory localism or parochialism as a strategic option.

“Further, given the profound resource limitations of most member-states of CARICOM, and the unevenness of their resource-endowments and socio-economic development, the challenges attendant upon a deeper integration push are exacerbated.  An on-going economic slow-down worsens, on the ground, the condition for a deeper union.”

But he said it is the region’s “ very smallness, our islandness, our scarcity of resources, and the global economic down-turn which necessitate a greater cooperative, integration effort.

“These limitations, in concert with our extant possibilities as largely middle-income developing countries, ought more assuredly to prompt us to move faster towards a single economy and improved regional governance.”

He said that in this venture, political leadership is vital.

“Our doubts must no longer detain us and we must ever more love and care for CARICOM for without it, despite its many false starts and disappointments, our people would be diminished in their quest to enhance, in their own interest, their capacity to address, most optimally, the internal and exogenous challenges which beset them.

“ In all these reflections, we must never forget CARICOM’s accomplishments which constitute a part of the permanent landscape of our region’s political economy,” Gonsalves said.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister said the three-day summit will deal with what he described as “many important items” including consideration and approval of the strategic plan for CARICOM 2015-2019; the Report of the Commission on the Economy; the imminent coordination of CARICOM’s policies on climate change and the post-2015 development agenda as they affect Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

He said there would also be an update on the trade negotiations with Canada; the approval of the draft Terms of Reference and composition of the Regional Commission on marijuana; the advancing of the historic quest of Reparations for Native Genocide and Slavery; the review of the Draft Protocol for a special Carve-Out for the OECS in the context of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas among other agenda items.

But he said that the Caribbean must continue to keep on the front burner, the “unacceptable denial of citizenship to persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic” as  a result of the Constitutional Court ruling in that Spanish-speaking Caribbean country last year.

“The basic facts that have sparked the justifiable regional and international outrage on this matter are well known and need no elaboration here,” he said, recalling that in late 2013, the CARICOM Bureau took a strong stance in demanding an appropriate corrective from the government of the Dominican Republic and laid out “a no-business-as-usual” position in CARICOM’s relations with the Dominican Republic.

“The Bureau’s stance was re-affirmed at the Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of CARICOM in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2014.”

Gonsalves said that since then, “the long-awaited reform law on “nationalisation” was enacted by the competent authorities in the Dominican Republic.

“This law has been rightly condemned regionally and globally as a not-so-clever smokescreen to con the unsuspecting that a real reform has taken place.  In reality, this so-called reform law covers only a minuscule proportion of those persons of Haitian descent who were arbitrarily denationalised, hitherto.

“I urge my colleagues not to wobble on this issue and remain firm.  It would be wrong to cave in to this unworthy sleight of hand by the authorities in the Dominican Republic.  The persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic, who have had their human rights abrogated or denied, deserve CARICOM’S continued support.  And it still cannot be business-as-usual with the Dominican Republic,” he said.

Gonsalves said it was equally important for Caribbean leaders to acknowledge that there is “genuine material hardship among huge sections of the region’s population as a consequence of the global economic meltdown of September 2008 and continuing, the severe impact of several natural disasters” as well as the still unresolved debacle of the collapse of insurance companies, BAICO and CLICO, especially in the OECS member-states.

He said the capital and liquidity challenges of many indigenous banks, the enormous fiscal overhang and correspondingly unsustainable debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratios in most CARICOM countries, were also factors that should be acknowledged.

“Undoubtedly, this economic and fiscal conundrum demands continued urgent corrective action nationally, and regionally.  The conversation on these matters is at the top of the agenda; national solutions are at best partial; and a concerted regional approach is required to improve our economies, create wealth and jobs, manage much better our fiscal and debt condition, and strengthen the social safety net.

“The task ahead is not easy; but we must keep our focus accordingly.  Civil society, including businesses and trade unions must appreciate the continuing difficulties and act responsibly.  There is no magic wand; hard, smart, and productive work has to be the preferred option over profligacy, leisure, pleasure and nice-time.  All hands are required to be on deck.  Facile solutions are but mirages.  We must dig deep into the recesses of our Caribbean civilisation to summon all that which good and sensible in us, as we go forward,” Gonsalves told his regional colleagues.