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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- The nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is pushing harder for regional integration with the launch of a new parliamentary forum that it says will play a major role in its efforts to establish an economic union.
“If the OECS Economic Union, and one of its principal organs – the OECS Assembly – are to guide us in overcoming the obstacles to growth and development, then it cannot be the ‘talk-shop’ that our people mock so derisively,” host Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said at the launch over the weekend.
He said the value of the OECS Assembly as a forum for regional dialogue cannot be overstated, insisting that he expects “robust debate in this Chamber on the direction that regional integration should take.
“The OECS Assembly will perform a vital democratic function: it will monitor and debate the implementation of the OECS Economic Union, bringing to bear the views of representatives from constituencies all across the Union,” he told the inaugural session on Friday night.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines legislator Rene Baptiste, who was elected as the Assembly’s first speaker, reminded regional legislators that “we have serious work to do.
“This is our occasion to write our history with our own hands and in our own words,” she said of the work of the Assembly, which will comprise five legislators from each independent member state and three from the legislatures of each non-independent country, with representation from both the ruling administration and the political opposition.
It will meet at least twice annually and is one of five principal organs established by the Revised Treaty of Basseterre establishing the Economic Union. Its most important function is to be a consultative body to enhance regional dialogue on the critical issues of integration and development and to make proposals to the OECS authority for the enactment of regional legislation binding on all member states.
Spencer reminded the Assembly of the failure of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) initiative named the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP) which he said “fell into disuse even before it started”, adding its failure “should be a subject for early reflection by the OECS Assembly”.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who is also chairman of the sub-regional grouping, said the Assembly should not be regarded as “an intellectual or academic pursuit” and that hoped it would serve as a venue where all legislators would engage in a “profound consultative process in decision making hopefully that would evolve into actual law making and direct elections in the not too distant future”.
Gonsalves said that the configuration of the regional integration process was now changing and the sub-region, comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, must not be complacent.
“Do not for one moment think that we cannot suffer reversals in our subregional integration movement,” Gonsalves said.
“To be sure we have made immense progress since the original Treaty of Basseterre was signed in 1981. Our Revised Treaty of Basseterre of 2012 has made a quantum leap in regional governance and the creation of a single economic space, but challenges abound,” he said, noting that the global economic and financial crisis could have a serious effect on the socioeconomic development of the sub-region.
St. Kitts Nevis Opposition legislator Mark Brantley, who spoke on behalf of the sub-regional opposition grouping, used the occasion to plead for a more democratic process in the region.
He assured that while the cause of regional integration has the full support of the parliamentary opposition region, it was important to be accepted as “equal partners in the deepening and strengthening of our integration process”.
He warned against making the new Assembly a “forum for high sounding words and lengthy speeches when the harsh realities at home militate against good governance and democracy.
“Good governance at home has to be a prerequisite of good governance regionally. The parliamentary opposition cannot be included at the OECS Assembly in St. Johns but ignored or marginalised in Basseterre, Roseau, Road Town or The Valley,” Brantley said.
Brantley said that it is a matter of “tremendous regret” that some of the OECS countries still do not have Integrity in Public Life legislation or Freedom of Information legislation to give the populace a mechanism “to rein in the base impulse of governmental corruption.
“From Antigua to St. Kitts to Dominica to St. Lucia to St. Vincent… it seems that each round of elections is met by an equally acrimonious and expensive round of litigation,” said Brantley, noting that these election petitions prolong the electioneering well beyond the election cycle with its attendant debilitating effect on the psyche of the Eastern Caribbean people.
“In short, we must commit ourselves to strengthening our democratic traditions which makes us all strong at home and even stronger regionally,” he told the regional legislators.