35th Anniversary Address by Director General of the OECS,
H.E. Dr. Didacus Jules
Fellow Citizens of the OECS,
On 18th June 1981, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States was formed with the signing of the Treaty of Basseterre by leaders of the Eastern Caribbean who represented a wide political spectrum. Among the persons signing were Maurice Bishop of Grenada and Eugenia Charles of Dominica who, despite the wide ideological divide between them, were visionary enough to embrace the things that could unite us.
Today we celebrate 35 years of that historic initiative. In the wake of this anniversary in 2016, we are also celebrating 15 years since the formation of ECTEL, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and 5 years since the signing of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. Then in February 2017, we will be celebrating 50 years since the formation of the OECS Supreme Court.
The great vision of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre is the creation of a single economic and domestic space. This involves the free movement of people, goods, services and capital across the member states; the harmonization of policies in trade, monetary policy, social welfare, health and a range of areas. In other words, it is about bringing together our collective strengths to overcome our individual weaknesses.
Look at what is happening all over the world. In Asia, the Pacific and Africa, advancing economies, who are intense competitors, are creating regional trading blocs and defining new areas of cooperation so that they can be more competitive in the wider global space. This is the name of the new global game: building regional cooperation in order to be more globally competitive. In every phase of our own history we have learned that we are stronger together; that a house divided against itself cannot stand, but we continue to maintain the illusion that each of us can stand alone and succeed.
What are we doing to make us stronger together?
The OECS has been engaged in many exciting initiatives aimed at realizing the dream of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. At the level of the OECS Commission, we have been undergoing a process of organizational transformation and renewal that seeks to make the Commission an efficient and effective facilitator of regional integration. We have repositioned ourselves as an enabling mechanism for ever closer collaboration between the key policy makers in Member States in the areas of foreign affairs, trade, social development, youth, education, health, legislation and justice, as well as economic development. We are leveraging information and computer technology to work more efficiently and cost effectively.
The OECS Commission is embarking on new and innovative ways to communicate with all OECS citizens through a range of new measures. Coming soon is a new interactive website, regular e-news sent directly to different groups of stakeholders, and a Regional Citizens Question & Answer Forum that will focus on burning issues in the OECS, and be telecast throughout all Member States on all media.
As we work steadily towards the full functioning of the Economic Union, it will be very important that we communicate our accomplishments in this area so that you know where we are in our collective journey towards driving stronger economic growth and thus delivering a better standard of living for every OECS citizen.
But it is not only about telling our story. It is equally about LISTENING to the voices and concerns of the OECS public and interest groups. As a listening organisation, the Commission is eager to hear your views; and to that end, our Communications system will create new avenues to solicit your views and opinions on the things that matter to you and your families.
A good example of the new approach to regional cooperation is in the area of health. Ever since the emergence of the Ebola threat in 2014, we established the OECS Council of Health Ministers and every Tuesday since, the health policy makers (ministers and/or Chief Medical Officers and key officials) have been video conferencing to share information and take joint action against Chikungunya, Zika, and to achieve compliance with the international health regulations. Key regional and international partners PAHO and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) are standing participants in this process.
The free movement of people is a reality and citizens of the OECS can travel freely to lime, live and work between the Member States using simply a government issued photo ID and with the ability to use a valid driver’s license from any OECS country to drive in any other. We are however deeply conscious that there is still work to be done to make travel within the OECS cheaper and more hassle free, and we are working to remove some of the remaining barriers to this goal.
Working groups involving Customs, Immigration, security, port and other officials from all Member States have been working together to design new systems for the free circulation of goods and services within the single space. Our ultimate objective is to have goods and services move as freely from Member State to Member State as they now do from a capital city to any village in one country.
In the past 35 years, some of the initial successes of the OECS have gained institutional permanence. Fifteen years ago from the combined effort to liberalize telecommunications and break the burden of monopoly, ECTEL was born. Those old enough to remember those days of monopoly can attest to the intensity of the battle that was successfully waged to give consumers of the OECS the right of choice, and to reduce the cost of telephone access.
An initial experiment in joint procurement of medicines led to the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Procurement Service (PPS), which has brought major benefits to the health sector since 1986. The PPS now supplies over 800 prescription medicines and a wide range of medical supplies, contraceptives and radiological consumables at prices that average between 20-30 percent less than individual Governments can purchase, with annual savings of about EC$4 Million. The OECS model has now become a global best practice that is being copied by other regions around the world.
We are finalizing a Growth & Development Strategy for the OECS, which would provide a common framework for economic growth and national development across the OECS. Within this strategy we are seeking to address several key problems and identify many vital opportunities that can open new globally competitive possibilities for us. For example addressing the problem of the food imports into the OECS totaling about half a billion US dollars is also an opportunity to revitalize agriculture by becoming self-sufficient in food, create agro-businesses and jobs, and change to healthier lifestyles with organic food. In other words, a lifestyle revolution by growing what we eat and eating what we grow.
Aligned to the Growth & Development Strategy is a Youth Strategy that we have just initiated. Under the brand OECS YES, Youth Empowered Society, we are seeking to engage and empower our youth to define their own future. Through a variety of means – block raps, focus groups, online meetings and a massive social media campaign – we are inviting the youth of the OECS, who make up 34 percent of the population, to tell us what this strategy should involve. The 7 pillars which form the framework for the Youth Strategy are:
Education & Training – branded as YES I Learn
Entrepreneurship & Employment – branded as YES I Earn
Creativity & Culture – branded as YES I Express
Child/Youth Protection – branded as YES I Matter
Citizenship & Identity – branded as YES I Belong
Health Lifestyles – branded as YES I Move
Environment & Sustainable Development – branded as YES I Inherit
We invite you to join us in this journey towards a Youth Empowered Society by linking with our social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The OECS continues to make climate change, environment and disaster management important priority areas for joint and collective action by Member States. We are clear that sudden and unexpected disasters such as Tropical Storm Erika are likely to be the new climate normal and that we need to completely redefine our early warning systems, disaster response mechanisms, and post disaster recovery capability. Associated with this is the need for new building codes and standards, environmental protection rules, stronger insurance arrangements and more secure risk safeguards.
Facing the future
As small vulnerable states we face a world that is unsentimental and brutal in its competitiveness. To survive we must learn to cooperate as intensely as we have competed, and we must make the most of whatever we have that is deemed of value in today’s world. We must find our niche and occupy that niche so securely that it would be difficult to dislodge us from it.
While the record of accomplishment of the OECS in these past 35 years has been outstanding, it is important to understand that there is no time to rest on our laurels. What worked for us in these past years can no longer work today nor will it succeed tomorrow. We need to find new approaches that empower us to accelerate the pace of change if we are to get ahead of the global tide.
Our best opportunity to survive and thrive in today’s world is to make a reality of the single space; to unify the chain of islands from the Virgin Islands in the north, to Grenada in the south, inclusive of the French and the Dutch-speaking islands in between. Already the entry of Martinique has opened many new windows of wider cooperation in health, education, community tourism and trade. The new President of the Territorial Collectivity of Martinique, Hon. Alfred Marie-Jeanne, has already proposed a concrete program of accelerated cooperation between Martinique and the other Member States. The creation of this single space in the Eastern Caribbean archipelago is being pursued in a manner that is also consistent with the wider regional integration agenda.
The democratic process is alive and well in the OECS, and we have seen a free exercise of the sovereign will of the people. The outcome of this has been to bring new faces and fresh perspectives to the governance bodies of the OECS. We draw on the historical inspiration of 1981 when OECS leaders shaped singular purpose despite wide and deep differences, and we pray that the simple aspiration of Caribbean people to move, work, play and create sustainable livelihoods freely across these islands will be realized.
Even as we celebrate the accomplishments of the past 35 years, let us commit to achieving more in less time. Let us emphasize the things that unite us rather than punctuate the differences that divide us. Let us resolve in the words of the Black Stalin to:
“… push one common intention
Is for a better life in de region
For we woman, and we children
Dat must be de ambition of de Caribbean man”