The scope of the work of the OECS Commission is so wide and varied that this interview will not be able to address all of the subject areas under Dr Jules remit. Hence we expect to continue this discourse for publication in future editions of this Magazine. We also hope that you will be more enlightened on Dr Jules’ responsibilities and the good work being executed by this most important regional institution - the OECS Commission and its various Agencies.
This is the first in a two part Interview with Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS Commission conducted by Lokesh Singh, Publisher of the OECS Business Focus Magazine.
Dr Jules - Congratulations on your not so recent appointment as Director General of the OECS Commission and also on the Commission’s 34th Anniversary.
BF: Having had some time to settle in as Director General, what are some of your key objectives in the short and medium term?
My overall mandate is to ensure that the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre are realized in the shortest possible timeframe. This translates for me into three key short to medium term priorities:
- Consolidating the architecture of OECS regional integration – which involves restructuring the Commission for efficiency and delivery; ensuring that the organs of OECS integration function in the most cost effective manner and the single reliance on government subventions is reduced and that they become more financially sustainable. It also involves the strengthening of compliance with and implementation of all agreements arrived at by the Authority
- Facilitating the free movement, growth and development of people, goods, services, capital and ideas – involving full implementation of the provisions for ease of travel and residence by OECS nationals in any member state; strengthening the travel and communications infrastructure (air, sea and broadband) within the OECS Single Space; facilitating the unhindered movement of goods within the single space; revitalizing the OECS Stock Exchange so that it can play a more dynamic role in private sector growth.
- Assuring the security and well-being of citizens – this we define in a holistic manner. Wellbeing and security of citizens is not just about safety from crime but also about freedom from want, the battle against poverty and a caring, healthy society.
The key economic priorities underlying this agenda is focussing on food security, renewable energy, transportation and communications, jobs, education and climate change/disaster management.
BF: Your mandate as Director General is very wide in scope, is the OECS Commission adequately structured with the requisite skills and funded to achieve the objectives of its work plan?
The mandate is wide because the OECS Heads recognize that integration is ultimately about people’s lives and the sustainability of our small societies. It is necessary therefore for us to take holistic and integrated approaches to the challenges that we face because our problems are interrelated. When we talk about a single economic space, we cannot separate issues related to transportation from tourism; we cannot speak about making that single economic space a wider tourism space and not also take note of the spread of infectious diseases and the implication for joint health action and seamless protective measures. Education is an important element of our integration project because it is supposed to create the human capacity for decent work jobs and new opportunity as well as shape the citizenry of the future. So a major challenge for the mandate is how well we can converge its various dimensions so that every action that we undertake serves to reinforce progress on several other fronts.
The question of whether the structure and the capacity of the Commission is up to the challenge of the integration agenda is one that has preoccupied me from the assumption of office. For any organization to effectively execute its mandate, its structure, staffing and financing must be optimized for that purpose. That is why consolidating the architecture of regional integration is one of the key priorities.
The OECS Heads of Government are sensitive to that reality and have agreed on a mechanism to ensure sustainable financing of the OECS institutions and some key CARICOM bodies and they will also be reviewing a new structure that is being proposed. Further, in the interim, the Commission through its Human Resource Unit has begun undertaking some fundamental initiatives geared towards facilitating effective change management in general, and strengthening leadership skills as well as enhancing its recruitment and talent management processes specifically.
BF: What management style do you bring to the table to realise and maximise on resources and generating results?
The management style is one that emphasizes staff empowerment and engagement of key stakeholders but which also holds people strictly accountable for their deliverables. In other words, emphasis will be placed on ensuring that service is efficient and inclusive, and that people are held responsible and are rewarded when they perform their tasks.
BF: Yours is a difficult task having to satisfy so many Heads of Government and stakeholders whilst making both popular and unpopular decisions. Have you been able to sell yourself and your personal leadership style and work agenda successfully?
I have no hesitation in making difficult decisions once I am empowered to do so. Navigating the needs and perspectives of different stakeholders is a normal dimension of a job like this and is part of what makes it exciting. Very often when we look at things on the surface, we see differences but when the issues are explored in some depth, those differences may not be as deep as they first appeared. Experience has also taught me that differences should be approached from a positive perspective – if we explore our differences so as to better understand them that exploration can sometimes lead to a modification of original positions with better outcomes for all. To achieve this requires that we listen to understand and not just listen to respond.
BF: Do you agree with the six month period of rotating OECS Chairmanship or would you like to see an extended period of Chairmanship? If yes, then expand on the rationale. If no, then share the benefits for the Commission?
CARICOM has a six month rotation of its Chair but in the case of the OECS, the Chairperson has a one year tenure of office. This works well for us because the longer tenure allows the incumbent Chair more time to shape objectives and define with greater precision the legacy and impact that he/she would like to make.
BF: The achievements of the OECS Commission in comparison to those of CARICOM are admirable. What is the relationship between these two organisations especially where there are clearly areas for conflict on many fronts?
We cannot pretend that differences between the two integration projects do not exist. However one must appreciate that the OECS countries have more in common than do the wider membership of CARICOM. When Sir Arthur Lewis wrote “The Agony of the Eight” he argued that there was a more compelling commonality in the Eastern Caribbean than across the wider basin.
These commonalities have made it easier for the OECS to achieve results in some areas that still elude the wider integration movement. We must be clear, however, that the OECS’ success lays the ground for CARICOM to succeed and both integration efforts must learn from each other if this aspiration is to be achieved. Ultimately CARICOM cannot succeed if the OECS does not succeed and equally the OECS cannot fulfil its mandate if CARICOM does not succeed.
BF: The OECS Community have made significant progressive steps with Free Movement, a single economy, a single currency, a common Central Bank and other initiatives. Have we been able to harmonise the efficiency of Governments and their domestic agencies in the efficient implementation of programmes and delivery of services across the OECS Community?
Each of the successes that you itemized here has also required varying degrees of harmonization of processes and organizational agendas and some rethinking about traditional notions of sovereignty – without that harmonization of monetary policy for example, we could not enjoy a common EC currency.
Notwithstanding this, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on the public sector reform front. The size, structure and cost of the public service is a challenge faced by each Member State and in every OECS country there are different initiatives being undertaken to rationalize the public service. In some countries, there are emergent best practices that are pointing the way to improving delivery of service to the public in a least cost model and many initiatives that have been improving productivity. There needs to be more sharing of these experiences so that, sooner rather than later, we can agree on the best reform and reengineering practices that need to be adopted by all Member States.
BF: Most of the economies of the OECS Member States are experiencing major economic challenges to include rising costs and high levels of unemployment. Ideally they have been economies based on the traditional sectors of agriculture, manufacturing and tourism which has emerged as the shining star in recent times. What are some of the strategies you believe need to be implemented as an OECS Community to turnaround these economies?
We are in the final draft stages of an OECS Growth & Development Strategy (OGDS) which is essentially focussed on the question of what can we do differently and better to address economic turnaround and growth in the OECS. There are many key elements that need to be addressed. First of all we are very clear that any economic strategy must make youth employment, empowerment and entrepreneurship a demographic priority because youth are the most disadvantaged segment of the population of the OECS and also because a different future requires their fullest participation and energy. Secondly we recognize that the old model which relies heavily on foreign direct investment has not brought the results that we anticipated and that with the constriction of global aid and investment flows, we need to be more creative and self-reliant. To that end we are proposing new investment strategies that will better mobilize the resources of the Diaspora, the indigenous financial institutions such as the Credit Unions, and the OECS Stock Exchange to fuel the growth that we seek.
In a nutshell here are some of the strategies that we are proposing:
- Create opportunity for greater private sector investment especially by the domestic private sector in productive growth areas of the economy that leverage the wider OECS single market space
- Reposition the OECS regionally and internationally as an emerging location for business – this includes leveraging our relations with Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, ALBA countries for stronger trade
- Revitalize exports through short term interventions in tourism and agriculture (including stronger linkages between them) and using WINFRESH as a vehicle for production and export of OECS value added agricultural goods
- Strengthen and widen the impact of the tourism sector through intersectoral linkages (with agriculture, culture and festivals) and development of niche opportunities (in yachting, community tourism, sporting tourism and health tourism).
- Implement the provisions for free circulation of goods and services across the OECS Single Space
- Improve the climate for business – harmonized business legislation and investment policy, seamless processes for business registration, licencing, taxation, labour regulations, investment facilitation
- Improve access to finance and capital - Portability of Collateral to support Pan-OECS business
- Address High cost and availability of appropriate finance for business – Export and venture capital finance; equity; multilaterals; Credit Unions; Development Banks
- Improve air transport - Progressively expand air services; Facilitate improved air connectivity through inter-lining; Enhance schedule integrity, predictability, convenience; Improve equipment and service quality and reliability; Improve airport facilities (throughput; security; hubs)
- Expand sea transport - Enhance the quality of shipping/level of service; Modernise informal OECS shipping cluster to become competitive with the formal sector, and sustainable; establish fast ferry service for the OECS; Improve seaport facilities
- Communication and ICT – Stronger liberalization of broadband to ensure universal access to larger bandwidth, number portability, removal of roaming in the OECS single space, and several conditions conducive to promoting/creating a digital economy.
The OECS Growth & Development Strategy also addresses some issues which have deep economic implications and impacts but which directly impact families and communities. This includes:
- Climate Change & Disaster Mitigation - mobilising financing for climate change adaptation and action plans for vulnerable sectors and communities; Adoption of harmonised protocol for conduct of vulnerability and post-disaster assessments; Integration of disaster risk reduction into environmental management programmes
- New attention to the Ocean - Develop an overarching OECS Ocean Policy to provide a framework for regional and national activities; Determine, legislate and register national baselines from which maritime boundaries will be measured; Negotiate, agree and delimit maritime boundaries between OECS States and with third party States; Develop ocean economy by enhancing the ocean as a key element in the tourism and fisheries sectors, creating conditions for best use of the ocean and coastal zones
The OGDS will be subject to the widest scrutiny that we can muster from key stakeholders that include the private sector organizations, the labour organizations and various sectoral interest groupings (in tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, ICT, cultural/entertainment industries and sporting interests).
BF: The ECCU has since agreed to tighten banking regulations including the adoption of an amended Banking Act giving the sole rights to issue Banking Licences to the ECCB Governor. This new legislation has been implemented with varying responses in the member states. What are your thoughts on the future of the traditional and offshore banking sectors in the region, moreso in the light of regionalisation and the new AML / FATCA regimes?
The Monetary Authority of the ECCB has taken these measures to ensure that we are able to protect the interests of depositors and ensure that our banks can meet standards that avoid insolvency. Situations such as the collapse of the Stanford business empire and its bank, the CLICO debacle were a wake up call for us in the region that has necessitated these measures. It is evident that the foreign banks operating in the region have been consolidating their positions and taking the steps necessary to shore up their profitability; it is necessary for the indigenous banks to work more closely together within the opportunities created by the Single Economic and Financial Space to network better and to consolidate as well. The future of the Offshore Banking sector is subject to incessant contestation by the more influential international players who are giving no quarter to us. The British Virgin Islands in particular has done exceedingly well as a jurisdiction of integrity that is regulated at an even more stringent level than some of the international jurisdictions yet it has been subject to unfair pronouncements and uncompetitive impositions. We need to be deeply conscious of these realities and be prepared to defend each other and our collective interests. The Rt Hon P J Patterson has warned about the unrelenting and unfair competition that we face. He stated in an address in 2011 that:
“None of us should believe that Autonomy and Independence constitute irreversible and unassailable gains for relatively small and powerless nations. The shadow of globalisation is as long as its grip is strong, and it carries within it the potential – if not the intention – by the powerful to make client-states of the weak and vulnerable, opening them-up as markets; assuming once again control of their factors of production; and reducing them to a state of dependency that compromises their autonomy.”
BF: It has been stated that for us to be successful, the business community needs to be the engine of growth with Governments being facilitators. When business grows, we feel the benefits across the society. We note the ECCB and OECS Commission being the catalysts for the formation of the OECS Business Council. Can you share the vision for this organisation and the ensuing benefits?
The notion of the private sector being the engine of economic activity has become a truism but I believe that it is one that we need to embrace with some nuancing because the reality is that governments are still expected to make levels of provision for jobs, infrastructure, and other economic stimulants that contradict the truism.
Whether the private sector is able to play that energizing role in economic growth really depends a great deal on the complexion of the private sector. If that sector is a largely distributive sector comprising businesses that just import and resell, its capacity to drive the economy is very constrained by the nature of its economic activity. If the sector is a highly productive sector involved in production of goods and services – whether for export or for domestic consumption – it is able to play a more aggressive role in driving economic growth. That is because its economic activity is creating jobs.
We are dialoguing more closely with the OECS private sector to have this kind of discussion and to encourage a greater appetite for risk and investment in productive enterprises. We would also want to help create policies and incentives for stronger linkages between industries. The best example of this would be the growing linkage between tourism and agriculture that we need to grow exponentially.
The OECS Business Focus is an important initiative in our effort to engage the OECS private sector. It is highly significant that it is itself a public-private partnership between AMS and the OECS Commission. We are jointly taking a product that has been successful and moving it to a much higher level of visibility and utility to make it a regular “must read” source of information on business developments in the OECS Single Economic Space. Timely, authoritative, practical information is the blood stream of an entrepreneurial culture and this is one medium that we intend to cultivate to provide it.
The OECS Business Council we hope will become a powerful, inclusive and representative voice of the private sector of the OECS. Our role in establishing this is simply to plant a seed that we expect will grow autonomously. We would like to see the various private sector organizations across the OECS taking control of this body, making it representative of their varied interests and using it as a vehicle to articulate their needs to governments.
BF: The Citizen by Investment Programme has now taken center stage as the new economic windfall with St Kitts and Antigua projecting it to generate 30% and 25% respectively of annual national revenues. All major OECS member states (St Lucia has agreed to implement it) except St Vincent have adopted the CIP.
Is the OECS Commission and ECCB involved in any oversight of this Programme to protect the integrity of the member states and the citizenry?
At the moment neither the OECS Commission nor the ECCB are involved in any oversight of the CIP. The countries which initiated this program have made independent efforts to ensure that the integrity of the program is maintained and that standards are established. In light of the increased interest by other Member States resulting from the success of the early adopters and also taking account of the debate occasioned by concerns expressed by other developed countries, the OECS governments are discussing among themselves the most appropriate way forward that will build on the successes but also avoid any pitfalls.
It is important to also note that even the more advanced economies have some variant of economic citizenship programs in place – in the United States of America, over 6,000 “investor visas” have been issued in the current fiscal year. CNN Money reported that “Under the government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, foreign investors can get conditional visas that allow them and their families to live, work and attend school in the U.S. To qualify for the visa, they must invest at least $1 million in a new or recently created business, or $500,000 for businesses in rural or high-unemployment areas. The investment must be demonstrated to have created or preserved at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers within two years. Assuming this condition is met, investors and their families graduate to permanent resident status, and can apply for full citizenship three years later.” Similar programs are in place in Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK (which has a Tier 1 Investor and Tier 1 Entrepreneur program).
We need to be aware of these realities because too often the richer more powerful countries flex their muscles – as they have done with the so-called blacklisting of the financial services industries in several Caribbean jurisdictions including some OECS countries like the BVI which have well regulated programs.
BF: Several OECS Agencies have been major success stories such as the Pharmaceutical Procurement Services Unit, ECTEL and the Civil Aviation Authority. Are there any new Agencies being considered for establishment based on these models and our regional needs?
We are being very cautious about the establishment of new agencies – Governments are very sensitive to the costs of creating and maintaining these agencies and in the OECS integration project we are guided by the need to ensure that the architecture of regional integration is lean and efficient, adds real value and direct benefits to the people of the OECS and are managed in a cost effective manner.
Based on these principles we are examining opportunities to expand the remit of existing successful agencies such as the Pharmaceutical Procurement Services Unit to centrally procure other goods that could result in major savings for governments – school supplies and textbooks are one example. We have recognized the need to have some structured means of addressing consumer issues and competitiveness concerns but we have hesitated to create a Competitiveness Commission as recommended by CARICOM. We are examining and brainstorming ways in which the exercise of these watchdog functions can be executed through IT enabled crowdsourcing solutions and empowerment of consumers themselves. We are also committed to working closely with those existing (CARICOM) regional institutions that are working effectively and are capable of efficiently delivering to our needs such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, CXC etc. – there is no need to reinvent the wheel if we have regional bodies that are working effectively. Equally we are stridently vocal and honest with respect to those institutions that are not adding value and which are in dire need of organizational reform. Things are too fiscally tight for governments to be spending money on institutions that don’t add real value and provide meaningful benefits.
BF: Diplomacy has been a strategic component of Governments and the OECS Commission. It is assumed that the best approach should be more regional and shared diplomatic missions especially to manage costs and spread the global presence. Why has this approach not been more entrenched or is it being abandoned in light of a recent new St Lucia mission to Taiwan and Grenada mission to Florida.
The Revised Treaty of Basseterre speaks clearly on the question of convergence of foreign policy for the advancement of Member States and the OECS has had a history of shared missions. There has also been the reality that individual Member States will have national imperatives that will from time to time necessitate that they made separate arrangements for representation. What is important here is how do we determine what arrangements are best under what circumstances. In an effort to answer this question, the Commission has prepared a concept paper for consideration of the OECS Authority reviewing the diplomatic representation of all Member States, their costs and the attendant arrangements and makes recommendations on the principles that should be applied and how these would play out with respect to shared representation. I can’t speak to the specific because the Authority has not decided on it as yet but I can give the assurance that the issue of how we optimize our diplomatic presence globally and maximize the returns on that diplomatic investment is high on the priority list of OECS Heads of Government and their Foreign Ministers.
See the following link for the OECS Stats Magazine: http://www.joomag.com/magazine/oecs-stats-in-focus/0748115001421180772