I am sure I speak for all my colleagues in expressing appreciation to Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, the government and people of Grenada for the warm hospitality we have received and the fine arrangements that have been made for this conference. Grenada is the spice island of the Caribbean but it is much more than that and we are enjoying all that this piece of paradise has to offer.
I offer my congratulations to Prime Minister Thomas on assuming the chairmanship of CARICOM. In his calm and steady hands the leadership of our movement is in steady hands.
At the end of last year, we bade farewell to our distinguished Secretary-General, Sir Edwin Carrington. Today, I wish to pay tribute to him. His tenure as SG, arguably, marked the most significant and challenging period in the history of CARICOM. The fact that we still have so much to do must not detract from the fact that so much was accomplished under his leadership:
He oversaw and guided the revision of the Treaty of Chaguaramas;
He was instrumental in the establishment of the CSME and the CCJ;
Under his watch we significantly expanded the areas of functional cooperation within the Community;
He helped to shape the vital focus we have placed on regional security and its establishment as our fourth pillar;
During his tenure, CARICOM undertook and advanced a number of far-reaching trade and development negotiations, some successfully concluded, others still in process.
It's no easy task to coordinate the engagement of 14 sovereign states and 14 sometimes contentious Heads of government. That, despite the naysayers, so much was accomplished is a testament to his acumen, the strength of his leadership and his commitment to Caribbean integration.
In expressing my thanks to critical issues on which we focused:the lingering issue of Community governance;
the review of our institutional structure as well as the Secretariat;
the terrible suffering that the people of Haiti continue to endure arising from the devastating earthquake just over a year ago and the cholera outbreak, compounded by issues relating to its presidential elections;
the severe impact that the global recession continues to have on our economies;
finding a suitable successor to Sir Edwin Carrington.
These issues have not been disposed of and will continue to require the attention of the Heads and, in particular, the new chairman.
But there are other issues that we will have to confront:
Continuing negotiations in the DOHA Round and the new hoped-for conclusion by the end of this year;
Implementation of EPA, the significant tariff liberalization commitments on which we are now required to make good and the benefits which it promised but which have yet to materialize;
Other trade negotiations in which we are engaged, most notably with Canada, and its implications for CARICOM states;
CSME – how it is working and where it is not working as it is supposed to work;
The failure of the Conference of Parties on the Framework Convention on Climate Change to arrive at binding agreements that will ensure the survival of small island states like ours;
Regional security – our exposure to transnational criminal organizations, the increase in violent crime emerging in many of our member states and the resource constraints that prevent us from delivering an appropriate response;
Food prices once again on the rise, as, too, oil prices and the aggravated uncertainty arising from the current popular uprisings in the Middle East;
Looming budget crisis facing CARICOM which cannot be divorced from the severe fiscal difficulties with which many of our governments are struggling.
Above all, we will have to address the persistent concern that CARICOM is not working…not working out. It was almost a generation ago that the West India Commission provided a clinical assessment of our deficiencies. Ten years later, Professor Norman Girvan highlighted what he called our implementation deficit. The people of the Caribbean – our constituents, the people who ultimately matter – continuously lament the “benefit-deficit”. That concern will not be dispelled by sentimental pleadings and history-based rationalizations. They want to see results, results that they can feel, count and enjoy.
We cannot escape addressing the issue of governance for it is a major cause of our implementation deficit – the Caribbean people’s benefit deficit. Various mechanisms have been proposed. None has found unanimous acceptance. If we are hoping to find the perfect solution, we are setting up our own disappointment for there is no perfect solution. But it must be within our possibilities to scale up the governance mechanism to better meet the mandate of Grand Anse. For if what now exists is the best we can do, if that is the zenith of the consensus of which we are capable, then the inevitable outcome will be the scaling down of Grand Anse to fit our current arrangements.
The voices of the sceptics have never been stilled. They may be subdued from time to time but they are ever present. Our response must not be to dismiss them or denounce their reasoning but to remove the cause of their scepticism.
We face the real danger that if the people of the Caribbean do not see in CARICOM the fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations, the solution of some of their most persistent problems, they will look beyond CARICOM for their salvation. That has always been the burden of the CARICOM movement. That remains the challenge for the CARICOM movement.
Once again, as we have done so many times before, we must repair to that task.