Value and power of compromise and accommodation were key to Economic Union Treaty, says St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister

Flags of the OECS member States

ST. KITTS, JUNE 24, 2010 (CUOPM) -The current generation of the leadership of the OECS are faced with a challenge historically similar to that faced by the Founding Fathers in 1981, and that is: How to ensure, in the face of a dramatically continually changing global reality, that the Member States and the Organisation of which they are constituent parts, will be able to maintain relevance and the capacity to deliver on the goals and aspirations of their citizens well into the future!

“This is the essence of the challenge which history has placed before us,” declared St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister and outgoing Chairman of the Authority of the OECS Heads of Government at Friday’s historic signing of the revised Treaty of Basseterre bringing into being the OECS Economic Union.

Prime Minister Douglas noted that some five years ago, it became clear to the leadership of the OECS that the Member States and the Organisation itself were at a particular historical juncture where decisions needed to be made which would determine whether “we move forward in keeping with the demands of our time, or whether we remain at rest, in a state of stasis.”

“As in 1981, the leaders of our Organisation had come to the conclusion that there was a necessity for the design of a totally new organisational construct if it (the Organisation) was to remain relevant and capable of responding to new and emerging challenges at the national, regional, and international levels. As with their forbears twenty- four years before, they became convinced that there remained no other meaningful or realistic option available to them, but to further deepen the level of integration among the Member States.”

“This deepening pointed in only one direction – the logical next step in the integration process, that of Economic Union. And so, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Organisation, the OECS Authority decided with great resolve, to seize the moment, and agreed formally to proceed toward the establishment of an Economic Union of the OECS, through the signing of an Agreement of Intent.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister and the longest serving Head of Government in the Caribbean, noted that events since then, at the national, regional and international levels have proven not only the timeliness of that decision, but its correctness as well.

He noted that within the last two to three years for example, the region has had to endure the devastating effects of the global financial and economic crisis.

“During that period, we witnessed an already complex international financial landscape being rendered even more complicated and dangerous by a financial and economic crisis of a kind never experienced since the Great Depression. Our experience of the collapse of the international capital markets (including, on the home front, the triple trauma of the CLICO, Stanford and British American failures) confirmed very forcefully, the role of the OECS and its institutional machinery in securing the fortunes of Member States,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

OECS Leaders at a meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis to initial the OECS Economic Union Treaty (photo by Erasmus Williams)

He proffered: “One shudders to contemplate what would have become of Antigua and Barbuda after the Stanford debacle, had there been no OECS! And even then, mere membership of an integration grouping would have been insufficient. In the final analysis, what saved the day was the quality of the institutional machinery and arrangements which are at the heart of the OECS enterprise, and the speed with which they were mobilized in response to the crisis. One recalls the resolve and decisiveness with which the Monetary Council through the ECCB intervened to restore stability, credibility and respectability to the OECS financial sector in the wake of these failures.”

“That resolve was also matched by the OECS Secretariat who for the past four years or so – at the behest of the Authority – had embarked in a process of representing the region’s strategic interests through the development of relationships, at the regional level, with nontraditional partners in different parts of the world – a move which has brought dividends by way of mobilization of unprecedented levels of developmental resources. Today it is absolutely clear, that in the absence of the OECS and its associated institutional arrangements, the fate of the countries which make up the Organisation would have already been sealed, in a negative and most deleterious manner.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis leader noted that the process of designing the mechanisms for the OECS Economic Union is one which holds important lessons for the sub-region.

A major lesson he said speaks to the wisdom of ensuring that popular consultation and engagement was a central feature of the process.

“Throughout the length and breadth of each of the Member States of the OECS, organisational structures were established across sectors, demographic groups, and other relevant categories. These structures facilitated consultations of various kinds including interactive town hall meetings, formal and informal lectures, seminars and workshops to explain the meaning and significance of the Economic Union concept and the benefits to be derived. Most importantly however, the consultations sought to obtain from members of the public their own views on the Economic Union concept, its desirability and applicability in their current circumstances, and in particular, ideas for incorporation in the design of the institutions and arrangements to underpin them,” said Dr. Douglas.

He added that the process also allowed not only a greater understanding of the Economic Union by the people of the OECS, but also a popular identification with it.

“Over the last four years, representatives of OECS Member States have been engaged in negotiations at a number of levels. At the political level of Heads of Government in particular, we have been meeting, working long and hard, quietly and without fanfare, to iron out problems, and to work around or to remove obstacles to progress. Inspired by the goal of Economic Union, and guided by the objectives established in relation to the process, many compromises were made. Indeed the OECS could not have arrived at this juncture were it not for the tremendous spirit of compromise which prevailed, and which was exhibited by all. We were all motivated by that sense of a common purpose, the continued integration of our people and our efforts to improve welfare. We allowed nothing to distract our eyes from that ball, and we were always prepared to do what needed to be done to move the process forever forward,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

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