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OECS Economic Union on road

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SEARCHLIGHT welcomes the initiative taken by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit ( RIDU) to hold a public discussion, broadcast live, on the benefits of the OECS Economic Union.{{more}} The Union treaty was signed last June, but has just come into effect after being ratified by the member states last month.

It marks a bold forward step in advancing the regional integration movement. Unfortunately, there is still a lot to do in educating the people of the sub-region about the Union and in having them warmly embrace it.

In an effort to ensure that the Union stays on the front-burner, last Tuesday night’s discussion was as high-profile as they come. Panelists were OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael, the highly respected Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner, and our own Prime Minister Gonsalves. This guaranteed knowledgeable input by some of the main crafters of the sub-regional integration movement. It may be, though, that by having all three at a single session, there may well have been some overload and hence insufficient time to get the most out of Dr. Ishmael and Sir Dwight, in terms of availing ourselves of fuller perspectives from them on the historic Union move.

It was nevertheless a step in the right direction for which the organisers deserve credit. The opportunity was taken to provide information and to win support for the worthy cause. It is to be hoped that such efforts will be replicated across the rest of the Eastern Caribbean in order to bring a wider cross-section of OECs citizens on board with the initiative. Even though Caribbean integration has long been a goal of all Caribbean people, political opportunism, selfishness and downright suspicion have helped to delay the cementing of regional bonds. The OECS is now taking the high road, pioneering the way for the rest of the region to follow. It cannot afford to fail.

Naturally, the issues of free movement of persons and capital were among the concerns raised by the public. This is not surprising since restrictions on such freedoms are real barriers to Caribbean people being able to capitalise on economic opportunities, and hence in themselves constitute barriers to development. If the OECS Union lives up to its promise and respects the letter and spirit of the Treaty, the benefits to our citizens can be tremendous.

There are aspects of the Treaty though where one could wish that the drafters were more inclusive. It is good to see concrete mechanisms outlined to try and ensure that the Union works. However, the overriding impression is that all is left up to a relatively small group of politicians and bureaucrats. Little space seems to have been left to get the business community, the trade union and civil society movements, as part of the various institutions and organs. Where are their voices in all this? How different, how more refreshing will be an OECS Assembly drawn from the same narrow group of Parliamentarians that we already have?

The Union is still young and far from perfect, but we will urge that consideration be given as to how to ensure greater participation by the people of the region, outside the political and bureaucratic hierarchy. That will be essential in creating the feeling of ownership and belonging, so necessary to the success of this vital venture.