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OECS Assembly must be given clear legislative teeth

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Tue, Aug 14, 2012

SEARCHLIGHT unreservedly welcomes the latest step in advancing the integration movement in the Eastern Caribbean as manifested by the inauguration of the OECS Assembly in Antigua and Barbuda last weekend. It represents another piece of the long-unresolved puzzle being put in place.{{more}}

Without being narrowly nationalistic, we also welcome the election of Ms René Baptiste, prominent Vincentian barrister and former member of both the legislature and Executive in St Vincent and the Grenadines, as Speaker of the sub-regional Assembly. Not only will she bring her vast political and Parliamentary experience to bear, she will help to infuse professionalism and commitment to the common cause. We are quite confident that she will perform her duties with honour and distinction and help to keep the Assembly on a business-like track.

It is also pleasing that the Assembly has been so construed as to incorporate members of the Opposition in each member state, thereby ensuring that the views of those Parliamentarians not on the government benches are heard and considered, as we move to consolidate this lynch-pin of regional integration.

One disappointing feature of last Friday’s inauguration was the absence of three Opposition Leaders for reasons not known to us. We do hope that it was merely coincidental, for it is vital that all be aboard on this OECS unity boat. We cannot allow this exercise to flounder and degenerate, as happened with the failed Vincentian constitutional reform process.

According to the Revised Treaty of Basseterre (2010), the OECS Assembly has the responsibility to report to the OECS Authority (the Heads of Government), on proposals for the enactment of legislation, among other duties, and can also put proposals to the OECS Authority for the making of relevant regulations.

This has given rise to some legitimate concern, voiced by the Vincentian Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and the St Kitts and Nevis Opposition Leader Mark Brantley. There is some concern among some member states about whether the constitutions of the member states allow for implementation of decisions taken in the OECS Assembly.

It is the view of Eustace, a view shared by SEARCHLIGHT, that, by failing to give the Assembly clear legislative teeth, and instead relying on the various national Parliaments to legislate on each common regional policy, we are leaving the door open for procrastination and possible frustration of the common will.

The Assembly must not be another talk-shop. Its work must be meaningful and decisive, cementing concrete ties between the people of the Eastern Caribbean states. No less is demanded. It is a substantial responsibility in advancing the integration process in the entire region, for success in this venture can demonstrate to the doubters and stallers in the wider Caribbean that not only can integration work, it can also promote and advance the interests of the Caribbean people.

As we wish the Assembly every success, we strongly urge that this matter be treated with urgency and redress found.

The Vincentian Prime Minister and Chairman of the OECS Authority, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his address to the inauguration was optimistic that decision making will “evolve into actual law-making in the not-too-distant future.” We do hope that that would be the case. Whatever we do in such a noble cause, we must do it right!

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