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Advancing economic union in the OECS

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Last week’s meeting of the Heads of Government of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has hopefully advanced the process of Economic Union among those states one step further. The Heads reportedly discussed a wide range of matters pertinent to the union and were able to take some decisions in that regard. One important agreement was to facilitate the holding of public consultations on the issue so as to both inform the people of the OECS about the proposition, as well as to be advised by them thereof.{{more}}

This is a most welcome step, at least in theory, for much depends on the format of those consultations, the timing, the preparatory process and the level of resources set aside for this purpose. Not just the total amount of the financial resources, but whether they are used efficaciously. There have been consultations in which the bulk of the finances are paid to consultants and insufficient amounts left for mobilization purposes. This must be avoided at all costs. Every effort must be made to reach the people and to motive them to participate in the process. This must involve using non-traditional methods. Since it is our young people who will have to live with any Economic Union for longer periods than us older folk, special efforts must be made to get them actively involved. We cannot afford to have the same set of “talkie-talkies” dominating the discussion. Fresh views and perspectives are needed.

It was most fitting that just as our Leaders were reporting on their deliberations, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner, delivered a true State of the Union address. Refreshing, too, that it afforded the opportunity for questioning by studio audiences, albeit most of those audiences seemed to be dominated by the intellectual crowd. We have to find ways and means to encourage and cajole more working people to participate in such discussions. Hats off to Sir Dwight Venner for another good innings!

The purposed OECS Economic Union will no doubt provoke much concern over various aspects of life and comments from different sectors of the population in these islands. There is the relation between any Economic Union and Constitutional reform at the national level. It is interesting that the once-proposed Political Union in the OECS is now taking back seat to the Economic Union, but there is a correlation. In Europe for instance, the European Union (EU) has a political mechanism, the European Parliament, to which the administrative arm of the Union, the European Commission, must report. This is not just a gathering of hand-picked parliamentarians, a toothless bulldog, but a genuine elected Parliament in which most prominent political groupings in the EU are represented. Who will oversee our Economic Union? Who will guard the grounds?

Once again, economic developments are outpacing political development for we remain mired in the bog of the antiquated Westminster political system. If there is no meaningful constitutional reform, our success in forging any economic union is bound to be jeopardized by the pettiness and divisiveness of our politics. Opposition parties will oppose, either for their support for the union. We can end, once again, with a fine document lying on the shelves in Roseau, St. John’s, St. Georges and Kingstown.

Central to the discussions on the Economic Union will be the matter of regional transport and travel. Freedom for all the people in the Union to travel and work as they please (St. John’s and Castries may have interesting views on this). Air travel and the much talked-about ferry service are sure to be high on the agenda. LIAT, the regional air carrier, will quite naturally be prominent in all of this, with an expected heavy dose of bashing, mostly well deserved. It will be an issue that can have great bearing on the pace and scope of the integration process and which will test the mettle, and patience, of both leaders and people alike. More comment on this in the future.

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