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Around the OECS: Governance issues at the forefront

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Taking a look around the Eastern Caribbean islands, one notices that governance issues are very prominent. This is hardly surprising, given our traditional emphasis on politics and all the more expected with the election season reigning in most of the islands.

The countries of the Eastern Caribbean have committed themselves via the Treaty of Basseterre (revised in 2010) to a process of integration beginning with trade and their economies but aimed in the direction of a single political unit.{{more}} The long-term goal is not just desirable, but absolutely vital though achieving it will be no easy task.

Freedom of movement of people and capital has been promulgated but much more needs to be done in the direction of people to people contact. At some ports of entry there are still immigration officers who, in spite of the legal instruments signed, try to create unnecessary difficulties for persons travelling from one country to another.

There is still not enough information-sharing on a day-to-day level between the islands, a matter that I have been harping on for years. We are not shy in relaying, via the electronic media, news broadcasts in totality from BBC and CNN, but what about, say one a day, a broadcast from Antigua today, Grenada tomorrow etc? Surely that will increase our awareness about our neighbours. Currently it is the OECS Secretariat which makes an effort in this direction, good but not enough.

Whilst undoubtedly, St Kitts/Nevis with its controversial recent elections, occupies centre-stage, but there are other issues of fundamental importance taking place in neighbouring islands.

The LIAT situation for instance, with yet another announcement of restructuring efforts, involving moving the troubled airline’s headquarters to Barbados, away from Antigua, is a cause of concern in that latter country. Rational as the move might be, the consternation in Antigua is less about the fortunes of this vital regional transport link than it is about the implications for the Antiguan economy.

Curiously, while there is unanimous support for increasing the efficiency of the airline, the management of the airline must address the concerns of passengers from the OECS about the attitude towards them exhibited at the infamous “Gate 9” transit point at the Adams International airport, by some staff there.

Our immediate neighbours to the north and south, St Lucia and Grenada, are currently grappling with governance issues which ought to be of interest to us. Last week in St Lucia, a Court injunction was granted to freeze the possible implementation of recommendations of the Constituencies Boundaries Commission pending challenges in court. Those recommendations involve increasing the number of constituencies, a proposal endorsed by Prime Minister Kenny Anthony. Dr Anthony claims that there is imbalance in the number of voters in the constituencies, with those in the urban north having many more registered voters than those in the rural south.

With elections expected within the next year, the matter of the redrawing of the constituency boundaries can prove as much of a ‘hot potato’ as it did in St Kitts. It also raises the issue of the need for us here in SVG to “clean up” our Voters List, as proposed by the Supervisor of Elections to avoid any controversy over the elections. It is to be hoped that both our ‘political tribes’ can collaborate on this and support the Electoral Department in the endeavour.

Finally, to the south, there is Grenada, struggling to bring completion to its constitutional reform process. While not as deep-seated and wide-ranging as the one here, 2003/9, nevertheless that country’s Constitutional Reform Commission, held public discussions and made a number of recommendations. In addition to minor ones such as the change of name of the country, important ones such as limiting the terms of office of Prime Ministers and setting a fixed date for the holding of elections, as obtains in the USA, were put forward.

Unfortunately, having last year given the date of Feb. 10, 2015 for the holding of a referendum, the government has had to postpone it. The reason? Lack of funding, according to Legal Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod. He said that Grenada, which is under an IMF austerity programme, cannot afford to fund the referendum, and is waiting on support from the United Nations and “donors” for funding to do so. It cannot be heartening when we have to rely on others for such basic exercises in democratic governance.

There is much around us for us to learn and be informed, right in our own OECS.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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