The nine-island Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) can have a much bigger impact as a single entity with one political leader while enjoying economic benefits, political and security stability and social cohesiveness, suggests regional senior judge, Gregory Regis.
Under the Treaty of Basseterre signed in 1981, the alliance was created to, among other things, promote economic integration and establish arrangements for joint overseas representation and common services.
Regis says this agreement is no longer serving the best interests of the islands.
“It is obvious that the kind of fragmentation represented by the Caribbean island countries is unsustainable,” Regis said during his keynote address at the St. Lucia Toronto Association’s (SLTA) annual gala to celebrate the island’s 34th independence anniversary. “The population of these OECS islands is about 636,000, yet there are six prime ministers and three chief ministers. They spend millions of dollars competing with each other for development money and projects.
“We cannot continue along this road because it’s unsustainable. I say it’s time for us to be creative and smart to secure our future. One positive step we can take in that direction is for the OECS countries to become one country immediately.”
Countries and corporations around the globe are forming alliances to maximize competitive advantages and advance common interests.
Regis reminded the audience that Canada emerged out of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference because of concerns about the economic dangers posed by the Americans.
“I think Caribbean states face a similar threat to their survival,” said Regis. “Big countries such as Canada and the United States of America are busy forming economic alliances all over the world. Yet, the Caribbean countries continue with the fragmentation. The Caribbean needs to understand this reality and do something sensible about it. We need to start thinking outside the box and take concerted and creative actions or we will perish.
“We, West Indians, who live overseas, must step up to the plate and provide some leadership in this area. Think of the possibilities of the OECS as one country. Most of the infrastructure is already in place. We have one currency, one court, a common external tariff regime and more. The main piece missing is the political piece. We must find ways to persuade our political leaders to agree and take the necessary actions to achieve that goal.”
With St. Lucia, one of the OECS countries, facing severe economic challenges, Regis, in the meantime, is urging nationals – particularly those with professional skills and experience – to assist in these trying times.
He said there are many like him who are in leadership positions in myriad sectors, including banking, education, health care, finance and the skilled trades that are making significant contributions to Canada’s development.
Regis would like to see them do a similar thing for the country of their birth.
“We must not allow anyone to bully us away from contributing to the development of our island and region,” he said. “We, who live overseas, have a great deal to offer and we need to find a way to play a role, even a leadership role. We cannot back down from that responsibility.
“We are educated and informed people who follow current events. We are often better informed about the civic issues in St. Lucia than some who live there. By living overseas, we are often more sensitive to where our island fits in the world. We are able to offer a different perspective. I say we must insist on playing our part. I am not suggesting that we must all return home. That is neither necessary nor practical. I am talking about making our contribution from wherever we reside. There are many ways to contribute. I ask you to be creative as you consider how you can make your contribution.”
Regis, who was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1999, encouraged nationals to move beyond passing resolutions and sending letters with policy ideas and suggestions to the St. Lucian government.
“It’s now time for us to pull our resources and skills together and come up with a plan for us to contribute to the future well-being of our lovely island,” he said. “It’s time for full contact engagement.”
New SLTA leader, Ross Cadasse, presented the President’s Award to long-serving member, Simone Campbell, at the annual affair. She is a life member and trustee of the 45-year-old organization.
“Simone has contributed selflessly over the years,” said Cadasse.