“Then they made fifty gold clasps and used them to fasten the two sets of curtains together so that the tabernacle was a unit” – Exodus 36:13

It was reported on May 30 2006, in the St. Lucia media, that St. Lucian hotelier and graduate economist Allen Chastanet, with significant Caribbean experience, is standing by his statement that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) offers nothing for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). He made the statement in his customary forthright manner at the annual awards ceremony of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association.

He said “We need to strengthen our existing organization, not to join new ones and burden the Eastern Caribbean tax-payers even more”, pointing out that the sub-regional grouping was already a huge financial burden to its Eastern Caribbean members.

He added that a common currency was a prerequisite for true integration. “The OECS has its own currency but CARICOM does not,” said Chastanet, who lamented that a regional consensus could not even be reached by our leaders to earn millions of dollars from the billion dollar cruise industry. “We are not serious,” said Chastanet, who cited examples such as the University of the West Indies and the West Indies Cricket Team as ample inspiration for OECS nations to meaningfully integrate within the sub-region. He concluded “I truly believe that there would be substantially more benefits by fully integrating the OECS.”

Charles Maynard, speaking three days later in St George’s Grenada, at a meeting of the OECS Bar Association commented “I came across a very interesting review of how South Africans are being persuaded to see themselves. If there is one country that can teach us some valuable lessons as to how to come out of challenges and difficulties and disasters and innovate and push ahead, it is South Africa”.

He suggested that as the South Africans have reasons to believe in their approach, we too should have reasons to believe in the OECS. “To believe in the OECS is not incompatible with support for the wider CARICOM community and the Single Market initiatives. The stronger and more organized we are the better we will be able to serve the wider CARICOM and move the OECS to deeper integration, drawing on our formidable reserves of mind and heart”.

Charles, a Dominican, is a lawyer with vast experience at the highest level in the regional private and public sectors and is indeed a former Permanent Secretary and Cabinet Minister. He is currently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Ambassador of Dominica to OECS and Caricom.

Chastanet and Maynard are chronologically a generation apart, however, there is a common theme “Strengthen the OECS so that we will be better able to serve wider economic communities”. If there is any difference in their positions, it relates to the timeliness of the integration initiative.

Maynard recognizes that the OECS is deficient regarding public sector reform and makes a case for a public service system which must respond to the needs of the 21st century.

He further commented on success stories like the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court – a particularly noteworthy and respectable institution in which the people of the countries have reposed their confidence. “The OECS has the distinction of having had the first ever Telecommunications Regulatory Body in the world….The nature of doing business on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis has given rise to transactions by digital communication. The new e-commerce and financial services sectors have brought into train some new issues for the Courts”.

Then there is the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority. “We can salute that Body…. We are already aware of the distinctions we have received from international bodies for the way we have managed and supervised our currency authority. It has been of considerable consolation and joy to us to know that when the European Union was about to set up the institution of the Euro, they came to our region trying to understand how eight small countries could decide to have one single currency and to sustain it through many trials and some periods of stormy weather”.

“Then we have the Export Development Unit OECS/EDU. That Agency has been responsible for upgrading many of our small businesses to be export ready to meet the requirements of the global marketplace”… “Let us move to the Drug Procurement experience. Few people understand how this works and the enormous contribution it makes to the bottom line in the islands. More than that, the availability of pharmaceuticals, at a cost that is affordable, is a signal contribution to our quality of life”.

“What is particularly revealing is the fact that it is being urged on us that small size is not a deterrent to what we can do with the new opportunities that the knowledge economy brings to the table”.

The OECS and indeed the wider Caribbean should diligently pursue Export of Services (Tourism, Informatics, Financial, Health, Consulting, Education, Entertainment and Sports), High-Tech Manufacturing, Renewable Energy, Value-Added Agricultural Exports and Tourism Linkages. If the OECS and other territories in the region focus on the above service opportunities for which each has a competitive advantage, in time we can fasten the two sets of curtains together so that the region becomes a unit.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – www.cbet-inc.org)

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