OECS time to take the great leap forward
You must have observed that when heads of governments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) meet they talk about everything else but the elephant in the room. That big issue, the inevitable political union, is practically taboo during meetings of the OECS Authority. By the way, the Authority, you will notice, is another name for the "big boys" club; you must note well that there are no "girls" in that club since Dame Eugenia left for the great beyond, just boys. But that's another issue.
Nevertheless it is quite worrying that the OECS secretariat can boast of holding 62 meetings of the OECS heads of government (the latest one was on last week at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau) yet not once have they explored the possibility of setting an agenda for the political integration of these small and vulnerable states of the OECS. As we have observed earlier the time is fast approaching when the issue of political union will become unavoidable if the OECS is to continue to exist.
It is also disturbing that given the serious problems facing the sub-region, two key members of the OECS, Dominica and Antigua, have found time to quibble about the naming of a candidate to contest the upcoming election of the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. In our view, comrades Skerrit and Brown should have settled the issue of selecting either Baroness Scotland or Sir Ron Sanders over a Kubuli during a break in the proceedings as they move on to discuss major problems such as the moribund economies of the region, the future of OECS tourism following the Cuba and US establishment of new relations and the real threat of non-communicable diseases to the economies of these island states. Boys, stop fighting; it's time to put your toys away.
We also observe that at this 62nd meeting of the OECS Authority the issue of free movement of persons formed a key item on the agenda
This indicated to us that after more than three decades the OECS is still grappling with the problem of the region as a single economic and social space.
Over the past few years the OECS Secretariat has recognised the need to bring the ordinary people of the island together and not just the political leaders.
But while we applaud the Secretariat for initiating that publicity programme, we believe it may be inadequate and a bit late. Ideally, the OECS should have maintained, throughout its 35 years, an active and aggressive programme of communication with the people of the sub-region. Undoubtedly, the Secretariat will agree that the public of the OECS has not been adequately prepared to accept the ramifications of those extremely contentious issues that threaten to strain relations in the OECS economic union.
In spite of the tremendous progress that the OECS has made in a number of key areas, compared to the larger CARICOM, the most significant unresolved issue is the unhindered movement of persons among the territories. Under the new Treaty nationals of OECS member countries are expected to be allowed to live and work in any other country without any legal or administrative restriction. Currently, OECS nationals are able to move within the OECS "space" on the basis of national ID cards but operationally that system has had limited success.
Additionally, people and firms wishing to establish businesses should be allowed to do so under conditions no less favourable than those of the host country. Essentially, the proposed economic union is expected to provide the platform upon which the sub-region may build a political union in the future.
Nonetheless, the consequences of a political union of the OECS have not been introduced as the next essential step in the integration of the OECS. Not many persons seem to be bold enough to talk about it.
However, a review of the thoughts of the political and economic intellectuals of the OECS convinces us that the sub region will have no choice in the matter of the formation of a political union. Earl Huntley, a St. Lucian political scientist makes that point rather forcefully in a paper on the Treaty of Basseterre and the OECS Economic Union. Mr. Huntley wrote that the most critical implication of an OECS economic union is that it requires a single legal or political authority to govern the new single economic space, to make laws and enforce them. He argues that a high level of political cooperation "or some form of political union among the participating states of the union" will be necessary in the near future.
That view was expressed earlier in an eloquent speech delivered on May 27, 1987 by Sir James Mitchell, the former Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In that speech entitled "To be or not to be a Single Nation: That is the Question", Sir James suggested that the economic realities were clearly indicating to the OECS that its current structure hindered its ability to mobilize the resources it needed to fulfil the demands of its people. In other words, Sir James believes that whatever the OECS does now, it could do better with some form of entity such as a confederation, federation, unitary state or another form of political union.
Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the current prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has made similar and strong calls for the political integration of the OECS. As far back as 2001, Dr. Gonsalves said he hoped the 20th anniversary of the OECS would be "the event that would spark a re-ignition of the flame of the quest towards a political union". He stressed that if we do not build a political union "on our terms" others will do so for us "on their terms".
But Gonsalves is unlikely to push that concept of OECS political during his political life. Currently he is facing the most crucial general elections of his political career and even if he wins we doubt Gonsalves and other OECS heads of government will take that giant step towards political union.