Taking the OECS to the Next Level
The Secretariat of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) held a one-week campaign in Dominica recently. The stated objective: informing the Dominican public of the progress the OECS has made over the past 32 years and updating Dominicans on the current attempts at solving some of the more intractable problems facing the economic union.
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 32 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.
One major issue is the unhindered movement of persons among the territories. Under the new Treaty nationals of OECS member countries will 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 will be allowed to do so under conditions no less favourable than those of the host country. Essentially, the 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". Although he made that statement nine years ago, his argument, that the OECS needs one government, is sound.
In that speech entitled The OECS in the Caribbean Civilization given in observance of the 20th Anniversary of the OECS, in June 2001, Dr. Gonsalves was convinced that the OECS was "an embryonic confederal structure which possesses the seeds of a further deepening or strengthening in the visionary quest for a confederal political union at the minimum."
Dr. Gonsalves added: "For over thirty years I have been a passionate and, I believe, reasoned defender and promoter of the idea of the political union of the Caribbean and more urgently of the Windward and Leeward Islands be it in a unitary, federal or confederal political form." We can call that political union by any name, he said, because a rose by any other name smells as sweet.
In 32 years the OECS has matured enough and is in the process of forming an economic union. Along the way the sub-region has taken a number of small but successful steps; it is now opportune for this group of islands to move to the next level. We are firmly of the view that the OECS cannot afford the luxury of waiting another 32 years before taking that next big step- the formation of a political union that Dr. Gonsalves spoke so eloquently about more than a decade ago.