Read the 2024 Edition of Discover Montserrat Magazine

Heads of Government at the OECS Authority Meeting on Wednesday, October 20, 2022. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

A Call to Future-Proof the Nations of the OECS

Montserrat is hosting leaders and representatives from across the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) for the 72nd Meeting of the Authority.

In a three-hour ceremony on Wednesday morning, Head of the OECS Commission, Director General Dr. Didacus Jules welcomed the new leaders of St. Kitts & Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Terrance Drew and Grenada’s Prime Minister Dikon Mitchell to the OECS family.

Future-Proofing the OECS

Dr. Jules told the gathering at the Montserrat Cultural Centre and those watching online that “the big lesson from these past two years of adversity is that the future cannot be taken for granted. The opportunities of the present cannot be overlooked, and the lessons of the past cannot be forgotten.”

Director General of the OECS Commission Dr. Didacus Jules, Premier of Montserrat Joseph Farrell and representative from Guadeloupe (Nerissa Golden Photo)

He said “many crises, more than we care to admit, can be anticipated because the seed of every crisis is deeply planted in the soil of complacency and watered by insularity. We must take stock of our own sins of omission and our own failures to do the things that are possible and necessary to build resilience.”

The director general called the region’s work on food security an “intermittent effort” and one that must make way for more strategic foresight and early action to improve the nutritional value and eradicate poverty.

On the matter of plastic waste, Dr. Jules said public education efforts are clearly not working as evident by the rivers which are choking with plastic after rains. He charged that OECS nations continued to permit the importation of plastics without the strict legislation needed to ensure plastics were recyclable.

He said national and community action was needed with a focus on personal responsibility to curb the issue of plastic pollution.

To future-proof the region, the OECS has developed five strategic priorities to tackle over the next six years which would be “markers of definitive progress”. They are:

  1. Accelerating regional integration
  2. Reinventing the economy
  3. Valuing the environment
  4. Building resilience
  5. Advancing equity and inclusion

The OECS Commission head said the three highways of connectivity – air, sea and internet access needed to be urgently resolved. He said there were solutions on the table which the leaders needed to discuss and agree on.

“This situation is an opportunity to create a network for travel,” Jules explained. Free and constant movement between the islands was necessary to invigorate the economies.

Dr. Jules acknowledged the presence of representatives of Martinique and Guadeloupe who have Associate Member status within the organisation. He said discussions have begun on making French a language of business in the OECS.

The director revealed that the recent signing of the Caribbean and Africa partnership agreement presents a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity especially as it relates to the creative economy, health, and education.

OECS Member States Working as a Bloc

Also attending the meeting as a new head is associate member Premier of the Virgin Islands Dr. Natalio Wheatley.

Dr. Wheatley, who became the VI’s new premier earlier this year, thanked the OECS for their support and intervention to ensure democratic representation remained in the British Overseas Territory.

“It is because of the intervention of the OECS democratic representation remains… We are immensely proud of how the OECS took to the international stage to stand up for democracy,” the premier declared. “As a bloc we can continue to deepen our cooperation to withstand the pressures of external forces.”

Virgin Islands’ Premier Dr. Natalio Wheatley shares a laugh with Governor Sarah Tucker and her husband Howard. The Tuckers lived and worked in the BVI before moving to Montserrat. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

The leader outlined several ways that his nation would like to deepen functional cooperation with the OECS. He said along with the challenges of regional transportation and developing the tourism sector, his government wants to explore sectoral cooperation in key areas.

Premier Wheatly said there was a need for strengthened trade to allow his islands to access agricultural goods. He explained that there is a “demand in our economy for more affordable and healthier food options” and a need for more frequent shipping at reasonable rates to deliver goods to their market.

The leader said the Virgin Islands wants to be included in any OECS south to south arrangements with emerging economies. He shared that their strong financial services sector was an opportunity to build linkages to leverage their skills in this area.

OECS support was also needed to facilitate more access for the VI to European Union-funded programmes, the premier added.

Wheatly also offered their thriving marine sector as an environment to encourage young people across the OECS to learn the trade.

Reinvigorating Regional Integration

Grenada’s new leader, Prime Minister Dikon Mitchell opened his remarks with a commendation for Montserrat. On Tuesday, he and several other leaders were able to visit the Lost City of Plymouth, an experience he called “awe-inspiring and sobering.” He added his admiration for the people of Montserrat as it was a testament to their resilience.

Prime Minister Mitchell said decisive joint action has gotten the OECS some successes in the stability of the currency and strong regional institutions such as the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and the telecommunications authority.

OECS leaders huddled before the opening ceremony. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

He added that OECS leaders needed to make the acceleration of the OECS Economic Union part of their national country policy.

The collective population of 620,000 was an opportunity to exponentially leverage the region to capitalize on intra- OECS investments and trade, the prime minister said.

Prime Minister Mitchell said the measures to improve services among the island was an attainable reality which he and his counterparts needed to make happen for the people of the region.

In his first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Mitchell has had his government assess all the national issues which hinder the movement of people and doing business.

They have removed the need for passengers leaving Grenada to complete an emigration card and hopes to do the same for those arriving. The prime minister said this was a chance to introduce smart technology at ports of entry which would also improve data gathering and sharing. The end goal is to enhance Grenada’s tourism competitiveness.

The success of the OECS plans hinged on a sustainable and reliable intra-regional transport system. This is the “biggest hurdle that the OECS faces”. He noted that he and other leaders had to rely on charter flights to reach Montserrat due to limited connections daily. This cannot continue, Prime Minister Mitchell said.

Expanding the Possibilities for the OECS

After sharing a brief journey of the OECS from its inception to now, the new leader of St. Kitts & Nevis, Prime Minister Dr. Terrance Drew said it was time to expand the possibilities of the movement.

Montserrat’s Minister of Health & Education Charles T. Kirnon with Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis Dr. Terrance Drew. (Nerissa Golden Photo)

Prime Minister Drew said he wanted them to leave the meeting with a deeper level of commitment to the cause.

The prime minister called for the OECS to expand its diplomatic footprint to the African continent. He said they should request to have observer status within the African Union and establish a presence in Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa

A united approach to the Citizen by Investment Programmes across the region was needed to ensure their continued benefit to the people.

The OECS Authority

Montserrat will chair the authority for the coming year under the leadership of Premier Joseph Farrell. In his remarks he noted that a priority of his work with the commission will be on entrepreneurship, especially for youth and women.

Farrell said the leadership must act jointly and purposely through common policies and advocacy.

The 72nd Meeting of the OECS Authority ends on Friday, October 21, 2022.