Incoming CARICOM chairman, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne (centre-left) and outgoing chairman St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves (centre-right)
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- “We have paused enough; it is time for action. We have retreated enough; it is time to advance,” was the charge newly-elected prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, delivered on Tuesday evening to the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Browne, who took over the reins of chairmanship of CARICOM on Tuesday, emphasized the regional focus of his young administration, which was “fully” and “passionately” committed to regional integration as an important and vital instrument for “our development”.
Underscoring his commitment to regional integration, Browne pointed out that one of his early decisions since winning elections on 12 June 2014, was to abolish, with immediate effect, the work permit fees for CARICOM nationals for the remainder of 2014. He added that his government intended to hold a referendum, as soon as was practicable, on accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)’s appellate jurisdiction. The region, he reasoned, could not be “truly independent” if its final court of appeal was a court of its colonial masters.
“We will not loiter on this matter; we will demonstrate confidence in our own…” he told the opening ceremony of the 35th Conference of the Heads of Government.
Setting the stage for the discussions over the next three days, the prime minister called for “a coalition of the willing” to move the integration movement forward; the harmonisation and synchronization of national and regional tracks to development; and the establishment of a Commission to focus on the matter of youth unemployment in the region with a view to taking urgent action to tackle that challenge.
“Our greatest task is to put our people to work”, he told his audience, and added that it was not an insurmountable task if it was managed courageously and wisely.
He also sounded the call for a commitment to the removal of all barriers to free movement; and the strengthening of the CARICOM Secretariat to advance the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
He shared his vision of the Community as one of a shared space offered to “all the people of all our countries”; a Community where there was acknowledgement that national efforts could be accelerated by regional initiatives; a Community that was transformed into an economic powerhouse built on production integration, joint ventures, joint ownership and regional collaboration.
“We must remove CARICOM affairs from the scope of political conflict and promote a national consensus that envisions a united Caribbean,” Browne said.