Published On: Sat, Feb 1st, 2014

Remarks by Senator the Hon. Camillo Gonsalves

Amb. Camillo Gonsalves, St. Vincent and Grenadines(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) - Remarks by Senator the Hon. Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Chairman of the Community Council of Ministers at the Thirty-Third Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers, 31 January, 2014 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat Georgetown, Guyana.

I am honoured to be here at the CARICOM headquarters in Guyana, and doubly so to chair this, the 33rd meeting of the Community Council of Ministers. I am especially grateful for the presence of so many esteemed Ministers of Foreign Affairs at this meeting. While travel between and among CARICOM states – in the best of times – can be a discouragingly tiring and time-consuming endeavour, I know that many of you departed the Republic of Cuba less than 48 hours ago, on the heels of an intense summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Your presence here this morning – both in person and via video link – is testament to the importance that you attach to CARICOM and the role of the Community Council.

As you are aware, Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, assumed the Chair of CARICOM for the first six-months of 2014. Prime Minister Gonsalves has communicated to Secretary-General LaRocque his desire to move forward on an ambitious and packed agenda of important issues that build upon the outstanding leadership of the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who recently concluded her own very successful tenure as CARICOM chair.

The cross-cutting ambitions of Prime Minister Gonsalves, and, indeed, all Heads of State and Government of CARICOM, are reflected in the crowded and complex agenda before us today. Our programme of work reflects the challenges and opportunities facing our Region and our integration movement today, as we strive to strengthen the many ties that bind us together, and confront with solidarity the myriad exogenous shocks and crises currently besetting our vulnerable societies, as well as the home-grown obstacles that we can and must overcome together.

Today’s agenda will include consideration of the budgets of the CARICOM secretariat and the evolving Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN). We will discuss the ongoing reform processes within the Community, with specific focus on the five-year strategic plan that is designed to streamline and bring focus to an action-oriented vision, mission, set of values and priorities. Extra-Regional trade shall also receive our attention.

We shall consider free movement and contingent rights of CARICOM citizens, particularly in the wake of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s seminal Myrie judgement. Also in the realm of judicial definition of rights, we will continue to craft an appropriate collective response to the most regrettable recent decision of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic, which retroactively denationalized a broad group of people born in the Dominican Republic, and which arbitrarily violates persons’ rights to nationality, identity, and equal protection without discrimination.

Given that 2014 marks the International Year of Small Island Developing States, the Council shall also attempt to coordinate our strategies and harmonize our voices and priorities to ensure that the unique perspectives, characteristics and needs of Small Island Developing States receive the appropriate attention from the wider international community.

Mr. Secretary General,

As is often the case, a major item in today’s meeting will be our consideration and delineation of the agenda for the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of State and Government, which will take place next month in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Many of that matters that I have already mentioned will no doubt be further refined and advanced to the Conference of Heads for further decision and guidance. Additionally, we are aware of the Heads’ desire to tackle issues related to human resource development and Information Communication Technology; in addition to focusing on the exogenous existential threats of climate change and the ongoing global economic and financial crisis, which continues to imperil our hard-won economic and social stability.

Broader policy issues may also find their way onto the Heads’ agenda, including reparations for slavery and native genocide and a preliminary discussion of our Region’s existing legal posture regarding the use of marijuana in certain narrowly specified contexts. These broad issues must be first discussed and distilled at the level of this Community Council, so as to enable the Conference of Heads to optimally utilize their time and talents together in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Indeed, Mr. Secretary General, it is glaringly apparent that both our agenda and the emerging agenda of our Heads of State and Government are complex and crowded: Some may say too crowded to afford the necessary time for appropriate discussion and decision-making. It is equally apparent that, out of necessity, our Community Council meetings are oftentimes inordinately focused on our responsibility to act as a preparatory body for meetings of the Conference of Heads.

However, the business of our schedules and agendas cannot allow us to shirk our other Treaty-mandated roles and responsibilities. The founding fathers of our Community, in their wisdom, designated our Community Council as the second-highest decision-making body within CARICOM. Our mandated responsibilities and powers include, inter alia, (1) approving and amending the programmes of the Community; (2) ensuring the efficient operation and orderly development of the CSME; and (3) considering allegations of breaches of obligations arising under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

Critically, this Community Council also has a host of responsibilities related to the implementation of Community decisions – from the monitoring and enhancement of ongoing implementation process; to the mobilization and allocation of resources for the implementation of Community plans; and the establishment of timelines for the implementation of Community decisions.

In a context of wider reform discussions, many of which are focused on the Region’s programmes and the implementation of decisions, we must recognise the critical role that we are expected to play in the effective functioning of CARIOM and the CSME. We are not legally allowed to abdicate this role to our Heads, whose plates are already filled beyond capacity. It is also not advisable for us to allow our many intended muscular roles in the integration process to atrophy and vanish amid an unending stream of prep-com bureaucracy.

It is my hope that, during the current tenure of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Chair of CARICOM, this Community Council can meet to discuss the optimal fulfillment of our envisaged role and authority under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

One of the ways to achieve that is undoubtedly to spend less time on pontificating and more time on performance of duties. So with those few words, and in strong resistance to my genetic predisposition to long-windedness, I thank you for your attention and suggest we get down to work.

Thank you.

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