With increasing frequency, countries all around the world are becoming more and more challenged by their own domestic economic circumstances, forcing them to search for solutions that in many instances can only come with huge costs to their respective societies.
Immediately, the situations now confronting Cyprus, Grenada, and Jamaica, just to name a few, have to be of great concerns not only to those specific countries but also to other countries that are similar in economic structure and share common elements such as a monetary union.
Evidently, individual countries are realising that it is far more difficult to resolve economic difficulties on their own and that in fact greater opportunities exist for meaningful solutions within the context of regional integration.
I believe that the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have come to that conclusion sometime ago and are now more than ever keen to advance the process of integration among them.
It is for this reason that the recently held assembly of OECS politicians in Antigua and Barbuda that addressed the issue of free movement of people has to be seen as a major stepping stone for advancing the cause of the individual countries and citizens of the sub-regional grouping.
For me, the most important aspect of the meeting was the involvement of opposition politicians in the process.
You see, in our democratic systems, it is a commonly held view that governments are generally responsible for proposing solutions to existing problems, while the opposition focuses on opposing government’s policies, plans and programmes.
While this practice does bear fruits in many instances, it is not the right approach for all major issues. In short, there are some issues that require us as a mature people to put politics aside and work together in the national interest. I cannot think of a better example than that of regional integration.
Indeed, with the sometimes frequent changes in governments in some OECS countries, it is important to have a continuation of the process of regional integration following the conclusion of general elections.
But that could only happen if the newly elected government was fully on board with the critical issues while in opposition. How can the opposition be fully engaged if it is being left out of the process? Put simply, it cannot!
Going forward, I firmly believe that a permanent institutional arrangement should be put in place in the OECS to allow greater participation of not only our politicians but also the other important social partners such as the churches, other civil societies, employers’ federations, the youth, trade unions, and consumer organisations in the determination of the direction of regional
integration within the sub-regional grouping.
After all, the issues to be debated and resolved are rather complex and therefore are best tackled with inputs from as wide a cross-section of participants as possible.
Although such inputs are being solicited from time to time, the absence of a permanent mechanism to facilitate the process of dialogue is a critical
shortcoming that must be rectified sooner rather than later.
Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a “merry-go-around” type situation that does no good for the countries or people of the OECS! And that would be a rather unfortunate outcome!
(Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)