Find work for unemployed youth or risk rebellion or the loss of much needed talent to other countries.
That caution from the newest Caribbean Community (CARICOM) prime minister, Gaston Browne, as he suggested that a new body be set up to find ways of addressing youth unemployment across the region.
Addressing eight other regional leaders, including Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, senior ministers representing other CARICOM countries, diplomats and other invited guests at the opening of the 35th Heads of Government Conference at the Sandals Grande last night, Browne championed the cause of those “young . . . bright, able-bodied men and women” out of work.
“If nothing else, their restlessness should make us realize that the sensible option for creating such space and widening such scope resides in our interdependence on each other. The alternative is their frustration,” he said.
“That frustration will result in their rebellion within our borders or their exodus to shores outside our region taking their talents that we urgently need . . .”
The host prime minister added: “While I am acutely aware that I am adding to the mandate of the CARICOM Secretariat and that the money for funding will have to be raised, I urge this Conference to establish a Commission specifically to focus on the issue of youth unemployment in our region, with a view to taking urgent action
to tackle it.
“I suggest that if the idea of such a Commission meets the approval of this Conference, evidence be taken from young people across our region on how they see the issue being addressed.”
Browne said the greatest task now is putting people to work and that problem that could be addressed, in part, through the efforts of individual countries.
However, he insisted, as he pushed for CARICOM states to speed up the integration process, it can be accelerated by regional collaboration, “treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a natural disaster.”
“If we succeed in addressing this challenge, we will turn our entire CARICOM neighbourhood into an economic powerhouse,” the incoming CARICOM chairman insisted.
During his 25-minute address, Browne pledged his government’s “passionate” commitment to the integration movement, even as he warned that those who are not ready should not stop the others from moving forward.
To demonstrate his country’s readiness to be among the “coalition of the willing”, the Antigua and Barbuda leader pointed out that his government had abolished work permit fees for all CARICOM nationals for the remainder of 2014; and announced plans to hold a referendum to replace the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court of appeal “as soon as practicable”.
While not identifying the Shanique Myrie case by name, Browne made a veiled reference to the October 2013 CCJ judgment in the lawsuit filed by the Jamaican against the Barbados Government.
In his declaration of commitment to full integration as he reiterated that Antigua and Barbuda – leadership of which he took when his Antigua Labour Party won the June 12 general election – would uphold the decision of CARICOM Heads of Government and the judgement
of the Court in relation to freedom of movement of Caribbean people.
Outgoing CARICOM Chairman Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his address on CARICOM’s Possibilities, Limitations and Unevenness of Outcomes, pointed out that political leadership is vital in the quest
“Our doubts must no longer detain us; and we must ever more love and care for CARICOM for without it, despite its many false starts and disappointments, our people would be diminished in their quest to enhance, in their own interest, their capacity to address, most optimally, the internal and exogenous challenges which beset them,” the St Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister said.
“In all these reflections, we must never forget CARICOM’s accomplishments which constitute a part of the permanent landscape of our region’s political economy.”
Gonsalves insisted that although there is still a lot to be done, there is much to celebrate as far as integration was concerned.
He said consolidation and progress were evident on several fronts, including: the freedom of movement of persons, especially since the Myrie ruling; the continued utilization by the private sector in CARICOM of the right of establishment so as to facilitate enhanced regional investment, job and wealth creation; the improved coordination of the regional security apparatuses and between them and other friendly nations who have vested interests in our region and hemisphere in fighting crime; the continued coordination of foreign policy, despite some hiccups or a few episodes of dissonance; and the progress being made on a swath of functional integration subjects such as health, education, culture, sports, elderly, women, the youth, persons with disabilities, and social security.
“The absence of a dramatic forward-movement in CARICOM’s affairs ought not to invite unwarranted criticism or a paralyzing cynicism,” he said.
At the same, the Vincentian leader added, leaders must not “fall prey to a smug satisfaction about consolidation and progress in the face of foot-dragging in some critical issues and an unacceptable implementation deficit” on items they had solemnly agreed on.