Government has taken a giant step towards the facilitation of free movement of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals with Prime Minister Mia Mottley announcing today that her Cabinet had decided to extend the most favoured-nation treatment principle to all CARICOM citizens as a matter of urgency.
In her first address as Prime Minister to the summit of CARICOM leaders in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Mottley stressed the need to dismantle the bureaucracy that hinders free movement of Caribbean people to work, live and play, telling fellow leaders Barbados was one of those countries experiencing the “red tape” that spreads across the region.
“It is self-evident that the matter of accreditation and the issuance and verification of skills certificates has come to humbug too many of our citizens in their day to day lives. This is of great concern to us,” she said, adding that in an age of blockchain technology, the region must do better at real-time communication, particularly in issuing certificates and diplomas that allow for greater ease at verification.
Insisting that “we have to change and change urgently”, the Prime Minister disclosed that between 2006 and 2018 the local accreditation council issued 2,039 certificates and verified another 1,122, and of the 3,161 certificates, ten were fraudulent.
“In other words, .3 per cent of the certificates that we spent months seeking to verify were fraudulent. It said to us, and we have instantly agreed as a Cabinet, that we need to change how we do business, and that we need to adopt and adapt the most-favoured nation treatment that we extend to us as countries, to most-favoured people treatment and extend it to our people,” said Mottley, who has assumed lead responsibility for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The Barbados leader therefore suggested the enactment of legislation to place the burden of proof on anyone who submits a certificate that is found to be fraudulent, to show cause why the certificate should not be revoked.
She contended that such legislation could reduce the time needed for accreditation to about three weeks, from up to four months.
The Prime Minister also reiterated plans for the abolition of visa requirements for Haitian coming to Barbados, a decision which was first reported by Barbados TODAY last month when Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson said there was no logical reason to impose visa requirements on Haitians because they were part of the community.
“Every day we allow people who are not members of this community to travel freely into the Caribbean without visas. Haiti took the extraordinary step of signing to revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and committing to a CARICOM Single Market and Economy. In those circumstances, my Cabinet has agreed to remove the visa requirements for Haiti. It is in our view it breaches the fundamental tenets that bind us under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas,” Mottley said to loud applause.
The Prime Minister also called for a review of the purpose and objectives of the regional integration movement if member states are to avoid “the nervousness of what free movement of people means”.
The most favoured national treatment serves to eliminate favouritism among CARICOM member states, and bolster equality.
Mottley told her colleagues from across the region that while Barbados must look inward to fix what is broken, to restore hope and to heal the nation, “my Government will not ever stop looking out from within our shores”.
She also called for the establishment of a single domestic space for hassle-free travel, and appealed for action on the ease of travel, contending that the people of the Caribbean were tired of all the talking.
“I think we have reached the point [where] to talk any more about how difficult it is to move from country to country and to do nothing, is an exercise in [futility],” she said.
“Our people are intolerant of such idle conversations any more. And if we are serious about a regional ferry service, then as Governments we must facilitate its execution by our private sector, rather than talking about it at meetings,” Mottley added, emphasizing a point she made at a recent meeting of heads of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
She also called on leaders to address the concerns of intra regional carrier, LIAT, and to set up a regional fair competition authority.