CARICOM SUMMIT – PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC – St Lucia Sunday urged regional countries to move swiftly to create a lasting reliable and affordable regional transportation infrastructure, warning that there can be no meaningful integration without free movement of people.
“We have allowed our discussions on Caribbean sea and air transport to be guided too much by external market forces rather than by the transportation needs of the people and businesses of our region,” St Lucia Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre told the opening ceremony of the 43rd Summit of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders.
He told his regional colleagues that in doing so, “we have not only closed our air and sea spaces for business expansion and growth for our own local investors, but we have also surrendered the future of our unification projects to the whims of service providers whose only interest is profit.
“To put it directly colleagues, CARICOM needs LIAT or CARICOM needs a better version of LIAT. Unless one of our island-owned carriers emerges as a truly regional carrier, not only in terms of countries covered, but with a philosophical commitment to making regionalism work for CARICOM citizens, then our regional aspirations will continue to be an elusive dream,” Pierre told the ceremony.
He praised the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his efforts in keeping LIAT alive adding “St Lucia, therefore, stands willing to work with CARICOM to find solutions to our regional transportation challenges, and will assist in any effort designed to finding a lasting, reliable and sustainable airline or consortium of airlines, to service the region”.
Last week, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who had earlier complained of the challenges he faced as he was preparing for a number of overseas trips, including travel through the Caribbean, has said he has a “plan in mind” for regional air travel.
While he did not disclose the plan to listeners of a radio programme in his homeland, Gonsalves detailed the history of the failed regional carrier LIAT, an entity he served as chairman of for the shareholder governments.
The airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said previously that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and SVG to turn over their shares in LIAT to St John’s for one EC dollar (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents).
Gonsalves said that air transportation in the region is now “a real mess”, and that he had soldiered on for two decades, having come to office, in March 2001, at a time when governments across the region “were bowing and scraping before Allen Stanford”, the Texan businessman and founder of the failed airline Caribbean Star who was later jailed for life in the United States for operating a Ponzi scheme.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Browne appealed to Caribbean trade unions to re-think their positions regarding the latest offer made to laid-off workers of the airline.
The Antigua and Barbuda government said it was providing two million dollars “to meet partial satisfaction of the cash component of the compassionate pay-out” to former local employees of the regional airline, LIAT.
In his address, Pierre said that St Lucia will also be interested in a ferry offering scenic and comfortable service to utilise the potential of “our sea routes as an additional attraction and transportation option for visitors and citizens alike.
“St Lucia is committed to any effort by CARICOM to find a willing aviation investor to offer dedicated airline services between Africa and the Caribbean.”
Pierre told the opening ceremony that it was important for the region to “reframe our responses” to the new and emerging challenges of food shortages, the rising cost of basic foodstuffs, climate change, youth unemployment, gun violence and crime within the framework of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and skills across the region.
“We must not allow our enforced circumstances of day-to-day survival to dull our memories of the reasons why our past leaders pursued the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, and why they saw it as the most optimum answer to the question of ‘what is the next stage of Caribbean development’, in light of all the global changes that had taken place in the decades since the initial treaty which established CARICOM,” Pierre said.
He said at the centre of the thinking behind the CSME was the need to create the conditions for the free movement of people and capital and the need to establish a single economy as a unified space for joint growth and development for Caribbean businesses and more importantly for the improvement of the quality of life of Caribbean citizens.
“It should also be recalled that at the centre of the CSME was a recognition that issues of governance in terms of the functioning of the CARICOM Secretariat had to be reworked to facilitate the implementation of decisions and the day-to-day management of the CSME.
“Colleagues, it is fair to say that other than the energies which have gone into the pursuit of the single economy at the OECS level and the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the wider CARICOM level, we have not seen the kind of advances towards the CSME within CARICOM as we had hoped.
“As we continue to face the new and emerging challenges of food shortages, the rising cost of basic foodstuffs, climate change, youth unemployment, gun violence and crime, and other social challenges, I urge that we reframe our responses within the framework of the CSME.”
Pierre said he was also urging that the region engage, “in a thorough inventory of the work of the various CSME working groups, so that we can reassess where we are and what is to be done to move the regional economic and political unification process forward.
“Alongside these assessments, St Lucia pledges to work within the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) to advance the unification process within the sub-region,” Prime Minister Pierre added.