CASTRIES, St Lucia (CMC) — The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) says all restrictions on the free movement of nationals within the subregion will be removed by August.
OECS chairman and prime minister of St Lucia Stephenson King said that the leaders, during their meeting in St Vincent last month, recognised and unequivocally confirmed that the free movement of persons and of labour is one of the principal features of the new OECS Economic Union arrangement.
"At that meeting, those OECS member states which had not yet enacted the required legislation to give effect to the Revised Treaty gave the undertaking to do so as a matter of priority," King said in an address marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the OECS.
"I therefore avail myself of the opportunity provided by this grand occasion to assure you, the OECS citizenry, of the absolute commitment of OECS Heads of Government to removing all restrictions to the free movement of OECS nationals throughout the union by August of this year," King said in his broadcast aired across the subregion.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, and the British Virgin Islands.
In June 1981, the leaders of seven OECS territories signed the original Treaty of Basseterre establishing the foundation for deepening the integration process within the subregion.
Prime Minister King described their vision as "unmatched" as he praised their plans to pursue a currency union and implement a codified Development Charter through a more integrated governance and institutional framework.
"Today, we honour the unmatched foresight and vision demonstrated by these leaders in responding to the exigencies of the day by coming together in a mode of enhanced co-operation and corporate governance that would mobilise and motivate the abundant human energy of the people of our region towards achieving their full potential," he said.
Prime Minister King said that in keeping with this principle, a new generation of leaders, responding to the pressing global imperatives and challenges of the 21st century, agreed in 2001 to further deepen and strengthen the integration process by advancing from the Common Market provisions of the original Treaty of Basseterre towards the Economic Union.
"The time had come to venture beyond the boundaries of the original Treaty into a new development paradigm," he said. "This paradigm has come to be represented by the Revised Treaty of Basseterre establishing the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Economic Union, which was signed on 18th June 2010, here in St Lucia."
King said that the provisions of the new treaty seek to upgrade the subregional arrangement by creating a single economic space through which capital, goods and people can flow unimpeded.
"When fully operationalised, the new arrangement will deliver qualitative improvements in the governance and decision-making structures of the organisation that will serve to bridge the 'implementation' and 'democracy' deficits that have long plagued the integration movement.
"Further to this aim, new institutions, such as the OECS Commission and the OECS Assembly, will serve to lock in mechanisms for greater consultation, collaboration and co-ordination of regional policies between key stakeholders at the national and regional levels, as well as improve public scrutiny of regional initiatives through the meaningful involvement and engagement of the people's representatives in Parliament," King noted.
The St Lucia prime minister said that despite the myriad challenges, "the time was ripe with tremendous opportunity if the region mobilises its collective energies and puts its shoulders to the wheel of progress."
He said as the current OECS chairman charged with steering the integration process through this critical stage of this new dispensation, he was filled with a sense of the historical significance of the task at hand.
"I give you the undertaking that I will work to meet the expectations and aspirations not only of the present-day citizenry of our proud region but also of those indomitable stalwarts who have gone before us," said King.
"It is my intention, in collaboration with other OECS Heads of Government, to work towards ensuring the benefits of the OECS Economic Union are equitably realised by all who call this subregion home," he added.
King said that as the OECS celebrates the 30th anniversary of this essential enterprise, "I encourage you all to play your part to ensure that each and everyone becomes an effective participant and not a spectator in the new OECS."