St John’s, August 14th, 2012 – The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States has given life to its newest organ – the OECS Assembly. But four days after the historic event, there is no feedback from those who led Dominica’s representation.
Described by OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael as “the People’s Parliament”, the Assembly of OECS legislators had its inaugural session on August 10th, 2012 in the Antigua and Barbuda capital.
The OECS Assembly comprises 5 members of the Parliament of each Independent Member State and 3 members from the legislature of each Non-Independent Member State, with representation from both the ruling administration and the political opposition.
The assembly with headquarters in Antigua is authorized to develop legislation relating to the common market, monetary policy, trade policy, maritime jurisdiction and boundaries, civil aviation, commercial policy, environmental policy and immigration policy.
But notwithstanding the aggressively promoted view that the Assembly is “critical” in advancing the OECS integration, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who headed a 5 member delegation of Dominican parliamentarians to the inaugural meeting is not saying much if anything at all about the sub-region’s latest response to the challenges of globalization.
Sources say Skerrit, who is required to sit next to Dominica’s Opposition Leader Hector John in the OECS Assembly, is one of the OECS leaders upset with the fact that the Assembly offers a voice to OECS opposition parliamentarians. The Dominica leader is said to be particularly unhappy with the comments of St Kitts/Nevis Opposition Leader Mark Brantley who spoke on behalf of OECS opposition parliamentarians at the inaugural Assembly.
Brantley’s presentation was interrupted with thunderous applause from the gallery on a number of occasions as he outlined burning issues facing the integration grouping, some of which seemed especially relevant to Dominica:
“But to be strong regionally, we must be strong domestically. This Assembly cannot become a forum for high sounding words and lengthy speeches when the harsh realities at home militate against good governance and democracy. Good governance at home has to be a prerequisite of good governance regionally. The parliamentary Opposition cannot be included at the OECS Assembly in St. Johns but ignored or marginalized in Basseterre, Roseau, Road Town or The Valley. I call on the OECS today to mandate certain minimum standards of good governance in each and every constituent element of this great Organization.
“It is for example a matter of tremendous regret that some member States still do not have Integrity in Public Life legislation or Freedom of Information legislation to permit the populace a mechanism to rein in the base impulse of governmental corruption. It is a matter of even greater regret that electoral laws keep being flouted or bent to a breaking point to benefit one side or the other of the political divide with no genuine effort being made at electoral reform. From Antigua to St. Kitts to Dominica to St. Lucia to St. Vincent and even to little Nevis it seems that each round of elections is met by an equally acrimonious and expensive round of litigation. I should know. I am in Court even now.
“These election petitions prolong the electioneering well beyond the election cycle with its attendant debilitating effect on the psyche of the Eastern Caribbean people. Indeed I am aware that the Opposition in Dominica views this matter so seriously that it has sought the intervention of CARICOM.
“I am equally aware that a sitting Prime Minister in the Eastern Caribbean has suggested that something be done to stop such election Petitions or otherwise limit them. For my part I will say that the way to stop election petitions is to commit ourselves to free and fair elections; to open up the State owned media to Opposition and Government alike; to appoint to constitutionally sensitive electoral positions persons of acceptable character and reputation; to vigilantly guard against any hint of corruption in the electoral process; to avoid gerrymandering and the “fixing” of electoral boundaries to favour one party or the other.
“In short, we must commit ourselves to strengthening our democratic traditions which makes us all strong at home and even stronger regionally. In this regard, the OECS has a critical role to play. It is no longer sufficient for the OECS to treat this matter or that as a domestic matter for the individual State or territory. The OECS must recognize and accept that in fulfilling its mandate of creating a better region for our people it cannot turn a blind eye to domestic issues which threaten the capacity of individual member States or territories to play their full role as equal partners in the integration journey”.
Brantley believes the costs associated with “this legislative superstructure in a period of tremendous economic hardship in all of the member States and territories is also a matter which has been raised and which must be justified to the people of the region”.
Dominica’s delegates at the inaugural function of the OECS Assembly were Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Opposition Leader Hector John, Minister Ambrose George, Minister Rayburn Blackmore and Minister Colin McIntyre.
Twenty persons from Dominica’s private sector, trade unions and media also attended the first ever sitting of the OECS Assembly.