453 Anndale Road,
July 3rd, 2011.
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS),
I have for reference a recent Press Release (dated June 17th, 2011) from
your office, announcing the closure of the OECS High Commission in
Ottawa, Canada. This has caused me considerable dismay, disbelief
Dismay, in that as recently as his last annual report the Governor of the
Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), a much respected institution
in an otherwise mediocre regional administrative environment,
celebrated the Ottawa OECS High Commission as a significant example
of the kind of regional collaboration, conducive to the march of member
states towards much desired unification.
Disbelief, that the reasons given for such precipitous and retrogressive
action would have been sanctioned by regional technical and strategic
policy analysts in the face of obvious overwhelming arguments to the
Disgust, that our OECS leadership would have proceeded to such a
significant decision without (as far as I am aware) the courtesy of even
superficial consultation with their national communities in Canada
which are served by the High Commission, and who are now left
considerably disadvantaged, if not deprived, on account of this closure.
This example of the decision-making process so prevalent in the
Caribbean, to the disadvantage of an informed approach to
development, is to say the least, insensitive to Caribbean nationals
resident in Canada, who expect to have input into critical decisions
affecting their condition and future!
I have had occasion previously to urge my home country (Dominica) to
reflect on the importance of rationalizing its foreign official
representation in terms of number, location, function, staffing and cost
effectiveness. I have recognized the collaborative OECS High
Commission model as exemplary in innovative thinking
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with potentially productive results. The retrograde implications of its
closure defies logic for the following reasons among many:
(1) Given the number of OECS nationals in Canada and the
potential for organizing and lobbying for a Canada – OECS agenda
favorable to the OECS is now considerably weakened, frustrated even,
by this decision.
(2) This organized representation, if intelligently recognized and
developed, must naturally be an effective lever to regional thinking,
regional priority-setting, regional programming. The alternative now is
a continuation of balkanization and competition, a la CDB.
(3) Contrary to the assertion in your Press Release, Globalization
need not be a cause for retrenchment. In fact, Globalization engenders
and facilitates the multiplication of contacts and networks so critical to
the development process. It is generally acknowledged that the benefits
of such interactions exist disproportionately to the number of links.
Here we have one office as contact point for eight links, with the option
of greatly expanded pathways to a multiplicity of capitals and Canadian
and international agencies, being abruptly terminated rather than being
(4) It seems embarrassingly anomalous that at a time when
Canada is regarded by the OECS as a major source of tourism,
investment, trade, technical and information sourcing and higher
educational opportunity for the Caribbean, as well as perhaps the most
sympathetic Commonwealth partner together with its proven
intermediary role with the United States, that all of these would be
jettisoned for less effective alternatives.
The primary justification given for this decision is operational cost and
the prospect of pursuing aid and development assistance projects
formerly conducted through CIDA’s offices in Ottawa, through its new
regionalized presence in Barbados. That speaks volumes! I wait to be
persuaded that the eight member governments, so accustomed to
projects and schemes in their home territories of considerable cost and
questionable value would be impoverished by the cost of operating the
modest presence implied by the Ottawa OECS High Commission.
Convince me! The rationale given too loudly suggests that the
Commission has been viewed as a “beggar’s post” and now there will be
eight outstretched hands (complete with bowls), jostling with each other
It would be unfortunate if this re-invigorated Canadian government
interest in the Caribbean were to undermine OECS efforts at regional
integration. Should this new relationship be at the expense of a realistic
Canadian-OECS bi-lateral accord much harm could be dome in a
multi-lateral arrangement of negotiations, justification and
implementation without benefit of a regional policy and programming
framework. Admittedly, this OECS perspective may be contrary to the
Canadian historical experience in regionalism, characterized by
uniqueness, special case exemptions, socio-economic, institutional
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geographical/resource constraints. Indeed a sensitive OECS regional
development approach would benefit from an OECS-Ottawa contact
point for ease of program development, delivery and accountability.
So we are left with unconvincing prospects for regional (even OECS)
economic integration and even more remote unification. Within
Canada, each territorial jurisdiction will pursue its own agendas of
trade, tourism, investment etc, in competition with every other and with
less convincing chances of success. Nationals of the OECS, who looked
to the OECS High Commission for information, assistance and
protection, are now left to flounder without that level of immediate
support, meager as it already was.
It would come as no surprise to me that an un-mentioned but persuasive
ingredient in this decision is the risk of taint that some governments
might fear, arising from irresponsible programs implemented by some
partnering jurisdictions, the most sensational being the “sale of passport
programs” and the well-documented response of the Canadian
authorities. Speculation perhaps, but I will monitor this possibility
It may well be that the OECS High Commission has not lived up to its
promise that the island governments had come to expect. The problem
may not have been entirely with the Commission. One would have
expected that thinking heads in the Caribbean would have at least
conducted (and if so, released) an audit on the performance of the
Commission, prior to a decision to close it. This would have addressed
unsettling questions such as:
(1) Have the mission, objectives, programs and activities of the
Commission been clearly enunciated and adhered to?
(2) Has the Commission been a victim of disorganized lines of
contact and reporting with potential for competition and conflict
between individual island jurisdictions?
(3) In the absence of a strong OECS political directorate, how does a
quasi-diplomatic posting address sensitive territorial (island)
concerns without the risk of acrimony?
(4) Has the High Commission benefited from consistent, competent
leadership and management?
(5) Has the bugetting and funding for the work of the Commission
been adequate to the task and have they been responsibly
(6) Have the operations (staffing, activities, priorities etc) of the
Commission been free from political meddling?
(7) Has there been a process of regular consultations, monitoring
and reviews of the Commission and its work for the benefit of
the member governments, the OECS Secretariat and the High
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As a resident of Canada over the past forty-five years, more or less, and
active in a number of Caribbean national and regional organizations
devoted to the improvement of Caribbean persons here in Canada as
well as supporting deserving programs in the islands, this is a
regrettable pall on all our efforts, a mocking “danse macabre”, an
obscene waltz, “one step forward, two steps backward” with the
promise of the future still eluding our Caribbean people.
When will we ever learn?
W. R. Franklin Watty.
P.s. Please be advised that this is an “open letter” which may be
published in a variety of local and regional media. You should feel free
to respond as you deem necessary.