November 25, 2020

Kate Osamor [The Voice] Exclusive: ‘UK should not abandon the Caribbean’

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by Kate Osamor   MP From The Voice UK

The Shadow Secretary of State for International Development shares her thoughts on the hurricane aftermath for ‘Voice’ readers

OVER A month has passed since the hurricanes struck the .

, where over 90% of buildings were damaged, remains devastated. The island of Barbuda, entirely evacuated after Hurricane Irma ripped the island’s infrastructure apart, is being eyed-up by property sharks ready to exploit the crisis. Many thousands of people have had their lives torn apart.

In spite of our shared history, the UK’s help has been painfully slow and limited. Of the £62m spent, most has been on troops, ships and immediate relief for . Just £5m has gone towards Dominica – and only on short-term relief. Despite Prime Ministers Roosevelt Skerritt and Gaston Browne’s best efforts to mobilise the international community, the trickle of funds falls far short of what is needed.

The UK must do more. Antigua & Barbuda and Dominica are eligible under OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) rules, for now at least, for the kind of massive Official Development Assistance (ODA) that could bring about a genuine, transformative recovery that helps residents – not the foreign investors ready to swoop in.

As a proportion of our £13 billion aid budget, that £5m looks paltry. In the longer term, the UK must financially and politically back Caribbean regional institutions to transform the region’s climate resilience. That can only truly happen if the Tories abandon their neo-colonial approach to the region.


Instead of taking real action to step up recovery efforts in the region, the Tory Government has chosen to exploit the crisis, to placate its party’s aid sceptics and to talk tough on changing the OECD’s aid rules at the end of October in Paris.

But despite months of preparation, the Government is still to articulate a negotiating position, or what it actually wants to change in the rules.

The Tories talk of diverting money meant for the world’s poorest to wealthier British Overseas Territories – such as the British Virgin Islands, with a per capita income close to that of the UK. But the Government may argue only for a one-off exception to the aid rules, allowing them to charge the £50m already spent on military assistance to the aid budget.

That would not only be remarkably unambitious, it would also betray the Caribbean region, and the Tories’ own manifesto promise. The UK owes it to the region to negotiate long-term changes that reflect the growing vulnerability of small island states to climate-driven natural disasters. There are plenty of ways that could be done.

For centuries, the UK extracted resources, wealth, and – through slavery – labour from the Caribbean. When independence came, the UK restricted freedom of movement and imposed tough trade barriers.

But now, rather than right the wrongs and support the region’s fight to prevent and recover from climate disaster, the Conservative Government is choosing to stick its head in the sand. It is long overdue that the UK re-imagines its unequal relationship with the region, and builds a deep and special partnership. A serious aid commitment to Barbuda and Dominica would be a start.

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