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Mottley appeals for greater regional integration

BY JEDIAEL CARTEL From Jamaica Observer

The reality of an ocean can no longer separate us, Barbadian Opposition leader tells PNP conference

Mia Mottley came to the opening night of the Opposition People’s National Party’s 79th annual conference in Kingston last Thursday with an appeal for greater integration across the Caribbean, pointing to the long, sore issues of intra-regional travel and trade as two of the many areas that need attention.

“Ours is a mission that was driven by purpose and that has, underscoring it, the understanding that we are all one people divided by oceans, by coloniser and by language but not by choice. Whether we choose to remain divided is now our choice,” Mottley, president of the Barbados Labour Party and leader of the Opposition, said.

“Can we continue to walk alone, or do we not understand that it is better together, not just within Caricom (Caribbean Community) but across the Caribbean, recognising that the accidents of wars and the accidents of language, and the reality of an ocean can no longer separate us any more than it can separate you from the people of Cayman Islands or the people of Haiti, or Santo Domingo?” she posited.

Bemoaning the cost of travel across the region, Mottley pointed out that it is cheaper for her to travel to the United States than to Jamaica or St Kitts.

The average Caribbean national, she said, is unable to afford the travel costs within the region.

“Last week I was in the Grenadines; it is 27 miles from Union Islands (part of the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines) to St Vincent and it is EC$140 to travel by plane from Union to St Vincent. It is 45 miles from St Vincent to St Lucia, but it is EC$1,100 for travel from St Vincent to St Lucia; twice the distance but almost eight times the price,” she said.

“Barbados to Bequia (the largest island in the Grenadines) is 100 miles, no more than three to four times the distance of Union to St Vincent but costs EC$1,500 to travel between the two. Same plane, same passenger system, same reservation system, same jet fuel. Something has to be fundamentally wrong when a region cannot provide a political commitment to allow its citizens to move easily,” she said.

Making reference to the Cricket World Cup which the region hosted in 2007, Mottley reminded that a system was developed to accommodates ease of travel.

“We created a space that facilitated people in the Caribbean to move with a band without showing a passport, without being asked a question by anybody unless they were on a watch list, because we already know who is on the plane and who is on the port,” she said.

“What stops us from making the simple decision, not of 10 years ago of using a band, but of today …using a multi-purpose ID that will then have the capacity to be used for other public and private services across our society and for the cost to be carried, not just by government, but by the private sector who benefits from the use of that multi-purpose ID?” she asked.

The Barbadian Opposition leader also called for the establishment of a regional communications medium as she criticised the fact that Caribbean people are more easily informed about global issues rather than happenings in this region.

“Why is there not a real -time news network that allows me to see from Kingston to Kingstown? I can see what goes on in Iowa and what goes on in Texas, and how Irma is decimating the cays but I still don’t know how it has decimated Tortola and BVI or St Martin or Barbuda,” she stressed.

In relation to trade, the politician said now is the opportune moment for the development of a regional clearing house that would allow countries to “settle only the net differences in hard currency and allows us, therefore, to achieve greater competitiveness and attractiveness while boosting our reserves in the interim”.

Establishing that system, she argued, will make the region achieve greater competitiveness and become more attractive.

“Some may tell you that there used to be the Caricom Multilateral Clearance Facility 25 years ago, but I say to them that we didn’t have the technology then to make payments digital, cheaper, and more efficient. We owe it to our populations,” she stated.

Regarding health care, Mottley suggested that the region invest in centres of excellence to care for its peoples instead of having them travel to the US for care.

“We wish that each of us could provide the most technologically advanced devices for our populations, but we can’t afford to, and therefore, the notion of each of us establishing a centre of excellence in chronic non-communicable diseases for treatment of our people, rather than spending in the tens of millions of dollars to send them to Miami or New York to be treated on an annual basis, has to be a reality we confront,” she said, arguing that none of these are beyond the region’s capacity.

“These are the things that matter, but while we do these things and while we work to create the single domestic space for transport and communications to which I referred earlier, and the regional clearance payments house, we have to recognise that we have a duty to go beyond Caricom,” she stated.

IMAGE: Mia Mottley, head of the Barbados Labour Party and leader of the Opposition, addressing the opening ceremony of the People’s National Party’s 79th annual conference at the National Arena in Kingston last Thursday night. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

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