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Posted: Wednesday 14 February, 2007 at 2:39 PM
Caricom Secretariat
    Prime Minister Denzil Douglas
    Dr. The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves - Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines & Chairman of Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, Presidents of Guyana and Suriname and Colleague Heads of Government, Ministers of Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and of other CARICOM Countries, Leader of the Opposition of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Parliamentarians of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Visiting Heads of regional and international institutions,  members of the Diplomatic Corp, Distinguished Delegates.

     I join with the Incoming Chairman, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves in welcoming all delegates to this 18th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community. It is also my pleasure to thank the organizing committee and the staff of the CARICOM Secretariat for the splendid arrangements made for this meeting. As the Outgoing Chair, 

    I wish to express my appreciation to the Secretary-General and his hardworking staff for the tremendous support that they have given me during my tenure as Chairman of Conference. I would really have liked to visit the staff during the period of my chairmanship but the pressures of an extremely tight schedule did not permit me to do so.

     I can assure you though, that whenever I am in the vicinity of the Guyana, I will still visit the Secretariat as a demonstration of my unswerving commitment to the Management and Staff of the Secretariat and my profound appreciation for their tremendous contribution to the integration process and to regional development. Colleague Heads and Members of Delegation there is much that the Community can be proud of in respect of the advancement that we have been making in bringing the people of the Region together as a community. ~~adz:Right~~   

    I am sure you would recall that when I assumed the Chair, I expressed concern about the situation in Haiti and the need for the Region to be more proactive in embracing the Haitian people as brothers and sisters and as important members of the community. In pursuit of this objective, 

    I lead a Prime Ministerial delegation, including the Secretary General, to Haiti to gain a first-hand understanding of the needs of the Haitian people and to engage in a dialogue with the Haitian leadership in respect of the future development of Haiti and the integration of Haiti into the Caribbean Community. 

    This visit has set stage for a number of technical missions to Haiti and for the operation of the CARICOM office in Haiti. I know that my successor in the Chair, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves is deeply committed to the alleviation of the plight of the Haitian people and will ensure that these initiatives move forward with even greater haste and focus so that they may bear fruit for the Haitian people over time. 

    The Community can also take pride in the progress that we have made in advancing the agenda for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). I am fully persuaded that the CSME is a critical tool that we must utilize to the fullest to bring meaningful benefits to the people of the Region. 

    It is important that all components of the Single Market and Economy are fully implemented within the time frames that we have set ourselves. I am particular pleased with the framework outlined in the paper 'Single Vision for the Single Economy' which will be presented to this meeting. It is for me a signal achievement, which given the political will, ought to define the future development of our Community. 

    I congratulate Professor Norman Girvan for this comprehensive insight. I am also pleased with the tremendous work that has gone into the establishment of the Regional Development Fund and with the serious attempts made through this mechanism to address the special needs of the OECS countries. 

    The progress that we have made in this regard would undoubtedly help to accelerate the pace at which the CSME is implemented. Mr. Chairman, the OECS is embarking on a major new initiative that will give them the means of participating even more fully in the CSME and of providing a smooth and effective interface between the tiny islands that comprise the OECS and the wider Caribbean Single Market and Economy. ~~adz:Right~~   

    I speak here of the proposed OECS Economic Union that we expect will deepen the integration process in the sub-region and empower OECS countries to overcome some of the limitations of size and play a more meaningful role in the Single Market and Economy. We do not view the OECS Economic Union as an alternative to the CSME. We view it as a critical element of the wider regional integration movement and we feel strongly that to the extent the OECS is able to break new ground in the integration process, the Caribbean Community as a whole will benefit significantly. 

    We therefore encourage the Caribbean Community to continue to support the sub-regional integration movement and to be prepared to lend a helping hand when requested to do so. Distinguished Heads and Delegates, the eyes of the world will be intensely focused on the Region over the next few weeks as we invite the world to the Region to participate in the ICC World Cup 2007. 

    Just yesterday at a meeting of the Prime Ministerial Sub-committee on cricket we were reminded that the start of the World Cup cricket games is just 400 hours away. 

    In other words we do not have much time to continue the preparation for this historic event. This most challenging undertaking can provide the entire Region the opportunity to shine and to demonstrate to the world the resourcefulness and immense capabilities of our people. But at the same time, any 'hiccup' of any kind can bring international embarrassment to our Region. We must therefore work steadfastly to resolve all outstanding issues. 

    In some cases it may be necessary to devote more resources to work full time in addressing these issues. But the time for action is now. We have invested heavily in the preparation for the ICC World Cup. Let us not waste this investment. Let us, as a Region, harness the talents and capabilities of our people and extract every ounce of benefit from the ICC World Cup. In particular, we must maximize the legacy benefits of hosting the World Cup so that our people, including our young people in particular, will reap rewards from this momentous event for many decades to come. 

    Mr. Chairman the empowerment of young people is a challenge faced by all members of the community. As we develop the CSME, we must specifically prepare our young people to be active and dynamic participants in all aspects of the integration process. I believe firmly that the time has come for the Region to enunciate a comprehensive regional strategy for the empowerment of young people. 

    This strategy must be informed by extensive research aimed at establishing in a scientific way the real issues affecting young people. Hence, our institutions of higher learning and well as our social workers and our educational planners who deal specifically with youth issues must collaborate with the Secretariat in developing such a strategy. 

    In a similar way, we must move forward urgently with our follow-up actions to realize the specific missions that have emerged from the Report of the Commission of Health and Development. In this regard, we have consolidated our initiatives in the fight against HIV AIDS, but with similar urgency we should develop a comprehensive regional strategic plan to respond to the chronic non-communicable diseases and the havoc they are wreaking on our Caribbean people. ~~adz:Right~~   

    In closing, I wish to call on the Region's media to play an even greater role in educating our people and in fostering greater awareness of the many social and economic challenges that we face. We must change attitudes so that productivity and excellence would become important hallmarks of the way of the life of Caribbean people. 

    The media is a most powerful force that we need to engage and deploy even more meaningfully in the attainment of a just and progressive Caribbean Society. Colleague Heads and Delegates, the entire integration process is about uniting and empowering the people of the Region to enable them to realize even more fully their tremendous potential and capabilities to the benefit of the entire community. Let us over the next few days focus specifically on this important objective with a view to making even greater and faster strides in the advancement of the quality of life of Caribbean people.

     I thank you.
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