• Secretary General (SG) -- Louis Almagro Lemes
• Assistant Secretary General (ASG) -- Nestor Mendez
• His Excellency, Ambassador Lynn Raymond Young, Coordinator of the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors, Permanent Representative of Belize
• Her Excellency: Vice Chair -- Lou-Anne Gaylene Gilchrist, Permanent Representative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
• Distinguished Permanent Representatives and Alternate Representatives
I thank you all for being here for this ceremony. I would like to say a special thanks to ASG Mendez for his leadership and for the very hard work of his support staff who have played an important role in facilitating my participation in this assignment.
I would also like to thank the outgoing Chairman – His Excellency Ambassador Josue A. Fiallo Billini for his leadership in managing the affairs of the Council during one of its most trying periods.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am deeply honored by the opportunity afforded me by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis to address this very distinguished body.
Whether writing articles for the local press or presenting a few thoughts on contemporary economic and financial developments, I treasure each new opportunity for sharing my thoughts. It is in that spirit and with the wonderful opportunity for working collaboratively with my CARICOM colleagues that I readily embrace this offer to serve as Chairman of the OAS Permanent Council for the three-month interval January 1st through March 31st, 2022.
Distinguished colleagues, the OAS and our member states are at a crossroads. The ongoing pandemic has presented an additional challenge to the region’s resilience that is complicated by the absence of any universally accepted measure of numerical changes in resilience. As a family of nations under one umbrella, it serves no useful purpose to hide our frailties. I believe that it is of paramount importance that we confront our challenges together, and learn from each other.
Achievements of SKN
In my brief presentation, I will note a few areas where St. Kitts and Nevis has performed well and will attempt to demonstrate how prudent discretionary policy actions can make our region better off, and in turn, more resilient.
Prior to the 2020 pandemic, the economies of our CARICOM region were expanding across the board at a healthy clip. St. Kitts and Nevis, the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere acquitted itself with distinction. Setting aside the United States and Canada, which are not members of our peer group, St. Kitts and Nevis recorded, in 2018, the third highest level of per capita income among sovereign states of the Western Hemisphere, while the Bahamas and Panama stood proudly at the Head of the Performance class, occupying the first and second positions.
Not by Happenstance
This stellar performance did not occur by happenstance. It was the direct result of building economic resilience by efficiently managing its budget, living within its means, and reeling in its outstanding debt load from 136 percent of GDP in 2010 to an impressive 40.6 percent in 2020 the lowest among OECS member states.
Of special significance is the year-end St. Kitts and Nevis 2021 budget address delivered on December 15th, 2020, by Prime Minister – Dr. the Honorable Timothy Harris. In his address titled “Resilience, Recovery and Transformation,” the Hon. Prime Minister addressed the challenges of mitigating the damaging effects of the pandemic while building resilience by learning to co-exist with the virus. Although a small nation, the government demonstrated a level of fortitude in the depth and breadth of a very comprehensive stimulus package that was unveiled and implemented.
The Plan lessened the harmful effects of the pandemic on displaced workers, protected lives and facilitated economic recovery. By so doing, the government, guided by expert medical professionals, and a sound fiscal base on current account, did not have to seek assistance from the IMF or World Bank and was able to minimize the number of deaths to 28 by December 2021.
The Pursuit of Democracy
As a Family of Nations, we have fallen short in meeting mission objectives pertaining to the pursuit of democracy, the major OAS pillar that consumes over 60 percent of the organization’s budget. The World Bank’s World Governance Database allows a prudent observer to evaluate the extent to which our CARICOM members have acquitted themselves relative to non-CARICOM member states, with respect to three of the dominant causal factors influencing changes in democracy.
1. Control over Corruption;
2. Political Stability; and
3. Voice and Accountability.
The World Bank data shows that the Small Island Developing States have outperformed the vast majority of our 34 member states in the pursuit of democracy. With respect to “Control Over Corruption”, The World Bank Governance Indicators database shows that, in 2020, six CARICOM member states made the OAS TOP-TEN list of countries which had exemplary records of waging war against corruption.
In the case of “Political Stability”, seven CARICOM member states made the OAS TOP-Ten list of countries which shunned politically motivated violence and terrorism.
In the World Bank’s database, “Voice and Accountability” reflects a tolerance for freedom of expression, freedom of association and free media. For this determinant of democracy, there are five CARICOM countries among the OAS TOP-TEN with a superior record of tolerance for contrasting points of view.
These performance indicators of democracy merit careful consideration, as sources of potential foreign direct investment are influenced by the level of risk to which they are exposed. The indicators suggest that the vast majority of our 34 OAS member states are at a stage of development that makes them highly vulnerable to a decrease in the flow of foreign direct investment, low rates of productivity and un-acceptably low levels of income. These contractionary forces (1) control over corruption (2) political stability and (3) voice and accountability combine with high levels of outstanding public debt to erode the varied forms of resilience that we are trying to strengthen. There is much work ahead, and much that we can learn from each other.
It is imperative that we carefully examine the root causes that keep our 34 member OAS Western Hemispheric sovereign states trapped at a low average annual per capita income level of US$15,727. This un-acceptably low per capita income level propels the human capital flight that is observed on the US-Mexico border, as the huddled masses, yearning to be free, move around in search of better alternative opportunities.
The OAS has made no attempt to disentangle the dominant factors that propel the masses to head for the border. Perhaps, an alternative reward structure that motivates individuals to perform at optimal levels would lead to higher levels of productivity and incomes that would reduce current levels of outmigration.
In the absence of discretionary policy actions put in place to address this issue, our OAS region will be left with a lethargic, sub-par workforce that is poorly equipped for meeting the expectations of a complex high technology world that is critically important in propelling our member states forward.
A motivated, productive and skilled workforce would attract foreign investment capital, that yields higher per capita income levels and better opportunities within our respective countries that would mitigate the very damaging effects of the human capital flight that is now underway, as our best and brightest move around in search of better alternative opportunities.
PERFORMANCE MATTERS AND MATTERS A GREAT DEAL.
Performance scorecards on changes in productivity, changes in income levels, changes in debt ratios, changes in foreign direct investment and changes in imports of goods and services are critically important. These measures send a clear message as to whether the policy objectives in place are meeting their anticipated targets and in turn the people whom we serve.
We do not have to re-invent the wheel. There is a great deal that we can learn from “change agents” who have traversed these paths and are professionally trained and experienced in developing these measures. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions and look forward to working with each and every one of you as we jointly seek to build, improve and measure resilience during my tenure as Chairman of the OAS Permanent Council.
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