BEHINDS THE HEADLINES: ICT and the way forward
“The problems we are facing now make it absolutely necessary that we unify our forces much more than we ever did before.”
By “we” Dr Keith Mitchell, Grenada’s Prime Minister, wasn’t thinking about his country’s disparate political forces. Instead, he was referring to Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas etcetera. He had all of CARICOM’s member states on his economic and social radar screen.
“The need for regionalism is stronger today than five years ago or even 10 years ago,” added the Prime Minister in a conversation with BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY in New York City.
With the turn of the 21st century, these countries were talking almost every day about the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the Caribbean Court of Justice and freedom of movement. Not so any more.
But with Barbados trying to cope with the fallout from the Government’s retrenchment of at least 3 000 public workers and with Wall Street downgrading its credit rating once again; Jamaica in the tight fiscal embrace of the International Monetary Fund and its austerity programme; St. Lucia sharply reducing public spending; economic management the hot-button issue in the current general election campaign in Antigua; and Mitchell’s own Grenada trying to slash its public debt by a significant amount, Grenada’s leader says when CARICOM leaders hold their next summit, their eyes must be focused on the regional economic integration movement once again.
And he is convinced that the economic union fashioned by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, OECS, can be a model for the rest of the region.
“The OECS has its economic union and for the first time it is part of the policy for the way forward. We will be working on it more and more and we will be deepening that, the whole question of an economic union. We don’t see how the region would not be able to understand that this is the way to go,” he said in a conversation in Brooklyn just before he addressed hundreds of Grenadians at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn.
Mitchell insists high technology must be a vital plank in any regional programme to kick-start economic growth and when the prime ministers and presidents hold their next summit, he intends to take the lead in putting the case for greater use of information communications technology as a link to unify the region.
“My platform is for ICT as a tool to solve some of the fundamental problems at the regional level,” was the way he put it. “We spent a lot of time on that as opposed to the one (summit) in Trinidad and Tobago when we brushed it over. I think the people realised the fallacy of that. At the last meeting we did spend an enormous time on it and we expect to be doing the same thing again. We have had a number of meetings and decisions aimed at unifying our forces by using technology as the basis for advancing the integration process.”
But economic decline and how to reverse that ominous trend isn’t the only thing on the minds of Caribbean leaders. Crime, especially the high murder rate, is also a pressing problem, not only in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago but in the Bahamas, Barbados, St. Kitts-Nevis and to a lesser extent in Grenada. He argues a regional plan is necessary.
With Jamaica, Belize and St. Kitts-Nevis occupying three spots on the world’s top 10 list of countries with the highest murder rates in 2012 and with Washington warning the region about an expected flood of drugs from South America, especially from Mexico, being moved through the Caribbean Sea from South and Central America, the scourge can only be reduced by a regional attack.
“It requires a regional approach,” said the Prime Minister. “Our (individual) security arms have to work closer and closer together with those of their neighbors.”
“While in the case of Grenada we have one of the lowest crime rates we don’t feel we can rest on our laurels. After all, when your neighbor’s house is on fire you must prepare yourself because you never know what can happen next. We have to work more and more at the regional level to combat crime.”
Already, the various regional organisations have heightened the pace of their anti-crime activities.
“Trinidad and Tobago is supposed to be leading and we have had a lot of meetings and decisions made to fortify the regional approach towards crime solving,” said the Prime Minister.
In essence, then, regional concerns about high unemployment, mountains of debt, widening fiscal deficits and economic stagnation plus the escalating incidence of murders may stir the island-nations and coastal states to return with vigor to the regional table.