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Port Of Spain – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries were on Monday urged to “deal with the elephant in the room” and put in place strategies that will ensure the financial stability of regional organisations, such as the Regional Security System (RSS), as the regional leaders discussed the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Caribbean.
The Trinidad-based CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) has organised a five-day virtual conference aimed at identifying how the pandemic has impacted criminality and organised crime and the implications for the future.
The event is being held under the theme “Securing Our Caribbean Community Within The Era Of Covid-19 and Beyond’.
CARICOM chairman and St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, told the conference that despite the financial situation brought on by COVID, the regional countries would have been stranded had it not been for the work done by the regional institutions, including the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) IMPACS, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) among others.
He reminded his colleagues that when the pandemic was declared in the region in January, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) had indicated that “the antidote to COVID-19 is CARICOM, the regional integration process”.
“In whatever we do, we just have to just simply have to push our work through our regional institutions and when we make the representations, the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union to the governments in the United States and Canada and Britain and the like . . . that we do so as CARICOM.”
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley underscored the need for stability, adding “we cannot ignore the elephant in the room which is the funding necessities for these regional entities that are going beyond the call of duty to make our lives easier at the national level.
“What IMPACS does for us, there is no single Caribbean nation who can provide us and has the capacity to do the advanced passenger information . . . both against INTERPOL as well as against the United States government entities.
“These things are critical, not just for the lower end but also the higher end problems that are known to the international community for which we ought still to be sensitive and vigilant to ensure that it is not imported into our states to create an additional problem beyond public health, beyond climate crisis to security issues that may be beyond our capability . . . .”
“I think the time has come for us to address the issue of . . . financing and I hope Prime Minister Gonsalves will bring his great seniority in office as chair of the Caribbean Community to allow us to finally confront this elephant in the room after decades of avoiding it,” Mottley said.
Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell (right) told the conference that the region” would have been in no man’s land” had it not been for the work of the various regional entities in responding to the pandemic, adding ”this pandemic has demonstrated the importance of security to the region”.
He noted that prior to the pandemic, Grenada, for instance had not recorded the number of murders it is now doing since March.
“We are seeing two and three murders every month which is a strange phenomenon for Grenada, and what is more significant is that they are all little personal disputes. People’s temperature seems to be high at this particular point in time, they are not tolerating each other,” he said, noting that any little difference in opinion results in murders.
Mitchell said that the churches and other organisations are now meeting with the social partners to address the situation.
During the conference, Gonsalves noted that the economies of Caribbean countries will be severely impacted as a result of the pandemic noting that some of the developed countries are expected to see their economies decline by minus eight per cent this year as compared with nearly two per cent last year.
“In our neck of the woods there will be a contraction between 10 to 20 per cent in 2020 before starting to recover in 2021,” he said of the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) acknowledging he is unaware of the situation in Barbados and Jamaica.
“The key risks to be anticipated in the recovery include a delay in the global rebound, permanent job losses and business closures, natural disasters . . . and increasing credit and liquidity risks in the financial sector “.
Gonsalves is predicting that the region will have “real problems with financial sector stability because the data all about showing that though the banking sector remains stable the fact of the matter is that both the banks and the credit unions they are experiencing a significant increase in deposit risks, market risk and liquidity risks”.
He said all the Caribbean countries will be contracting debt to fund critical support for the economies “during this difficult period so the combination of economic transaction and the necessity for additional borrowing means a rise in the debt to GDP [gross domestic product] ratio in the short term.
“It is uncertain what is going to happen to tourism in the new season. We don’t know what is going to happen in the context of the vaccine and there is a programme all of us have to put in place, a programme of action to recovery and resilience.”
Gonsalves sad that Prime Minister Mottley during her chairmanship of the grouping had laid the ground work for interfacing with some of the international financial institutions and that the World Bank and the IMF were now “stepping up a little to the plate to ease some problems”.
“There may not be a good a moment for us to get some headway in the Bretton Wood institutions and with the developed countries to let them understand the nature of our vulnerability and to help change some of the rules to balance it more in favour of the small states,” Gonsalves added.
Prime Minister Mitchell used the forum to brush aside the concerns of the United States regarding the use of Cuban medical practitioners in the fight against the virus, saying “I don’t know how you could translate that into human trafficking” and the need for the Caribbean to be able to train more personnel in various areas.
Mitchell also pushed again for lower airline taxes in the region, saying “the base population is there for a serious transport among our countries.
“But what has happened I believe we have costed ourselves out of the market < ’ he added. (CMC)