Friday, March 4, 2011

We must not forget the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)

By Ian Francis:

In 1980, many former regional politicians from the small states of the region journeyed to the capital of St Kitts and appended their signature to the Treaty of Basseterre. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) came into existence, succeeding the old British-created organization known as the West Indies Associated States Secretariat (WISA), which in the early days was once led by leading lights as George Odlum and Gus Compton of St Lucia. Both men have since passed away and it is befitting that we pay respects to them and they rest in peace.

The OECS has existed for the last 31 years. With such longevity, the operations and achievements of the organization must be examined, as many of the deceased signatories might be asking what has happened to the OECS and the Treaty of Basseterre.

Some of the former signatories to the Treaty who have left this great earth include former prime ministers: Eugenia Charles of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Maurice Bishop of Grenada, Winston Cenac of St Lucia, Vere Bird of Antigua and Barbuda and Clive Tannis of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Franklyn Margetson of Montserrat. Dr Sir Kennedy Simmonds, who, at the time was the premier of St Kitts and Nevis and is still very much alive, was also a signatory to the Treaty. To all these former signatories, we can only wish God’s blessing and may they all rest in peace.

The OECS is an institution that continues to face the wrath of disregard and neglect by the Authority of the organization. According to the Treaty of Basseterre, the Authority is defined as each head of government of a signatory state. Therefore, there should be no confusion in the mind of readers as to who is the Authority of the OECS.

While it is not commonly known or suspected, there have been many jurisdictional incursions and resolutions between the CARICOM Secretariat and the OECS. The most recent incursion related to the CARICOM Secretariat hosting a diplomatic training workshop at a time when the OECS and many member governments have been involved in discussions with Spain, Chile and Brazil about diplomatic training for the OECS member states.

It was felt, and rightly so, that the Georgetown Secretariat should have backed off or return the multilateral funds for the workshop. To the dismay of the Castries Secretariat, the OECS Authority and the Standing Committee of OECS Foreign Affairs Ministers, although briefed about the incursion, did nothing to address the complaint.

With fairness and reality to the OECS, this organization should be given the lead responsibility for diplomatic training within its organizational jurisdiction, given the organization’s current maintenance of two diplomatic missions in Ottawa and Brussels. In addition, as the global environment revolves around many complex issues that ultimately affect the OECS, it is essential to have a well trained and competent career diplomatic corps that will be able to represent the organization and member states in various global forums where good skills, experience and knowledge can be applied.

This is one area in the OECS Secretariat that requires immediate attention and the Authority and Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs Ministers should see a priority. Management of diplomatic skills is necessary for the international functioning of the Castries Secretariat. It is quite possible that, if a result oriented parameter was established and maintained, the current poor OECS diplomatic representation in Brussels and Ottawa could have been avoided.

While the current stage of discussion about diplomatic training between the OECS and the three mentioned nations are unknown, the OECS might be interested in looking at the training model for diplomats in Jamaica or Trinidad, or for that matter all the More Developed Countries (MDCS), since they seem to have excellent track records on the international scene. The notion of picking a few personnel from various organs of a government and dispatching them overseas for diplomatic training require more thought and planning by the Castries Secretariat.

One final note of caution to the OECS and respective governments, there should be an agreement and full concurrence by regional governments as to who will be responsible for diplomatic training in the OECS. Is it the Secretariat or respective individual governments? Clarity is urgently needed.

The OECS organization is a necessity in the region and requires the full support and attention by member governments. In the context of support and attention, member governments must meet their financial obligations in a timely manner. Paying up arrears in full is excellent but the understanding is that the arrears cycle immediately restarts.

In conversation recently with a Secretariat official about member governments meeting their financial obligations, it would appear that the only OECS member that has paid up to date is the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. If this information is accurate, then Dr Douglas and his government must be commended. If there are other governments who feel they should be accorded the same sentiments attributed to Dr Douglas, then this writer joins in extending congratulations.

The danger always looms when a regional agency does not receive monetary support from its membership. It forces the agency or institution into the unhealthy investment of time to seek out multilateral funders for makeshift projects in order to survive. Recently, regional observers saw the demise of Dr Karl Greenidge and other staff members from the CARICOM Secretariat, whose positions were funded by a foreign agency. To carefully quote the outgoing Czar of CARICOM, Sir Edwin Carrington, “Funds for Dr Greenidge project ran out and the funding agency was not willing to consider an extension.”

In my view, the above should be a powerful and timely warning to regional institutions who feel that multilateral institutions can meet their core operational needs. This is a fallacy and regional institutions should be aware of the potential pitfalls.

The wells are drying and Dr Greenidge might be the first victim. There are many more to come.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto. He writes frequently on Caribbean Affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Grenada. He can be reached at

March 4, 2011