Looking for solutions to stave off common threats
-- Commentary by Earl Bousquet in St. Lucia
Guyana Chronicle
August 16, 2002

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CARICOM member states are expected to exhibit an unprecedented measure of common concern for a member state in dire need of help when Trinidad and Tobago and the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) make pledges of support for Dominica during this weekend's special economic summit at the NIC's Conference Centre (in St. Lucia).

As we know, Dominica, our neighbour to the north, has come under very serious hard times. The government is unable to pay monthly wages to public servants, investments have disappeared, bananas are dead and tourism is in the dumps.

There just isn't enough business in Dominica to keep the country going. The government has had to appeal to the International Monetary Fund for an assistance package. It has also appealed to its CARICOM neighbours for assistance.

It is in response to this appeal for help that the government of Trinidad and Tobago has prepared a financial package that will be unveiled at the summit, involving a loan of some EC$20M (just over US$8M).

In addition, Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony has also disclosed that the OECS territories may unveil a similar assistance package for Dominica, having earlier agreed to come to the help of the needy member state of the sub-regional grouping.

It is not unusual that CARICOM countries would come to the assistance of each other in times of need. History is replete with cases of collective help on the part of several territories, whether we speak of the multilateral and multinational help offered to Dominica after that island was hit by two successive hurricanes, David and Allen, in 1979-80, or the military assistance involved in the invasion of Grenada in 1983.

However, the difference in this case is that Dominica has been struck, not by a natural, destructive hurricane or political catastrophe of the likes that led to the ouster of the Patrick John regime in 1980, but rather by an economic catastrophe.

Few, if any, among the Caricom member states, have reached the stage of being unable to pay monthly salaries to government employees.

Guyana went through such a period in the 1980s and Antigua in more recent times, but neither have had to or felt they needed to ask for the mounting of an economic rescue mission.

That Dominica has taken the dreaded decision to go to the IMF, therefore, should signal just how bad it is for the land of 365 rivers.

But Dominica is not the only island or CARICOM member state facing tough economic times.

Normally healthy economies are also feeling the squeeze, especially Barbados, which registered a 5.7% decline in economic growth for the first quarter of this year.

Antigua and Barbuda too, has been finding difficulties paying its bills and has also had to resort to new measures, including borrowing from new sources to pay government's wages and bills.

And every other territory, from Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana to St. Vincent and Jamaica, has felt the pinch of the current regional economic squeeze.

St. Lucia, thanks to early measures, has been able to ride the storm a little bit better and a return to positive economic growth is expected by the beginning of the next year.

But so much depends on factors over which the government of St. Lucia has no control that even while we continue to hope for the best, we should also plan for the worst.

The Heads are expected to spend considerable time discussing approaches to what has been accepted as perhaps the stiffest challenge to the Community's economic survival.

The year 2001 saw the worst international economic recession in several decades, which worsened for most countries after September 11.

The region's economies have been affected at varying degrees, from Dominica's dilemma and Barbados' 5.7% decline in growth in the first quarter of 2002, to sluggish movement in most other member states of the regional grouping.

According to a source involved in the preparations for the meeting, "It is expected that in their deliberations, the Heads of Government will opt for solutions and mechanisms that will require collective action to stave off common threats to national economies."

The meeting's chairman, President Jagdeo, was scheduled to arrive here (yesterday) in advance of the meeting, to address Guyanese nationals in St. Lucia at the Indies Conference Centre (last) evening.

Guyana's Honorary Consul to St. Lucia Lokesh Singh said Guyanese nationals in St. Lucia were "looking forward to welcome our President and to hear from him about developments at home and the government's plans for taking the country in the direction of peace and prosperity".

St. Lucians generally look forward to welcoming the CARICOM leaders to the island once again, the last time being the 25th CARICOM Anniversary Meeting in 1998 that featured the presence of the internationally respected African statesman, then President Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

They also wish the best for the region's leaders in their search for solutions that will help in the revival of the regional economy, as they seek positive answers to the problems posed by the negative trends in regional economic activity as a result of a combination of national, regional and international factors.