Good evening to all. Good evening, Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Tonight, I stand not only as the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, but I also stand as the Incoming Chair of the OECS. I want to recognize the Outgoing Chair, the Honourable Farrell, who earlier gave his remarks.
I do understand that I am assuming the Chairmanship very early in my term as Prime Minister, and I do recognize that once one assumes this position that he or she must be ready to lead at any level that he or she is called to. And so, with that spirit to lead when called upon, I stand here tonight ready to be the Chairman of the OECS, of course, being supported by other leaders of Government across the OECS, whose support will be instrumental in making sure that my Chairmanship over the next year is successful. So, I want to thank them in advance.
My brothers and sisters across the OECS, today I take up the baton of Chairmanship of the OECS. It now falls to me to continue to press forward toward sustainable development for the people of our sub region.
The work of development is never done. It is an enduring commitment of a nation, of every generation, of all citizens, and of those who are trusted with the responsibility of leadership. We are proud members of the OECS, sisters and brothers connected by a common history and committed to a common cause.
In the OECS, each leader brings their particular vision and focus to the cooperation and development agenda which bears the name of the capital of Saint Kitts and Nevis. I need no more potent reminder of whom I serve and why.
It is in the context of this service that today, I share with you the strategic priorities which will be pursued during my period as Chairman of the OECS Authority. Strong institutions are needed to deliver development for the region. This includes a strong Authority, ably led, with high functioning, motivated, effective, and productive staff. We must inspire confidence in the public and foster the cooperative partnerships and relationships which are so important in the complex and precarious geopolitical societies and economies which characterise the globe today, of which the OECS is a part.
I assume the Chairmanship at the start of a hurricane season, a period which far too often spells fear or havoc for our people. The OECS and June 21, 2006, and the entire Caribbean region, is still reeling from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. We are being knocked by the price rises and supply chain challenges posed by the Russia-Ukraine war. And we stand on the front lines of the battle with climate change, a crisis which is not of our making, but which we cannot afford environmentally or economically.
Inflation and rapidly evolving labour markets are raining heavy blows on the incomes and ability of our people to maintain themselves. Small island developing states are struggling against geopolitical and economic forces which threaten to overwhelm the small and vulnerable.
However, across this landscape, citizens of the OECS look to their leaders for modern technologies, upgraded and resilient infrastructure, social and economic empowerment and opportunities that will provide them with lives of dignity. It is against this background that I have identified where I think my focus should lie.
The Sustainable Island State Agenda of St Kitts and Nevis is being constructed on seven key pillars, namely, Food for Security, Green Energy Transition, Economic Diversification, Sustainable Industries, the Creative Economy, COVID-19 recovery, and Social Protection. For the OECS during my term, there will be five areas of special attention – youth; health; violence as a public health issue; energy; and environment.
I start with the future of the OECS which rests on securing the future of our young people. Our youth need to feel that our countries have something to offer them; that they have opportunities for economic and social growth in their home countries; that they are valued; that they will be allowed to contribute to their societies; that they can receive living wages and income; and that they are being trained and invested with skills which enable them to flourish at the national level and compete at the global level.
The new global digital economy is the market space that our young people will work in and use to expand our region’s economic border. They must therefore be equipped to do so. Sports, the digital and orange economies, health, and tourism services, are areas ripe for investments and involvement by this region’s highly talented young people. Unless we make new space for our OECS youth, we risk an unprecedented brain drain at a time when we most need the creativity and energy of our young people.
Another major engine of growth and development in the OECS must be health. History teaches us that global growth and social stability came about when modern nation-states developed the capacity to reduce the burden of disease and keep their citizens in good health. This imperative of good health remains the same for the people of the OECS. We now fully understand and must therefore prepare for the next global pandemic and its far-reaching consequences, coupled with the fact that NCDs are hurting our region.
In a very real sense, the epidemic of NCDs robs individuals of quality of life and shortens lifetime. NCDs carry a high cost for individuals, families, breadwinners, social services, and health care systems. They compromise citizens’ productivity.
It is my view, that the OECS needs to harmonize health policies and treatment protocols and maximize resources for health care delivery, by delivering Centres of Health Excellence throughout the OECS, with each country having particular areas of specialization. In that way, no single country would have the burden of providing every service for every citizen and costs and services would be shared across the Union. Such an approach would make specialized health care accessible and affordable for all our citizens. This cost-effective model is of urgent necessity given the fast-growing cost of health care globally, which is also becoming increasingly technologically based.
Moreover, we must deal with the issue of mental health, including depression and suicidal ideation in our region, especially among young people. This phenomenon is being exacerbated by the negative impacts on mental, emotional, social, and financial wellbeing directly linked to the far reaching and myriad consequences of COVID-19 and global conflict. In addressing this difficulty, it will be critical to employ multidisciplinary, community-based interventions to identify and assist those at risk, take them out of danger, restore them to full health and deal with the matter of stigmatization which so often follows people who have had any form of mental illness.
We must all thank, and I asking the Ambassador of Cuba to stand and take a bow, for the critical role he plays In the strengthening of our health system. Put your hands together for Cuba.
The people of Saint Kitts and Nevis also want to thank the Republic of China (Taiwan) for the role it is also playing here in Saint Kitts and Nevis to deliver quality health care.
I must mention our Chargé d’affaires from Venezuela and convey to him, to convey to his country our appreciation for the work you have been doing in helping us to deliver better health care to our people. Thank you.
Crime and violence is another one we must tackle. In the wider society, coupled with violence in the domestic setting, are at epidemic proportions in our region. Our young men are most often the perpetrators and victims of violence. Multipronged social Interventions to save our young men and reduce or halt the Incidents of domestic violence will stop the constant outcries of affected families and take many out of harm’s way. We must therefore treat to crime in a cross-sectoral way, dealing not only with the criminal aspects, but also assessing and addressing the seminal causes of crime and putting in place effective measures and policies for crime prevention.
Violence is a public health issue. It must be treated as such, and its full dimensions become the subject of regional policies and treatment approaches. In the case of domestic violence, we must introduce into schools and communities, programmes for conflict negotiation, for the counselling of abusers and abused persons, exhibiting zero tolerance for the perpetrators of domestic abuse, while still establishing support systems for victims and children scarred by this social scourge.
At the wider level, we must identify the root causes of the problems of violence, addressing both the risk factors and the protective factors, establish preventive strategies by working at the social levels to help those at risk. The answer is not always, even though it is part of it, more court and longer jail time.
An to this end, I want to thank the US Government for the OASYS Project that was launched In Saint Kitts and Nevis just very, very recently that creates hope for young people who confronts the criminal justice system. Put your hands together for the United States for the direct input in helping the region.
This point therefore is a natural introduction to my next priority area, that of security. The OECS must ensure that our region can protect itself and its borders from the influx of small firearms and ammunition which are the preferred weapons of those doing violence. We must continue to be a zone of peace. This will require constructive engagement with regional and external partners, in particular, those in source countries and points of origin of drugs and guns. To this end, I would also like to thank the United States for its recent commitment to beef up its partnership in dealing with the scourge of small arms in our region. I must also point out that our region does not manufacture small arms. Most of these small arms comes from the United States of America and I am happy that I they are hearing the call of the Caribbean and of course the OECS when we say, we need you to step up to help us to stop the flow of arms In our region. Put your hands together.
In synopsis, my focus in health will be on saving minds, limbs, and lives, and protecting our borders to secure our people’s future.
With climate change as a major barrier to the development of the OECS, the areas of energy and environment are important components of my priorities.
Let me start with energy. It is critical that we transition to renewable energy, geothermal, wind, and solar energy sources have the potential to get us there and get us there quickly. This is another area in which we need the enabler of harmonized policies, regulatory and legal frameworks. The days of brown-outs, black-outs, supply interruptions, inadequate supply to rural areas, and systems based on monopoly control of fossil fuel generation and distribution must be put rapidly behind us if the region is to save our environment and energy expenditures.
Just to point out, just to subsidize energy here In Saint Kitts and Nevis we are projecting to pay one hundred (100) plus million dollars per year. To this end, I would like again to thank the US from the perspective that the PACC2030 that was put forward by the Vice president of the United States of America, Kamala Harris, recently committed to help the Caribbean to transition.
Preserving our natural beauty and biodiversity and protecting our natural environment are pivotal to regional development, our way of life and sustainable economic prosperity. We must not overexploit our natural patrimony, neither the blue nor green economy, to damage the island-life that we hold dear or compromise our capacity to earn from it. Low carbon approaches and the building of resilience to reduce the impacts of shocks, or improve our capacity to recover from them, including from the ravages of climate change, while simultaneously allowing for economic investment, is the balancing act in which our regional leaders must now engage. It is therefore one of my priorities as well.
I am confident that the OECS can be a model for small island success. While I hold the Chair, my thrust will therefore be to accelerate development, advance equity, and inclusion, and build social, economic, and environmental resilience. My determination and commitment are to ensure people-centred development for the people of Saint Kitts and Nevis and the OECS; and in pursuit of that objective, I will urge for the support of my fellow Heads of the OECS, because without them all of that I spoke about here will never ever be possible. But I also want to extend the hand to join with the heads of Government in the OECS; a hand to the people, to the communities, to the man and woman who live in the barrows, who live in the villages, who work hard every day, to join us, to work with us, because together, as was mentioned before by the Director General himself, that together we can go faster and further, and ensure that our civilization as the OECS and the wider Caribbean, continues to exist long after we are gone.
Thank you very much.