Monday, 13 August 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua, St. John's - Questions have been raised about the absence of Leader of the Opposition, Lester Bird, from the historic inauguration of the OECS Assembly in St John's with some suggesting he boycotted the ceremony.
No official reason was given for Bird's no-show and numerous telephone calls to him went unanswered.
St. John's City West Member of Parliament Gaston Browne - the only other member of Antigua & Barbuda's opposition represented in the Assembly - said he too was in the dark.
"From time to time you know Mr. Bird has had some health issues. He still remains the Leader of the Opposition. Unfortunately he was unable to make it on Friday. He had plans to come and I presume that he was not feeling well. I have to admit that he cancelled at last minute so I do not have an official reason, per se, but I am presuming he may not have been in the best of health," Browne said.
In 1981 Bird - the then Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister - along with other regional leaders, signed the original Treaty of Basseterre that gave birth to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
In a statement issued prior to the Assembly's opening the opposition leader said: "History has come full-circle, today."
He said further: "This historic gathering in St. John’s of the OECS Assembly is evidence of counter-intuitive thinking and forward planning, planted decades ago in the minds of the OECS people."
St. Kitts and Nevis' Mark Brantley, speaking on behalf of OECS Leaders of Opposition described those who signed that document as "giants of regionalism".
"This OECS is our OECS and we must stand, government and opposition alike, shoulder to shoulder, to advance the cause of regionalism," he urged.
But even as he lauded this new milestone, Brantley sought to bring the political realities in the different states to the fore, explaining that the parliamentary opposition cannot be included in the Assembly but ignored or marginalised in their countries.
"I call on the OECS today to mandate certain minimum standards of good governance in each and every constituent element of this great organisation," he charged.
"It is, for example, a matter of tremendous regret that some member states do not have Integrity in Public Life legislation or Freedom of Information legislation to permit the populace a mechanism to rein in the base impulse of government corruption. It is a matter of even greater regret that electoral laws keep being flouted or bent to a breaking point to benefit one side or the other of the political divide with no genuine effort being made at political reform."
In his address, Montserrat Premier Reuben Meade recommended that countries in the sub-grouping stop spending millions of dollars by having individual diplomatic representation overseas.
"Economically it makes sense, the taxpayers can no longer afford for each little village to have diplomatic representation in the various parts of the world. It costs millions and we can't afford it," Meade said on behalf of the OECS' Non-Independent Members.
Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer told Caribarena.com that leaders recognise there will be challenges going forward.
However, he said, a key factor would be to ensure that the OECS is the beneficiary of whatever recommendations are put forward for adoption in each member state.
"We must be mindful of the fact that everything is not going to go smoothly for us. We are going to have bumps along the way, it's how effectively we are able to manage those things and do them in the best interest of the citizens and residents in the sub-region that will matter in the end," he said.
The Assembly will meet at least twice per year unless otherwise directed.