The Government of Antigua and Barbuda is a founder member of the Organisation of
Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Lester B.
Bird, is the only survivor in Government of those persons who signed the Treaty of
Basseterre on 18th June 1981 bringing the Organisation into existence. Indeed, the
conceptualization of the Organisation originated in an address by Lester Bird to the
former West Indies (Associated States) Council of Ministers (WISA) at a meeting in Antigua
in 1979 when he lamented the movement toward independence by the WISA territories without
establishing machinery for combining their resources to further their common interests.
Over the years, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda has served on three occasions as
the Chairman of the Authority - the only Head of Government to do so.
From 1968 until the Economic Affairs Secretariat of the OECS was merged with the
Central Secretariat in 1994 - a period of 26 years - Antigua and Barbuda hosted first the
Secretariat of the Eastern Caribbean Common Market (ECCM) and then its successor the
Economic Affairs Secretariat. When the report of a Strategic Management Review in 1993
proposed the merging of the Economic Affairs Secretariat (EAS) with the Central
Secretariat in the interest of cost reduction, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda
readily agreed despite the criticism that the removal of the EAS from Antigua was an
affront to national prestige. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda held to the position
that the preservation of the Organisation was more important than to hurt national pride.
Throughout the entire existence of the OECS, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is
the only Government that has remained in office. Over that time, the Government of Antigua
and Barbuda has given leadership to the Organisation that has benefited its work on behalf
of all member states.
There is, therefore, no question of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda's commitment
to the OECS.
NEED TO REFORM
After 20 years of existence, all organisations require review to ensure that they are
relevant to current conditions in all circumstances. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda
holds the view that there is need for a major reform of the OECS to ensure its relevance
and value to all its member states. Therefore, the only concern of this paper is to
explore ways in which the OECS can be reformed to ensure its relevance and value to all
member states as a foundation on which future structures of greater cooperation could be
THE PURPOSE AND FUNCTIONS OF THE OECS:
HAVE THEY BEEN MET?
The purposes and functions of the Organisation are set out in the Treaty under Article
3. Dealing with each in turn, they are:
To promote cooperation, unity and solidarity.
There is no doubt that member states have been true to this requirement of
the Treaty as is manifest, for example, by the support of the Leeward Island states in
every international forum for the Windward Island states over the issue of market access
to the European Union for bananas. In another practical way, this cooperation, unity and
solidarity is demonstrated by the readiness with which Antigua and Barbuda took in
thousands of Monsterratians since the catastrophe caused by the eruptions of the Soufriere
volcano and the large number of workers in Antigua from OECS countries, particularly
Dominica. However, while this is an obligation for the Treaty, its implementation is
not dependent on the existence of a Secretariat or its several agencies.
To defend sovereignty, territorial integrity and
independence. Again, there is no question that member states have
been true to this obligation under the Treaty. Each member state has been vocal in
international fora whenever the sovereignty and independence of any other member state has
been threatened. Recent testimony to this is the position adopted by member states on the
OECS's 'harmful tax competition' scheme and the Financial Action Task Force's list of
non-cooperative jurisdictions in the prevention of money laundering. Member states have
also worked closely together in the Regional Security System (RSS) to guard against drug
trafficking and other threats to the security of the sub-region. However, this
obligation of the Treaty has not been reliant on the existence of a Secretariat or its
several agencies. Indeed, the machinery of the RSS is not an OECS institution.
To harmonize foreign policy.
OECS member states have never effectively established the Institution by which foreign
policy could be organised. In the twenty-year history of the Organisation, the Foreign
Affairs Committee might have met twice. Indeed, the foreign policy of member states is not
harmonized as is evident in the attitude to relations with the Peoples Republic of China
and Taiwan, and to Libya. In any event, to the extent that there has been any attempt to
"coordinate" rather than "harmonize" foreign policy, this has taken
place in the council of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) for very good
reason. The member states of the OECS are too small and lack the necessary muscle and
diplomatic outreach to promote their foreign policy positions either on their own or
together. They have depended on the collective strength of CARICOM whose member states are
larger in population size and resources to advance those positions in which there is a
shared interest. With regard to joint overseas representation, this has been found to be
impractical however laudable the concept might be, and member states have moved away from
it by their own volition. Therefore, this Treaty obligation has not been fulfilled and to
the extent that member states have "coordinated" rather than
"harmonized" foreign policy, they have done so under the umbrella of CARICOM
rather than the OECS.
To promote economic integration.
For a variety of reasons, not least of which was the accelerated pace to economic
integration within CARICOM over the last decade, the OECS has been unable to promote
economic integration among its member states. The early successes of the Eastern Caribbean
Common Market (ECCM) in attempting to establish an allocation of industry scheme and other
machinery for integration have each been eroded over time. In any event, the advent of the
CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) makes continued work in this area irrelevant.
Economic integration will now be centred in the wider CARICOM area. This Treaty
obligation is now outdated and there is task for the Secretariat to undertake with regard
to economic integration of the OECS.
To pursue joint policies in 17 specific areas.
The Treaty detailed 17 specific areas in which member states were obliged to
"endeavour to co-ordinate, harmonise and pursue joint policies". These included,
inter alia, Income Tax Administration, Customs and excise Administration, Audit
and International Marketing of Tourism. Many of these subjects were not touched. The fault
does not lie with the secretariat, nor indeed does it lie with member Governments. The
reality is that pursuit of these areas requires money for studies and implementation that
was not available to member states and continues not to be available now. One of the areas
- joint marketing of tourism - was dismantled because of lack of confidence by national
authorities in the capacity of a regional institution to promote their individual
interests. Thus, the eastern Caribbean Tourism Association (ECTA) was disassembled. There
has been success in a few of the areas that were detailed in the Treaty. These are: The
Judiciary, Currency and Central banking and Mutual Defense and Security. In the areas
of success, both the Judiciary and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank are stand-alone
institutions entirely independent of the OECS Secretariat. So too is mutual defense and
security to the extent that this is met by the RSS.
It is worth noting that at the Second Meeting of the Authority of the OECS on 11th
November 1982 at the Cariblue Hotel in St. Lucia, Lester Bird, as Chairman of the
Authority called for the deepening of the economic integration arrangement of the OECS as
a catalyst for pushing the integration of CARICOM as a whole. He identified eight goals
that the OECS should pursue as follows:
"(i) The upgrading of the East Caribbean Currency Authority (ECCA) to a Central
bank and the introduction of mechanisms to curtail the flight of capital from our
(ii) The establishment of a Customs Union with a common Customs Administration
including a common external tariff, common procedures and common documentation;
(iii) The establishment of a joint approach to a regime on the law of the sea including
agreement on our territorial boundaries and the boundaries of our exclusive economic zone;
(iv) An intensification of the allocation of industry scheme and for introduction of
binding mechanisms to ensure protection for industries allocated under such a scheme;
(v) An integration of similar productive activity among member states and joint
production to maximise the use of our resources;
(vi) Improvement in export marketing and tourism promotion in order to increase foreign
(vii) Definition of a clear role for the private sector in economic development and, in
that context, the establishment of clear guidelines for foreign investment in our
(viii) A commitment to adopt common policies and take joint action in the international
community, particularly in relation to trade and economic matters".
As it turned out member states of the OECS were not as willing as Antigua and Barbuda
at the time to advance the interests of the OECS as a whole in the way that was proposed.
Apart from the creation of the Central Bank, very little else occurred. Indeed, there was
reversal of the allocation of industry scheme and joint tourism promotion under the ECTA
In summary, it is obvious that:
(1) There is a willingness by member states of the OECS to cooperate in a wide range of
areas (through not everything) to promote their national interest and the interests of the
sub-region. This is manifest through the success of the ECCB, the Judiciary, and the
Common Civil Aviation Agency. These institution, unlike ECTA, survived because they are
seen to bring "value added" to national structures and not to pose a threat to
national capabilities. This is an important foundation on which to build for the future in
a practical way;
(2) Lack of funds has constrained member states to pursue many of the joint policies in
specific areas that they had envisaged when the Treaty was signed twenty years ago. It is
unlikely that many of these areas can be pursued now given a constraint on finances.
However, certain priority areas ought to be identified for future action, among these
would be statistics, income tax administration and customs and excise administration;
(3) A genuine commitment to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) renders any
further work on economic integration of the OECS irrelevant;
(4) Foreign policy "harmonization" is not possible at this time and foreign
policy "coordination" is better done at the level of CARICOM where the extra
muscle of larger countries is beneficial to OECS states on those issues in which there is
a shared interest.
THE ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT AND ITS IMPACT
The current international economic climate is unhelpful to the countries of the OECS.
Given the openness of our economies and our continued reliance on a narrow range of
economic activities, the outlook for short-term improvement in the economies and financial
situations of member states is not bright. The current recession in the United States,
which is now making its presence felt in Canada and European Union, is unhelpful to our
prospects for increased tourism and investment. When these factors are coupled with the
limited market future for vital exports such as bananas for some member states, and the
OECD's threat to the financial services sector of our economies, the picture grows
Against this background all member states need to identify those areas in which
spending is a priority domestically, regionally and internationally. In considering the
regional scene, member states must be sure that there is no duplication of effort by the
organisations to which they belong and they must also ensure that the activities on which
they are spending scarce financial resources are relevant to their needs.
Antigua and Barbuda has come to the conclusion that it can no longer support the OECS
Secretariat and its agencies in its present form, structure and functions. Like other OECS
countries, Antigua and Barbuda contributes to the OECS, CARICOM and the RNM. The Antigua
and Barbuda Government would like to see the Secretariat and its agencies reformed so that
(a) there is no duplication with CARICOM or the RNM; and (b) the activities that are
undertaken bring value to member states thereby strengthening the sub-region as a whole.
RESTRUCTURING THE OECS SECRETARIAT
In the context of the above discussion, Antigua and Barbuda proposes that the OECS
Secretariat and its agencies be downsized and rendered more focused on matters that bring
value to member states and enhances the worth of the Organisation itself.
Specifically, we propose:
(a) The Brussels Mission should cease to be a responsibility for the OECS Secretariat.
The mission should become the responsibility of those Governments that use it and it
should become accountable to them and directly funded by them;
(b) The Directorate of Civil Aviation (which is self-financing) should be removed from
the Division of Functional Cooperation of the OECS Secretariat and made into a Civil
Aviation Authority with legal status in each member state that subscribes to it. In other
words it should become a stand alone institution such as ECCB and the Judiciary with
Ministers responsible for Aviation being its Board;
(c) The Economic Affairs Division should be revamped and merged with the Legal Unit and
made responsible for the following matters only: (i) preparing studies and briefing
material for member states for negotiations within CARICOM on our participation in the
Single Market and Economy, (ii) preparing data and other relevant material for the
Regional Negotiating Machinery (to continue to be funded by the RNM) to advise on specific
concerns of OECS member states in relation to negotiations with the EU and in the FTAA and
WTO processes; and (iii) liaising with donors and coordinating a pool of experts (to be
provided as far as possible by donors or funded by participating member states) who would
be available to requesting member Governments in areas where individual Governments
require the services of such experts but are unable to fund them on their own or utilize
their time to the fullest capacity. These experts could include bank inspectors for the
offshore financial sector, forensic auditors for customs and inland revenue department,
legal draftsmen; experts on boundaries limitation in the context of law of the sea;
advisors in police and prisons training and administration. In this way the work of the
economic affairs and legal division would bring value to needs of national Governments
while at the same time enhancing the OECS' joint positions.
(d) Reduce the staff size of the Corporate Services Division and merge it with the
Division of Functional Cooperation. It will then concentrate on the current functions of
the Corporate Services Division as well as (i) Sports Coordination, and (ii) Functional
Cooperation matters such as Pharmaceuticals Procurement, the Natural Resources Management
Unit and Education Reform as well as any new areas of functional cooperation that might be
identified as a priority such as Statistics, Income Tax Administration, Customs
Administration and common services in police and prisons.
(e) Establish a single shared office in Ottawa with individual High Commissioners and
limited support staff and common services for those Governments that wish to maintain a
resident mission in Ottawa. Other Governments could choose not to participate in the
shared office and to appoint non-resident High Commissioners such as their Ambassadors in
Washington in much the same way that High Commissioners in London are now accredited to
Capitals in Europe. In any event, the High Commission would no longer be accountable to
the Secretariat but to the participating Governments who would fund it directly.
(f) Move the revamped Secretariat to be housed in the ECCB's headquarters in St. Kitts
where its staff will benefit from a close working relationship with the ECCB's Research
Unit. Alternatively, leave the Secretariat where it is presently housed for the time being
with no immediate plans for expenditure on a building.
COSTS AND PAYMENTS
Without access to the precise financial data on the OECS Secretariat and its agencies,
it is difficult to cost the new structure and operations as proposed above. However, a
rough estimate suggests that the costs could be reduced to approximately EC$6 million a
year, a reduction of approximately EC$5 million per annum.
In this regard, it should be possible for all member states to agree to the automatic
deduction of their monthly contributions to the Secretariat from its profits at the ECCB.
Given the smaller sum of money than had been proposed under earlier schemes, it may now be
possible for an automatic payment arrangement through the ECCB to be affected.
Alternatively, a monthly standing order with a commercial bank in each of the member
states could be established.
The proposal and the arrangements for payment would focus the Secretariat in a way that
is both cost effective and financially manageable, while providing a strong institution
with the resources necessary to carry out its mandate.
THE FUTURE OF THE OECS
In the 1982 St. Lucia statement referred to earlier, Lester Bird, as Chairman of the
"We in the OECS have a greater potential (than the rest of CARICOM) to realize
those goals (of deeper integration). I do not remark that we, in the OECS, have a greater
chance of deepening the integration process out of a sense of chauvinism, but rather from
a recognition that the economic similarities among us lend themselves more readily to
quicker movement. We have a common currency and we already share common institutions and
It is the strongly held view of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda that the OECS
still has the basic foundation on which the structures of deeper integration can be
erected. But, these structures will not be built if the framework is shaky.
Therefore, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is keen that the OECS should not
simply be left in its current ailing state until finally it dies from neglect.
The people of our sub-region will not be encouraged to seek their salvation on the back
of an Organisation that they do not themselves recognize and appreciate as a contributor
to their development. Recent attempts at political union have shown that the people of our
sub-region are not yet convinced that the OECS, as yet, holds out an acceptable framework
on which they can build their future.
It is in this connection that Antigua and Barbuda would like to restructure the
Secretariat and its agencies to make them more relevant to current circumstances and
consequently more sustainable as a vehicle for the unity that, intellectually, OECS
leaders know is imperative.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda is not in favour of the Secretariat's suggestion
of CARICOFF. It remains important that in a range of areas including sport and donor
support for projects that the OECS should maintain its own identity. In any event, the
Leeward and Windward Islands, notwithstanding their close relationship with CARICOM, have
always had a separate cultural identity and a closer working relationship. It is important
that in a globalize world, this identity and closer working relationship be preserved,
especially if some form of closer union is ever to be achieved.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda holds the view that if its proposals, or
approximate variations thereof, are agreed by member states of the OECS, the Organisation
will itself be enhanced while becoming more relevant to the needs of member states and the
sub-region as a whole.
Further, the Secretariat will become more affordable and stand a better chance of
getting the funding it requires from member states to carry out its mandate giving it
stability and eliminating donor discomfort over its future.
The OECS will continue to maintain its identity and could deliver tangible benefits to
its member states that would be quantifiable and obvious and which bring value to national
institutions thus earning their full support.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda strongly commends its proposal to the member
states of the OECS and urges early implementation.
OECS Authority Meeting
28th April, 2001