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GEORGETOWN, Guyana — The 23rd half-yearly meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government opened Thursday morning in Surname, with a resolve from leaders that change must be the order of the day.

The opening ceremony heard addresses from CARICOM Chair of the Conference, Desiré Delano Bouterse, President Suriname; Outgoing Chair, Dr. Denzil Douglas; and, Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque.

Bouterse emphasized that CARICOM was badly in need of new seed and a new beginning and that Heads of Government should not only “take account of their failures,” but should allow for “new energy to infuse our possibilities.”

Pointing to the Landell Mills Report (2012), which has recommended new directions for the Community and a restructuring of its administrative body, he insisted that “the in-depth analysis of our institutions must lead us to a better way of doing things, a faster response to false starts and wrong directions and, more importantly, to the meaningful and effective participation of our citizens in all areas and throughout the entire region.”

Bouterse, however, acknowledged that this was a tall order, especially within the context of high global economic anxieties, but hastened to add that while the emphasis seemed to have been placed on a better and more empowered Secretariat, there was an urgent need for Heads of Government to flex the political will to further the integration agenda “even as our peoples do on their own — traversing sometimes through unfriendly waters and turbulent skies across the region, to make sense of the opportunities as they know them to exist.”

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He maintained that a part of the change must include a well-resourced CARICOM Secretariat and urged member states to pay their dues as a matter of priority. A revamped Secretariat, he stated, would still not be able to do its job effectively if it did not have predictable financial resources to sustain its viability.

Outgoing chair Douglas stated that the people of the Community not only expected technical competence from its leaders but demanded visionary leadership. In this context therefore, he urged CARICOM to position itself to become more meaningfully engaged with, but not subsumed by other groupings.

In light of this, Douglas was opined that CARICOM “… must continue to forge strategic alliances recognising that their respective strengths and resources can assist the Community in propelling itself towards a platform for strengthened functional cooperation.”

He underscored the need for optimism, noting that CARICOM should focus on adapting and re-inventing itself to make it more efficient, effective, relevant and more sharply focused on results; but he warned however that while the focus should be on the way the Community functioned, it should not be on changing the core values purpose, principles and ideals of the integration movement.

“In light of ever-changing global and regional conditions, it remains CARICOM’s essential responsibility … to provide greater clarity and form regarding the ideals of integration so that we inspire hope and confidence for the people of our region who are questioning our resolve to truly transform their lives,” the St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister asserted.

Secretary-General LaRocque warned of drastic change that would flow from the recommendations of the Landell Mills Report. He added that change would have to be managed in an environment of reform within the Community, its Organs, Bodies and Institutions. Those changes, he stated, must take into account the way the Community conducted and governed its affairs. An important part of that process, he explained, was the need for further prioritization.

He also pointed to the re-engineering of the CARICOM Secretariat’s organizational culture, which he warned would not be easy but would be managed and would definitely require a new mindset and a new way of doing things.

The opening of the CARICOM half-yearly Summit coincided with the global observance of International Women’s Day under the theme: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty. All three speakers acknowledged the pivotal role that women continued to play in regional development and called for greater improvement of the economic circumstances of women, particularly rural women. The Summit itself is being held under the theme: “Healthy women; Wealthy Region”.

Three new leaders were welcomed the Conference: Donald Ramotar, President of Guyana, who joined the Conference for the first time; Portia Simpson-Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Dr. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of St Lucia who were returning, following their victories at recent polls.

(CARICOM Press Release)

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