BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, March 4, 2017 – (Press Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister) – Heads of Government of the OECS Member States used Friday’s meeting to continue their push for the full integration and free movement of goods and people throughout the sub-region, and while OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules noted that there are still significant challenges ahead, leaders remain optimistic.
The 64th Meeting of the OECS Authority was held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort on Friday March 3, under the Chairmanship of St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris.
OECS Leaders are aware that with full regional integration, the need for closer regional collaboration in a number of areas including healthcare, security and agriculture would become even more important.
In the area of a heightened security presence throughout the OECS, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Honourable Allen Chastanet believes the time has for a common police force or a regional forensic laboratory to be established.
“The fact is that when you look at the cost of the judicial system and the cost of the police force as a relationship to our overall budget is very, very high,” Prime Minister Chastanet stated. “We already see functional cooperation in our court houses so the Court of Appeal is on a regional basis already. Long ago it existed, we actually had the senior officers on rotation basis so the question is, if we have now a common passport, we have common ID cards; why can’t we now have a common database and have a police force that’s a regional police force? So we can have one singular commissioner and we can have corporals and superintendents on a regional basis and rotate people and start integrating our police services.”
The St. Lucian leader believes this approach would bring some measure of relief to governments’ overall debts and also help in eliminating corruption in police services.
“One of the things that’s hurting the governments right now is 1) clearly debt but the other one is the high cost of governance and most of us are struggling to pay for what we have and we know it’s still not world class so this is where the OECS as a group has to start paying greater dividends and there has to be a, I think, a more integrated approach. One of the issues with police forces continues to be the concern about corruption and we’ve all known and it’s been suggested for a long time by putting people on rotation. It helps to eliminate that familiarity, so this is something that has been done before.”
Premier of Nevis and Senior Minister in the St. Kitts-Nevis Cabinet, the Honourable Vance Amory supported the call for closer collaboration in the interest of safety and security and noted that “it is clear that we are faced with regional threats to security and it means that we have to have a regional response.”
He added, “What Prime Minister Chastanet has indicated is something which no doubt would be discussed in greater detail but barring that even if there is not the single OECS police force, there has to be and there continues to be the cooperation and the collaboration between the security forces to give that protection—regional protection—against the criminal element which is a threat to our security.”
Prime Minister Harris also chimed in on the matter of security at the regional level. He said while it may take a while a while to establish a single OECS unit, “we certainly would want to see a greater degree of functional cooperation and the devising as it were of a sub-regional task force to deal with issues of crime.”
Dr. Harris continued, “Already we have some of the trappings for it; we recruit a large number of non nationals, if you will, into our police force each year because we have not been able to get some of our own people to respond and this may be healthy from the perspective of the lack of the familiarity which sometime inhibits good policing unless one’s mind and one’s attitude are well honed and sharpened to think strategically as a cop. We believe that there is room for cooperation and collaboration in forensics.”
The OECS Authority Chairman said there will be a follow-up meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in April, where Heads of Governments are expected to continue their discussions on several matters including security and civil aviation.