19 March 2011

Montserrat's Chief Minister named chair of OCTA ministerial conference

BRADES, Montserrat (GIU) – Chief Minister of Montserrat, Reuben Meade, on Monday accepted the chairmanship of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) ministerial conference.

Speaking in New Caledonia at the European Union and OCT Forum, which is the annual gathering of representatives from all of the OCTs and EU member states, the chief minister said it was “both an honour and a privilege to serve the OCTA family in this office. I see my election not only as a serious responsibility but as an opportunity to support the diverse agenda of the OCTs.”

Meade said the targets set by the EU to be achieved by the year 2020 provide “the basis for hope in the OCTs, if we can fully benefit from such an agenda.”  These include:

i. Employment of 75% of their 20 – 64-year-olds.
ii. Investment of 3% of EU’s GDP in Research, Development and Innovation.
iii. Reduction of greenhouse gases by 20% below the 1990 levels (conditioned on international agreement).
iv. Achieving 20% energy from renewable and 20% increase in energy efficiency.
v. Reduction of the school drop-out rates to below 10% and at least 40% of 30 – 34-year-olds completing tertiary education or its equivalent.
vi. Reduction in the levels of poverty and social exclusion by committing to 20 million fewer people at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

However, he said “we must strive for simplicity above complexity; social justice and order above discrimination and pride; and, a cleaner and more sustainable environment above destruction and greed.
“It is no doubt a challenging time to be the chairman of OCTA. We must face the:

• effects of protracted global economic and financial decline;
• falling levels of disposable incomes of our people; and
• increasing challenges of war and natural disasters and their demand on scarce resources.

“There is a need for open discussion about where we all are today. A discussion about what needs to be done individually and collectively to achieve a sustainable future and a realistic allocation of resources to make that future happen. That discussion will include pushing for progress on the [Economic Development Fund] EDF 10 programmes. We continue to face many difficulties in the finalization of the frameworks for the funds to be released,” Meade stated.

He said the OCTs are encountering “the continuous changing of the goal posts in the development of the relevant documentation and processes. We must strive to develop an understanding with the relevant officials in the relevant directorate to overcome these difficulties.”

Meade reiterated his commitment to working with all the OCTs and the European Union to build and focus efforts on a sustainable future and hoped that the Brussels meeting, he is to chair later this year, will show that substantial progress had been made and OCTs “would feel much better about the future of our people.”

Calls for integration of EU and OCT resources for sustained growth

BRADES, Montserrat (GIU) – Chief Minister of Montserrat Reuben Meade has expressed his disappointment at the absence of several key European Union representatives at the EU/OCT Forum now ongoing in New Caledonia and called for more resource integration to reach the established goals.

During his first intervention at the forum, the chief minister said missing from discussions, among others, are members of the EU environment directorate, which is one of the key areas up for discussion in the New Caledonia meetings. He supported a suggestion from the British Virgin Islands to hold all future forums in Brussels, rather than the present practice of rotating the venue dependent on which nation was at the helm.

He noted that many had travelled for miles to “work collectively to build a stronger future” for those they represent. However, he said “some EU directorates relevant to current OCT projects are not attending this Forum as well as regional EU delegations… due to budget considerations.”

“The presence of these personnel is vital at our annual Forum. It provides the opportunity for the OCT’s to dialogue with the Commissioner, the Task Force and the Delegations to share information and in some cases, to plan the way forward for a speedier progress of the SPD, programmes and projects, to which all are in agreement. Given the importance of this issue, I support the intervention by the British Virgin Islands that future fora should be held in Brussels. This would give the opportunity for all players in the partnership who are involved in facilitating the support to OCTs to be present and can share critical information. Given the scarcity of resources, we have to be mindful of the cost effectiveness of hosting these fora outside of Brussels,” Meade said.

The chief minister, who is the incoming chairman of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) Ministerial Conference, said Montserrat is confused by the various pronouncements coming from the European Union.

On the one hand, the joint position papers (JPP) and the political resolutions (PR) speak to partnerships, mutual benefits, and common policies but yet “some of us seem to be under constant threat of losing our economic base and have our reputations undermined by policy directives, activities and pronouncements by the European Union.”

He added that they expected the economies of the OCTs and their way of life should “be protected by our most senior partner(s).”

“We commit to standards of accountability, transparency and good governance and the [European Union] Commission commits to a package of assistance. The goals of our partnership are noble, the standards we aspire to are laudable and the Commission’s support demonstrates their continued commitment to us.

“I dare say that this is a partnership where the member states can suspend or remove our Constitutions, veto our laws, prevent us from borrowing and determine who we have economic and social relationships with. This is a situation that can make political and administrative governance difficult, if not impossible. As a consequence, scarce resources must be diverted from critical programmes into areas where we have had no record of a problem or the volume and quantum of the transactions is miniscule. This is all happening at a time when development and budgetary aid are stagnant or falling, economic activity forecasts are gloomy (notwithstanding short term recovery) and there are both a subtle and overt pressures for OCTs to live on declining budgets.

“This may very well spell disaster for many OCTs that have one or two sector economies, lack natural resources and where government expenditure dominates economic activity. The JPP and political resolution provide a consensus for consideration. However this need for consensus probably masks some of the more specific and serious sustainable development issues of individual countries,” the chief minister’s statement read.

Meade said the potential power of the EU/OCT Forum must be highlighted with the organs of the EU able to transform the economies of the OCTs.

“This underscores the need for balance in using standard policy directives across the diverse range of circumstances within the OCTs. I wish to emphasize the need to integrate and harness the resources and potential of the OCTs for the mutual benefit of the EU/OCT family. It is the only way that we can use our combined economic potential to achieve long term sustainability for all of our peoples,” he said.

Meade also welcomed Bonaire, Curacao, St Eustatius and St Maarten to the OCTA family and wished them well as they developed their governing structures.

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