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Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
March 15, 2010 (CUOPM)
St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders ended their two-day summit in Roseau, Dominica late Friday having agreed on steps to tackle socio-economic issues confronting their citizens and calling on the international community to show more respect for the Haitian government by providing direct financial assistance to Port-au-Prince.
During the March 11-12 inter-Sessional meeting, the region’s leaders held frank exchanges with the presidents of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), seeking help with economic challenges like reducing their heavy debt burdens.
According to CMC, an offer from World Bank president Robert Zoellick to send assessment teams to interested countries gained widespread acceptance from the leaders of the 15-nation CARICOM.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Hon. Baldwin Spencer, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) he was “very happy over the fact that at least the World Bank is prepared to look at the issue and to determine whether some formulation could be made out as to be able to get some positive relief”.
CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, said the situation in Haiti was a central feature in the discussions with both Washington-based international financial institutions.
However, Skerrit told a post-summit press conference that the Haitian government needed to be shown more trust from the international community regarding its ability to take the country forward in the wake of the catastrophic January 12 earthquake that killed at least 300,000 people and destroyed much of the infrastructure capital, leaving 1.2 million people homeless.
He said the regional grouping, of which the French-speaking nation is a member, is prepared to lead from the front in that regard by providing any assistance directly to the Haitian government.
“CARICOM has taken a decision to support the priorities of the Government of Haiti and we have indicated that whatever resources the Caribbean Community would put together that those resources would be sent directly to the Government of Haiti to spend based on the priorities of the Government of Haiti,” he told a post-summit press conference.
“Let me also say very clearly that we believe that the international community must display a greater level of confidence in the ability of the government and people of Haiti in moving Haiti forward”.
“We have heard of several hundreds of millions of dollars that have been raised on behalf of the Haitian people but in our interaction with the President, he has made it clear to us that those resources have not come to the Government of Haiti,” the CARICOM Chairman said.
He said that for example, agencies like the Red Cross that have raised vast sums of money needed to say how they have spent those funds because there are urgent priorities on the ground.
“We have been told by the President of Haiti that he needs about $365 million to address some very pressing challenges, as his government is only able to put together 20 per cent of the total revenue prior to the earthquake. Now, all of us can appreciate the tremendous challenge that would pose to any government if you can only amass 20 per cent of your total revenue to do what you have to do”.
“So we are hoping that the international community can recognise the importance of channelling the resources through the Government of Haiti to respond to the needs of its people,” Skerrit added.
Guyana’s President, His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, who also spoke at the closing press conference, stressed the importance of doing more than paying lip-service to the Haitian people, who have endured the worst natural disaster on record in this part of the world.
He said as early as next week, his country would be in a position to provide financial assistance to Haiti to assist with budgetary spending.
“It is very important that we do this,” Jagdeo told reporters.
“We can’t urge the multilateral financial institutions and bilateral donors to respect the sovereignty of Haiti and to respect the government that’s the leading force and then we ourselves try to spend money outside of the government and exacerbate the problem that they have with coordination. So we are saying, by our own example, that we trust that the government will spend the money well,” the Guyanese leader said.
The CARICOM heads of government also announced that they agreed on the need to beef up the resources of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Skerrit said this was a necessary decision to take since “at present the CDB is receiving requests way beyond the resources it has, and that by increasing the capital levels of funding to the CDB, it would be in a better position to help member states confront social and economic challenges”.
Many countries of the region have been experiencing prolonged dry spells in recent months – a situation that did not escape the attention of Caribbean leaders, even though they could not be realistically expected to provide a quick fix to the frustrations of drought being experienced by the people of the region.
“It is something that the Caribbean Community is taking very seriously and we are hoping to advance and work together to see how we can work together as a community to see how we can ensure that in the future if we are visited by a drought then there would be systems in place to help countries in need,” Skerrit told journalists.
He said two of the Community’s organs – the Council for Human and Social Development (COSHOD) and the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) – would be mandated to meet in the coming months to devise a wide range of short-, medium, and long-term measures for sustainable water management for the consideration of government leaders when they meet for their July summit in Jamaica.
Jamaica accepted to take over the rotating chairmanship at that time because of the dire situation in Haiti, which was originally due to assume the post and host the next meeting.
“It would be difficult for me to manage Haiti while taking care of CARICOM. It was an honour for me but really I think you understand if I am doing a job I do it well,” Haiti’s President, Rene Preval told journalists at a separate press conference.
“You understand we lost 300,000 people and we have one million people sleeping out on the streets every day. Already, just to be in this meeting took a lot of effort for me to be here. I was an honour for me to play that role in CARICOM but unfortunately I can’t,” he said.
CARICOM leaders also agreed to begin introducing CARIPASS, a regional travel document designed to facilitate easier inter-regional travel, by the start of July.
Discussions also focused on crime and security, agriculture, food safety, border issues and climate change.