Caricom youth warning

Antigua PM suggests new body be set up for youth employment across the region

Find work for unemployed youth or risk rebellion or the loss of much needed talent to other countries.

  That caution from the newest Caribbean Community (CARICOM) prime minister, Gaston Browne, as he suggested that a new body be set up to find ways of addressing youth unemployment across the region.

Addressing eight other regional leaders, including Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, senior ministers representing other CARICOM countries, diplomats and other invited guests at the opening of the 35th Heads of Government Conference at the Sandals Grande last night, Browne championed the cause of those “young . . . bright, able-bodied men and women” out of work.

New CARICOM Chairman and Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne
New CARICOM Chairman and Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne

“If nothing else, their restlessness should make us realize that the sensible option for creating such space and widening such scope resides in our interdependence on each other. The alternative is their frustration,” he said.

“That frustration will result in their rebellion within our borders or their exodus to shores outside our region taking their talents that we urgently need . . .”

The host prime minister added: “While I am acutely aware that I am adding to the mandate of the CARICOM Secretariat and that the money for funding will have to be raised, I urge this Conference to establish a Commission specifically to focus on the issue of youth unemployment in our region, with a view to taking urgent action
to tackle it.

“I suggest that if the idea of such a Commission meets the approval of this Conference, evidence be taken from young people across our region on how they see the issue being addressed.”

Browne said the greatest task now is putting people to work and that problem that could be addressed, in part, through the efforts of individual countries.

However, he insisted, as he pushed for CARICOM states to speed up the integration process, it can be accelerated by regional collaboration, “treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a natural disaster.”

“If we succeed in addressing this challenge, we will turn our entire CARICOM neighbourhood into an economic powerhouse,” the incoming CARICOM chairman insisted.

During his 25-minute address, Browne pledged his government’s “passionate” commitment to the integration movement, even as he warned that those who are not ready should not stop the others from moving forward.

To demonstrate his country’s readiness to be among the “coalition of the willing”, the Antigua and Barbuda leader pointed out that his government had abolished work permit fees for all CARICOM nationals for the remainder of 2014; and announced plans to hold a referendum to replace the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court of appeal “as soon as practicable”.

While not identifying the Shanique Myrie case by name, Browne made a veiled reference to the October 2013 CCJ judgment in the lawsuit filed by the Jamaican against the Barbados Government.

In his declaration of commitment to full integration as he reiterated that Antigua and Barbuda – leadership of which he took when his Antigua Labour Party won the June 12 general election – would uphold the decision of CARICOM Heads of Government and the judgement
of the Court in relation to freedom of movement of Caribbean people.

Outgoing CARICOM Chairman Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his address on CARICOM’s Possibilities, Limitations and Unevenness of Outcomes, pointed out that political leadership is vital in the quest
for integration.

“Our doubts must no longer detain us; and we must ever more love and care for CARICOM for without it, despite its many false starts and disappointments, our people would be diminished in their quest to enhance, in their own interest, their capacity to address, most optimally, the internal and exogenous challenges which beset them,” the St Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister said.

“In all these reflections, we must never forget CARICOM’s accomplishments which constitute a part of the permanent landscape of our region’s political economy.”

Gonsalves insisted that although there is still a lot to be done, there is much to celebrate as far as integration was concerned.

He said consolidation and progress were evident on several fronts, including: the freedom of movement of persons, especially since the Myrie ruling; the continued utilization by the private sector in CARICOM of the right of establishment so as to facilitate enhanced regional investment, job and wealth creation; the improved coordination of the regional security apparatuses and between them and other friendly nations who have vested interests in our region and hemisphere in fighting crime; the continued coordination of foreign policy, despite some hiccups or a few episodes of dissonance; and the progress being made on a swath of functional integration subjects such as health, education, culture, sports, elderly, women, the youth, persons with disabilities, and social security.

“The absence of a dramatic forward-movement in CARICOM’s affairs ought not to invite unwarranted criticism or a paralyzing cynicism,” he said.

At the same, the Vincentian leader added, leaders must not “fall prey to a smug satisfaction about consolidation and progress in the face of foot-dragging in some critical issues and an unacceptable implementation deficit” on items they had solemnly agreed on.


2 Responses to Caricom youth warning

  1. Olutoye Walrond July 3, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Mr. Brown, the reason we have so many “young . . . bright, able-bodied men and women out of work” is that we have too many leaders with colonial mindsets that prevent them from thinking new and big ideas.

    When you have a country still awarding its citizens honours like Officer of the British Empire in 2014 you know you don’t have visionary leaders.

    The remarkable story of the Cuban literacy programme of 1961 is one of the best demonstrations of visionary leadership at work. When Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries took over the country in the late fifties about one quarter of the Cuban people were illiterate – mostly peasants in the rural areas. The Revolution immediately set itself the goal of eliminating illiteracy and organized a campaign to achieve this.

    Groups of young people or “Literary Brigades”, as they were called, were trained and sent into the country to teach the peasants to read and write. One hundred and five thousand of them volunteered for the campaign, which began on the 1st. of January and ended on December 22, 1961. At its completion more than 700 thousand Cuban peasants joined the category of the literate, pushing the national literacy rate to 96%.

    Education has continued to be a principal plank of the Cuban government’s policy. It’s free up to university level; and today Cuban students will score higher in standardized tests than their counterparts in the rest of Latin America.

    We leave the Caribbean and head for south-east Asia, stopping at a group of islands at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The territory is made up of an island less than twice the size of Barbados and about sixty associated islets. This is Singapore of “the Singapore model” fame. The transformation of this archipelago from an impoverished nation with high levels of illiteracy and unemployment into one of the world’s most developed states is one of the best testimonies to the power of visionary leadership.

    The first thing the government did was to establish an infra-structure for industrial activity by creating a series of industrial estates. It then established the Singapore Economic Development Board to promote the country among foreign investors as a place they would want to put their money. In time branches of the Board would be set up in Europe, Asia and the United States.

    At the same time the government invested heavily in the training of Singaporeans both at home and abroad in high tech industrial skills. Foreign direct investment flowed into Singapore over time, by the year 2001 accounting for 85% of manufactured exports.
    Today, Singapore, with no mineral resources, is one of Asia’s and the world’s most prosperous nations. Its port is the second busiest in the world; its unemployment rate among the lowest and its quality of life among the best in Asia.

    Barbados has had its own experience with foreign industrial development. In the 1960’s and 70’s during the tenure of national hero Errol Barrow we did manage to attract some industrial investment from North America. Very few, if any, of those businesses are with us today, and we certainly never achieved anything approximating the success of Singapore. I am not aware of any major effort at industrial development since the Barrow initiative.

    Indeed, it is my firm belief that the economic morass into which we’ve fallen in recent years is partially attributable to our failure to expand our industrial base. Successive governments since universal adult suffrage in 1950 have rested on the laurels of sugar and tourism and failed to expand the island’s industrial base, except for the modest efforts mentioned earlier. Unlike Singapore and India they almost completely ignored the revolution in computer technology.

    India has made a huge industry out of information technology and is now said to be one of the largest I.T capitals of the world. The industry, launched in the early 1970’s, earns billions of dollars in foreign exchange and employs hundreds of thousands. In 2012 it contributed 7.5%to the country Gross Domestic Product. Exports of soft-wear products and services are made to nearly a hundred countries, with North America accounting for more than 60% of that.

    The foreign investment in soft ware industry in the Asian state has had a positive impact on the domestic I.T sector. There are now more than 500 local soft ware companies in India.

    Barbados is in relatively close proximity to North America with a highly literate English-speaking people. So, with these advantages, what have we done to capitalize on the I.T goldmine? Nothing. A thriving soft-ware sector at a time like this would have been the salvation for the hundreds of young people leaving school each year and looking for meaningful employment.

    The dim prospects as relayed to them by a Minister of government are that they can’t look to the government anymore and might have to consider migration as an option. Those of us with children about to enter into adulthood have good reason to bite our nails as we contemplate their graduation to this new phase of their lives. Will they really have to leave this country in order to make a living?

  2. Tony Webster July 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    If the author’s implied meaning in his unitmate question, is intended to ascertain whether youths of school-leaving age will have to migrate in order to gain employment commensurate with the fullest extent of his/her abilities, the simple answer is “Yes, if there is such a possibility”.

    Confirmation is by the evidence of mine eyes, and mine ears. I personally know of several, either who have left; or have plans so laid; or have intentions of so doing. When I press them for a reason, that look back at me, as if the question is redundant.

    Our country is bleeding.


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