The new chairman of Caricom, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

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St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who assumed chairmanship of Caricom on Friday, says the agenda of battling COVID-19 and restarting regional transportation will continue.

Gonsalves took over from Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley during a Caricom Heads of Government special conference held via video conferencing.

He thanked Mottley for her leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic in which she was Caricom’s voice in engaging the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, European Union, African Union, World Health Organisation and others.

He described her tenure as “brilliant” and pledged to work with her, the Caricom Secretariat and heads of government over the next six months.

As Caribbean countries continue to face the health, economic and security challenges of COVID-19, he said there is work to be done to strengthen regional vulnerability, especially in the midst of the hurricane season.

Gonsalves, who holds the transportation portfolio in the Caricom quasi-Cabinet, said he has already engaged several airlines, including Caribbean Airlines, InterCaribbean Airways, One Caribbean Ltd and others.

He believes regional transportation will soon resume safely and reliably to service countries at a reasonable and sustainable cost.

Gonsalves also pointed out the need to strengthen Caricom policies, saying design and practical functioning makes it impossible to solve some enduring problems that touch on regional governance, institutional political representation and the non-autonomosity of financing regional institutions, including the Caricom secretariat.

He further said member countries remain unequally yolk in practical terms.

“The condition generates at least two adverse consequences.

“First, the reality and perception thereof that Caricom, particularly in its economic and trade aspects, benefits in too skewed a manner one or two countries at the expense of others. Secondly, larger countries, whether defined by the size of territory, economy or population, feel less constrained to abide by collective decisions.

“The member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are genuinely aggrieved at this state of affairs. It demands correction through a robust, efficacious application of the treaty provisions regarding less developed countries, economies and regions and an explicit carve-out for member countries of the OECS within the Caricom construct,” Gonsalves said.

In her parting statement, Mottley commended the various regional institutions, saying they played valuable roles in a time when individual countries did not possess the capacities to meet all their needs.

“COVID-19 has scarred 2020, literally in ways that will forever be remembered throughout the annals of history. We did not expect to shut down our borders to ourselves as a family and to the rest of the world.

“We are regrettably mourning the deaths of people who are Caribbean citizens.

“Thankfully, the numbers were nowhere near what they could have otherwise have been. The Caribbean represents one of those regions that has had relative success in the containment of COVID-19 as we speak and is certainly a low-risk region with the majority of countries not showing any new positive test results in recent weeks,” she said.