New thinking, new paths, full involvement needed – CARICOM Secretary-General

CARICOM Secretary-General, H.E. Dr. Carla Barnett
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New CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, took office on Monday 16 August 2021, pledging to serve to the best of her ability and rallying the entire Caribbean Community to help find solutions to the challenges confronting the Region.

In a brief virtual ceremony anchored at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana, Dr. Barnett, an economist, created history, becoming the first female and the first Belizean to be installed as Secretary-General of CARICOM. She also holds the distinction of being the first female Deputy Secretary-General, a position she held from 1997-2002. She was the first woman to be appointed as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Belize and the first woman to be appointed as Financial Secretary in Belize.

Clad in a black skirt suit and multi-coloured blouse complemented by a single strand of pearls, Dr. Barnett said she was taking the seat as the eighth CARICOM Secretary-General with great pride and a deep sense of humility.

“Chair, as I assume this office today, I approach my task with a willingness to listen and to share; with goodwill towards all and malice towards none. I am here to serve, to advance the interests of the governments and peoples of the Caribbean Community and I will do so to the best of my ability,” she said.

Under no illusions about the task ahead of her, the new Secretary-General said the challenges that beset the Region demanded “our continued, focused energy.”

“…I begin my tenure with no misapprehensions about the severity of the challenges that our Community faces economically socially, environmentally and financially. The thrust to build resilience against the existential threat of climate change in all its dimensions and the urgency of constructing a recovery from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand our continued, focused energy”, she said during the ceremony.

She highlighted youth unemployment, “a troubling rise in crime”, strengthening food security and effectively addressing blacklisting and correspondent banking, as some of the other challenges facing the Community. She said those matters affected the lives and livelihoods of everyone in the Community.

Closing the implementation gap; effective participation in the ongoing efforts to reach agreement on containing global warming; the role of the Single ICT Space and how to productively use the abundant lands of continental Member States were some of the other matters that the new Secretary-General drew attention to in her remarks.

“It is therefore incumbent on all of us to be engaged in finding solutions and taking action to overcome these obstacles in our path to a secure, viable and ultimately sustainably prosperous Community for all,” she added.

She recognised the “innate sense of community in the people of the Region” and acknowledged that the “wellspring of unity” was a source of strength to be tapped in all areas on her journey.

 “To build on and maintain that strength, will require that my team and I reach out on a regular basis to explain, to exhort, to inform, to educate so that all will feel a part of the whole that constitutes CARICOM and “I Am CARICOM” will mean much more than a catchy slogan. 

“We will invite Community stakeholders in all sectors, including the media, to reach out to the Secretariat, letting us know their fears, concerns, and vision for the future of the Community and telling us how they feel they can contribute to building our Community,” she told the audience that watched the ceremony live via the Secretariat’s social media platforms, which many took advantage of to offer their congratulations and best wishes for a successful tenure.

Dr. Barnett assumed office just about a month after the observance of the 48th anniversary of CARICOM on 4 July. Looking back on the history of the Community, she said much had been achieved and even taken for granted. Looking ahead, she called for the setting of achievable goals.

“As we approach the 50th Anniversary of our Caribbean Community, the time is right for us to set ourselves achievable goals that would make the celebration truly golden. Much has been achieved in the past 48 years. A lot of it is taken for granted today, to the extent that some are not even associated with the integration movement. The stories of success must be continuously shared across our Community to serve as a constant reminder of what we can achieve with a unity of purpose.”

Pointing out that no one had all the answers or ideas, she said everyone needed to be involved and space needed to be created for new thinking and new paths for the future of the integration process.

Her vision is of a Caribbean where the average citizens of the Region feel “a part of and not apart from. A Community where all citizens want to contribute to building this sense of “one Caribbean people with one common experience and destiny”.

“A generation past put in place a solid foundation and institutions relevant to the needs of the Region at that time. It is now the turn of another generation, not only to secure and improve on those gains, but to use the creativity, ingenuity and dynamism that are the signature characteristics of Caribbean people to reimagine the next 50 years of CARICOM,” she said.

Welcoming the new Secretary-General, CARICOM Chairman, the Hon Gaston Browne, referred to her previous experience as Deputy Secretary-General that placed her in a position to “hit the ground running”. He assured her of his support.

“I mentioned that your previous experience in senior leadership at the Secretariat places you in a position to hit the ground running. Well, given the varied challenges that confront governance in CARICOM and the wider world today, I am certain that you will have to hit the ground running. As you tackle the urgent and impactful issues that confront our Community on a day-to-day basis, I want you to know that your Chairman stands with you at all times.

“I look forward to your sage advice and I undertake to place myself at your disposal at all times. You will find that I am a very available and accessible Chairman,” the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister said.

He indicated that the first order of business was mobilising assistance to meet the humanitarian needs of Haiti which suffered a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake compounded by flooding and mudslides from subsequent Tropical Storm Grace.

“The earthquake and the attendant massive loss of life are painful reminders of the political, economic and social tragedies that have beset Haiti since its new history began in 1804.

“As Chairman of CARICOM, I believe that the time has come to change the trajectory of Haiti, and we must establish measures, in collaboration with Haiti’s political directorate and the international community, that will allow Haiti to make a fundamental change of direction,” he said.

CARICOM Secretariat members of staff listen as Dr. Carla Barnett speaks at her installation as eighth CARICOM Secretary-General

He highlighted other regional priorities including refloating economies after the COVID-19 pandemic; addressing vaccine access, vaccines hesitancy; and finalising the terms of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The CARICOM Chairman said also that there was need for a reassessment of the method of work at the Conference of Heads of Government and at other levels to achieve peak efficiency.

“It is my intention to raise these matters with you and to strive for ways in which we can make the machinery of CARICOM run more smoothly. At the earliest opportunity, I wish to invite you and your senior team to St. John’s for deeper consultations on the serious work that lies ahead,” Prime Minister Browne said.

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