The outgoing chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Prime Minister Gaston Browne described 2021 as a “very challenging year” for the 15-member regional integration grouping.
Browne, who is also the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda said in his end of the year message that despite the challenges, CARICOM used its “collective wit, wisdom and strength to combat the adversity with which we have been confronted.”
He said the Community endured the “shocking assassination of a sitting head of state, the continuing spectre of COVID-19, an earthquake, tropical storms and a distressing volcanic eruption, which have all tested our mettle in 2021.”
Browne added, “we also commiserated with Haiti, as more than 2,000 people lost their lives as an earthquake triggered catastrophic damage on the south-west of the country, al so causing extensive damage to infrastructure.”
Browne also noted that another major natural disaster occurred with the eruption of the La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
He said 2021 saw the region strengthen its relationship with Africa at the historic first-ever CARICOM-Africa Summit, were some of the major achievements of the grouping.
Browne said as the region prepares for the New Year, it also brings to a close the two-year term of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the United Security Council.
The Bahamas government has outlined a number of other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic that the authorities said is causing a fourth surge in the country.
Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Michael Darville said the new measures include the hiring of additional medical personnel; sourcing of new COVID-19 drugs; acquisition of Grosvenor Close Nursing Building for Infectious Diseases and entering into a partnership with private sector laboratories.
He said in addition, the authorities will be offering free Rapid Antigen Tests for asymptomatic residents at multiple centers throughout New Province and that there will also be distribution of free medical grade masks at vaccination centers in New Province.
Last week, the authorities reported 207 cases of the virus, bringing the country’s confirmed virus toll to 24, 476.
Most of the new cases were in New Province where 192 cases were reported.
The death toll so far stands at 717. The Bahamas has 1,773 active cases.
Four opposition parties in Barbados are coming together to form a coalition to contest the January 19 general election that Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced 18 months ahead of the end of her five-year term in office.
Political observers say Mottley’ s Barbados Labor Party (BLP), which won the 2018 general election by a 30-0 sweep will face its sternest test from the long-established Democratic Labor Party (DLP) that it trounced in the last election.
But outgoing opposition leader Bishop Joseph has already announced the formation of a new coalition, called the Alliance Party for Progress (APP), which includes the United Progressive Party (UPP), whose leader, Lynette Eastmond, will serve as deputy leader in the APP.
Now, the leader of Solutions Barbados, Grenville Phillips II, says his party will be forming a coalition with three other undisclosed political parties to contest the polls.
The Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Basics Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) recently launched its tenth cycle of its longest-run poverty reduction programs, with more than US$47 million committed to support programs in nine countries across the region.
To date, 123 sub-projects are in the pipeline for this cycle of the BNTF, which will run until December 2024.
Contributors to CDB’s Special Development Fund, which funds the BNTF, approved US$40 million, with the remainder coming from participating countries, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.
Speaking at the launch, President of the Bank, Dr. Gene Leon urged development actors in the region, including at the bank, to explore how development programs such as the BNTF can be expanded and retrofitted to meet the changing needs of the region.
Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali says his government continues to support the South American trade block — MERCOSUR, Guyana will also bridge the gap between the continent and the Caribbean as a new “energy pole.”
In his address to the 59th Summit of the regional body recently, the president said that Guyana supports MERCOSUR’s efforts to foster infrastructure, integration, and increase connectivity.
He said the country would enhance development opportunities in the continent’s northern flank through collaborations and joint partnerships.
To start the process, the head of state announced there will be a summit between Guyana, Brazil and Suriname very early this year to discuss the development of the Corentyne, the logistic importance of a deep-water harbour and the energy corridor.
Suriname recently received approval from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a 36-month Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to assist the Dutch-speaking country’s home-grown economic plan.
The IMF said that the country will immediately receive US$55.1 million under the US$688.88 million approved for Suriname.
It said that the financial arrangement will support Suriname’s authorities’ home-grown economic plan aiming to restore fiscal sustainability through a discretionary fiscal consolidation of 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) during 2021-2024, while protecting the vulnerable by expanding social safety net programs.
The program will also help bring public debt down to sustainable levels, upgrade the monetary and exchange rate policy framework, stabilize the financial system and strength institutional capacity to tackle corruption and money laundering and improve governance.
The St. Lucia government has approved carnival celebrations this year but maintained that it would be subject to full approval of the Ministry of Health and in keeping with established health protocols.
The government said “the Vaxxed Mas” was agreed upon following several consultations between stakeholders, the Department of Creative Industries and Culture and the Department of Health.
“The name suggests everyone participating in Carnival 2022 — including revellers, patrons, support staff and service providers — must be fully vaccinated. The aim is to create a bubble to ensure the safety of the general public and all of carnival patrons,” according to a government official statement.
It said carnival, held annually in July, is one of the country’s biggest cultural displays and has had a significant cultural and economic impact.
The statement said “St. Lucia carnival has grown to become one of the biggest carnivals in the region and by all indications, was set to continue on an upward trend until the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19).”
Minister of Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries and Information, Dr. Ernest Hilaire said, “we must ensure that we preserve the public health of St. Lucia while creating economic activity for our people to benefit from. Carnival is also a major part of our tourism product, which sees thousands of visitors coming to our shores to enjoy our island and its wonderful experience.”
— Compiled by Azad Ali