CARISEC, Guyana – Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Prime Minister and the newest addition to the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, the Hon Kamla Persad-Bissessar attended the 31st Conference of Heads of Government which opened in Montego Bay, Jamaica Sunday night, armed with a formidable slate of issues that she wanted the Community to treat as “matters of critical importance.”
Chief among PM Persad-Bissessar’s list of recommendations was that CARICOM could utilise the special CARICOM Petroleum Fund to which her government had pledged its continued support in setting up what she called a Regional Children Life’s Fund to deal with the social and health challenges faced by the children of the Region.
This special fund was established by Trinidad and Tobago in 2004 “to provide relief to CARICOM Member States experiencing economic hardship resulting from persistently high international prices for crude oil and petroleum products.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister called for greater accountability in the disbursement and use of this Fund, and in the same vein suggested several important social areas that could be treated from the Fund. Referencing a good practice in her own country – the establishment of a TT$100 million Children’s Life Fund to address the medical needs of children with life-threatening conditions – she announced that she intended to dialogue with colleague Heads during the course of the three-day meeting about the possibility of embarking on a similar initiative on a regional basis.
Warning that there would be significant shifts in the strategic directions and policies of her newly installed government, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar hastened to add that her government also remained resolute in its continued commitment to the Caribbean Community.
She joined her colleague leaders in applauding the achievements of the Community, which she stated included advances in functional cooperation, a strong regional democracy, and infrastructural development. However, she insisted that more could be done in the areas of health, poverty reduction, environment and education and the plight of women, suggesting that the Petroleum Fund could be utilised in addressing some of those areas.
In addition, she underscored the importance of developing results-oriented programmes to address her concerns; and designing adequate institutional framework to realise the ideals of the Community, emphasising that the Community’s priority must remain “a better quality of life for our peoples in CARICOM.”
Also addressing yesterday’s opening ceremony were CARICOM Secretary-General HE Edwin Carrington, the new Chairman of Conference and Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon Orette Golding, outgoing CARICOM chairman Dominica’s Prime Minister the Hon. Roosevelt Skerritt; the Hon Dr Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis and United Nations Secretary General HE Ban Ki-moon.