The conference, the brainchild of the host Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, has brought together regional politicians, including CARICOM Chairman and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and representatives of inter-faith bodies in the region.
In his address, Spencer said he was recommending the establishment of a regional mechanism operated by FBOs aimed at addressing the issues of the less fortunate in the region, including poverty.
“The time has come for such an organization,” he said, adding that the suggestion is based on the fact that the largest social organization besides political movements are inter-faith based organizations and \’as such you have a duty of care and policy formulation.
“You must assist communities to find solutions to societal problems,” he said, acknowledging he would be presenting a report on the outcome of the deliberations here to regional government when they next meet in Kingstown in March.
Spencer said that it was important for the Caribbean countries to recognise the role of God in their future socio-economic development, noting that “sadly, impoliteness, arrogance, haughtiness, crude and vulgar attitudes pervade societies exacerbated by an era of consumerism, made worse by the invasive mass media, advances in technology and cultural penetration”.
He told the conference that this new “Madison Avenue” lifestyle was attracting and distorting as well as corrupting impressionable minds.
“Little thought is given to the difference between the socio economic structures, between the developing and developed, between the poor and the metropolitan,” he said, adding that the CARICOM’s imbalanced development and unequal resource endowment were characteristics that the founding fathers of the regional integration process understood and sought to address.
“Perhaps the structural legacy of our colonial past has now allowed our economies to break free more quickly from the systematic weaknesses. We need inter faith organizations to partner with governments to surmount the challenges.”
Spencer said he remains adamant that the inter faith organizations play a meaningful role in the fie year Regional Strategic Plan being developed for the future of the integration movement, adding “the building of a modern Caribbean civilization requires that the perpetrators of crime and violence cease their destructive behaviour which is causing real harm to our children, our communities and ultimately the region’s image as a tranquil peaceful environment”.
He said the spate of killings in some Caribbean countries was unacceptable, adding “those who target residents and visitors must be captured and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“The region must not be held hostage by banditry or hooliganism,” he said, warning that regional government were prepared to take the necessary measures “to eradicate the criminals from among us”.
It was a theme that Gonsalves also spoke on when he told the conference that Caribbean people were living in “dangerous times.
“The Caribbean for all its strength and potential we live in a dangerous neighbourhood,” he said, making reference to the illegal importation of drugs, small arms, from the United States.
Gonsalves said that climate change was also another factor to which the Caribbean was not a contributor.
“They come from outside, capitalism gone wild…these are the reasons why we gather here,” he said, acknowledging that there are also “homegrown” criminals in the Caribbean.
Gonsalves urged the regional goups to put aside their differences, adding “we can always proclaim faith but a faith which is extract will lead us no where”.
He said the discussions with the religious groups were not starting from “zero” adding “if you can come away from the meeting to tell those involved in the drugs and guns, if we can begin to counter that…we would have made a tremendous contribution”.
Pastor Desmond James of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Southern Caribbean, said he was pleased that the regional politicians had decided to engage religious groups in the future of the Caribbean.
The organisers said the conference is aimed at reigniting the spirit of fellowship among the Community’s religious leaders.
They said it is also aimed at developing a framework for a regional consultative process to facilitate appropriate engagement of FBOs in the decision-making process in the Community.
The religious and political representatives are also hoping the conference will provide an opportunity to discuss the formation of an organisation to tackle hunger and poverty across the Caribbean.