Nassau, Bahamas, 6 October 2008

Your Excellency, the Honourable Arthur D. Hanna,
Governor-General of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas;
Your Excellencies, Presidents and Governors-General
of the Caribbean Community;
Spouses of Heads of State and Accompanying Delegates;
Honourable Ministers; Honourable Senators; Members of Parliament; Permanent Secretaries and other Government Officials;
Specially invited guests; Members of the Media; Master of Ceremonies; Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good morning.

I am honoured and humbled to have been invited to address this opening ceremony of the 13th Annual Conference of Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean Community.

I should like to extend my words of welcome to the spouses of Heads of State present and to all accompanying delegates who have travelled to our country for this meeting. I trust that your stay will be fruitful and enjoyable.

Some maintain that the role of heads of state in our parliamentary democracies is essentially ceremonial. Still, so many, if not all of you, come from lives long dedicated to the improvement of the lives of our people. I know from my long relationship with our own Governors-General, that the challenges, stresses and demands of national administrative, and of political and social exigencies do not escape you.

Certainly, Bahamians are aware of the lifelong engagement of our present Governor-General, His Excellency, Mr. Arthur Hanna, in the struggle for a better quality of life for our people, and his role in the achievement and protection of their rights and privileges.

He is still passionately committed to those ideals and I know that all of you are similarly committed in respect of your own homelands and our region in general.

It is therefore appropriate that you meet in a setting designed to promote sustained, open dialogue and discussion on a myriad challenges that face our societies.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Bahamas — along with Barbados and Bermuda — boasts of having one of the oldest parliaments in the world. Over many years we have evolved into a stable democracy with a peace-loving, friendly and generous people. We have, each of us, made commendable progress toward the upliftment of our citizens. However, as His Excellency Mr. Hanna has intimated, we are today faced with many challenges.

This is a time of considerable international financial upheaval and economic uncertainty. None of us can ignore the potential serious social and economic consequences that loom for our countries if good order is not restored quickly to the North American economy and indeed to that of Europe and of Asia.

As you will recall, just last year, member states of the Caribbean Community met in Trinidad and Tobago to discuss and develop improved means of cooperation to combat the growing threat of criminal activity in our countries and around our region. Notwithstanding that we are exercising some of the best minds in our countries to develop comprehensive responses to regional and national crime problems and diverting unprecedented proportions of national budgets to crime prevention and control, crime continues to challenge our law enforcement agencies, distort our social fabric, and strain our judicial systems.

And then, we are challenged by health demands including combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and educating against debilitating non-communicable diseases that threaten the productivity of too many of our people.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have just recently returned from New York where I had the opportunity to attend the High Level Event convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations to evaluate progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals ascribed to by world governments in 2000.

Those goals include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health care, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating a global partnership for development.

I was pleased to report to the United Nations that, though additional progress is still to be had, The Bahamas has passed the thresholds set in the eight defined Millennium Goals. What is critically important for our countries today and going forward is the imperative that we meet and maintain goals set and build on these so as to improve our standards. This is especially so in the area of education, child mortality rates and in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other contagious diseases.

And, we must act to secure the advances made by women in our societies; enhance the protections extended to our natural resources and ensure our environmental sustainability.

Already in 2004, the UN Secretary General assembled a high-level panel to assess the threats and challenges to progress in the world. Their report entitled, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” identified six clusters of threats, two of which speak directly to some of the issues that I have referred to this morning; firstly, poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation; and secondly transnational organized crime.

I note that your session topics closely dovetail with these leading concerns of the international community and of our regional governments. Your conference coordinators are to be commended for concentrating your attention to matters of such great relevance to our people.

You are well placed to advance both national and regional dialogue on these important issues and, as importantly, to float for the consideration of our people sensible means of addressing and overcoming challenges to our progress and advancement, be they national, regional or international.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Before closing, I should like to add my congratulations, and underscore those of our Governor General, on behalf of my Government and the people of The Bahamas, to His Excellency Sir Kenneth Hall, Governor-General of Jamaica, and to the Government and people of Jamaica, on the historic and thrilling performance of the Jamaican athletes at the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing.

I should like also to extend heartiest congratulations to His Excellency Professor George Richards, President of Trinidad and Tobago, and to the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago, on the outstanding performance of their athletes in Beijing. Please know that here in The Bahamas we rejoice with you.

It is my hope that this, your 13th Annual Meeting, will more than meet your individual expectations, and that all of us in the region will be the beneficiaries of your deliberations.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I say, welcome to The Bahamas.

Thank you.