Civil society consulted on regional integration initiative By Neil Marks
Guyana Chronicle
March 1, 2002

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REPRESENTATIVES of civil society were yesterday involved in discussions leading to a consolidated local position for a Regional Conference on the Involvement of Civil Society in Caribbean Development fixed for April 29-30.

The session was put on by the Foreign Ministry in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat and the NGO Forum.

The exercise was aimed at sensitising civil society to the various initiatives being undertaken by the region with a view to involving the sector in the decision making process of the regional integration movement.

Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture Ms. Gail Teixeira told the opening that civil society has historically been responsible for major social changes.

She said civil society can influence policy making, identify problems, suggest remedies to those problems, and monitor compliance with programmes put in place to address the problems.

Among those at the consultation were representatives of the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations, the labour movement and religious organisations.

Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Elisabeth Harper noted that it was at the 20th CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Trinidad in 1999 that Caribbean leaders called for a civil society encounter.

Their intention, she said, was to bring together the various non-government actors in society to freely interchange ideas for the strategic development of the Caribbean and its people.

Harper said recommendations out of the Guyana consultation yesterday, held in the conference facilities of the National Library in Georgetown, would make for a consolidated Guyanese position at the Regional Conference.

CARICOM Secretariat Director for Human Development, Ms. Jacquline Joseph noted the progress towards the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, advising that it relates not only to free trade of goods in the region, but to the free movement of capital, skilled labour and professionals.

She said poverty reduction is also high on the agenda of all member states and noted that some of the more worrying problems in the region include youth unemployment, HIV/AIDS, and non-communicable diseases, which she said, impede productivity in the Caribbean.

Joseph also mentioned the existence of organisations within the community that should be known about.

Among those she cited were

** the Caribbean Court of Justice, intended to be the final Court of Appeal in the region;

** the Regional Negotiating Machinery, set up in 1997 to handle external negotiations;

** and the Organisation of Caribbean Parliamentarians.

The broad issues discussed at yesterday's forum were the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, Justice and Governance, and Human Resources Development.