Warning signals from civil society for CARICOM leaders By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
July 3, 2002

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STRONG warning signals for urgent action to deal with critical social, health, economic and political issues were given yesterday to Caribbean Community leaders (CARICOM) by representatives of civil society from across the region.

CARICOM Secretary General, Mr. Edwin Carrington, third from left, addressing yesterday's Civil Society Encounter at the Ocean View International Convention Centre. To his left is President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Compton Bourne.
These came on the eve of the 23rd annual CARICOM Heads of Government Conference this evening for which 13 of the 15 leaders of the Community are expected to chart the future course for an economic integration movement now entering its 30th anniversary.

Some 200 delegates and observers, among them top private sector, labour movement and non-governmental representatives, pointed to issues of the challenges of crime and racial divisions as well as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and health safety at the work place among issues they feel require collective and concerted attention.

As the conference was taking place at the Ocean View Hotel, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, Haiti's delegation was formally depositing with the CARICOM Secretariat, some four miles away, the required instrument of ratification for it to become the 15th full-fledged member of the Community.

A PANORAMIC view of the Civil Society Encounter forum in progress at the Ocean View Convention Centre yesterday.
At the opening session of this first-ever CARICOM Secretariat-organised high-level `Civil Society Conference on the Way Forward', no dissenting voices were raised against either the creation of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) or its related institution, a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

But presentations at the official opening by the Community's Secretary General, Edwin Carrington, and President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Compton Bourne -- both of whom emphasised that there was no option to greater involvement by civil society, were quickly followed by concerns and warnings from a number of participating delegates.

This regional civil society event, which will be attended today by some of the Community's heads of government, has followed a series of national consultations.

THE Haitian delegation being introduced at yesterday's conference at the Ocean View Convention Centre.
And, as spokespersons for the business sector, labour movement, women and youth organisations, the church and academia were to variously emphasise, "it cannot be business as usual" for CARICOM's political directorates.

Civil society, they stressed, had to become integral partners in the processes of agenda-setting and implementation of decision on a scale of priorities on social, economic and political issues.

Such sentiments had come differently and earlier from both the Community's Secretary General and the CDB President, the latter providing some specific guidelines for the proper functioning of non-governmental organisations.

Caribbean Policy Development Centre Barbados Representative, Ms. Shantal Munro-Knight and CARICOM Secretary General, Mr. Edwin Carrington outside the Ocean View Convention Centre yesterday.
Today, when the conference continues for another four hours, one of the heads of government would be mandated to offer a preliminary response to specific concerns expressed by the civil society delegates before a formal set of recommendations are submitted for the Community leaders three-day summit that ends on Friday.

One woman delegate was firm in contending that domestic violence could not be separated from "crime and security", issues that are on the CARICOM leaders agenda.

An Anglican priest was worried over issues of health and safety at the work place, while a leading official of the region's labour movement pointed to the threats posed by high levels of unemployment and poverty.

The harmful, negative impact of the politics of race in some countries as well as continuing gender and other forms of discrimination, in addition to the slow pace on creation of the CSME and specific matters like free movement of people were articulated with passion similar to those who feel that "more than political rhetoric" is required about the private sector being "the engine for economic growth".