New CARICOM chapter unfolds
By Wendella Davidson
July 3, 2002
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And according to CARICOM Secretary General, Mr. Edwin Carrington the encounter must take the community a significant step forward in building a new partnership of cooperation for regional development.
Addressing the opening session at which representatives from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) were present, Carrington said the event being held under the theme `Forward Together' and which involves regional civil society and governments, will seek to find agreement on and a vision for the way forward for CARICOM.
PART of the labour delegation at the Civil Society Encounter.
It will also strive to develop a collective CARICOM strategy for moving forward together in pursuit of true regional integration, the top CARICOM official added.
He expressed the hope that the event will mark the beginning of an ongoing process of genuine consultation to bring Civil Society fully into the community's development process, decision-making, implementation and education.
As such, the Secretary General urged participants to recognise that a planned meeting with the CARICOM Heads of Government today will "not only be a key element of the encounter but a vital step in the community's development prospects."
ANOTHER section of the delegates at the Civil Society Encounter.
Carrington recalled that the `Forward Together Conference' was conceptualised some three years ago, when Heads of Government of CARICOM, recognising the important role of civil society in the integration process, decided on staging "an encounter catering for the widest possible participation."
The Consensus of Chaguaramas, he said, specifies that the encounter would "provide for a free and wide-ranging interchange of ideas aimed at arriving at a consensus on a strategy for the development of the region and its peoples", and serve as a natural progression from the recommendations put forward by the West Indian Commission.
That Commission, a decade ago, had under the chairmanship of Guyanese Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former Commonwealth Secretary General, argued for greater involvement by civil society, and posited: "Integration inevitably involves inter-governmental negotiation and decision-making; but it is not the preserve of governments alone. People need to be drawn into the process."
Alluding to yesterday's event, Carrington said it was preceded by several consultations, involving business, labour and other sectors at the national level throughout the community, which addressed various aspects of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, touted to be the flagship of the community.
Consultations were also held with general and legal interest groups on the role and functions of the Caribbean Court of Justice, an integral part of the Single Market and Economy, while discussions by groups regarding Gender and Women's Affairs helped to define CARICOM's priorities in the Beijing +5 process.
In the area of Youth, there was the staging of Youth Parliaments with various partners in The Bahamas (1998), Grenada (2000) and Guyana (2001) which helped in defining regional priorities for youth development.
On this note, Carrington said, two CARICOM Youth Ambassadors have been appointed to serve for two years in virtually all member states, adding that the group will meet in Suriname in August to review the strategies for behavioural change to some social problems, chief among which is HIV/AIDS.
They are expected too, to perform the functions of ambassadors, in collaboration with national youth organisations and the ministries of Youth to advocate, and implement their respective programmes.
The CARICOM Secretary General referred too to the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS which was established in 2001 and coordinated by the CARICOM Secretariat, and said it was one of the most dynamic partnerships with civil society in recent times.
That partnership brought together core partners including the Caribbean Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+), the National AIDS Programmes, governments, NGOs, several international agencies providing technical assistance and donors, including CIDA, the British Department for International Development (DFID), the European Community, UNAIDS and USAID.
In addition, it is in the process of negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for cheaper anti-retroviral drugs for People Living With Aids. Carrington said this is essential and could save the lives of many such people, some yet unborn, for whom treatment and care are beyond their means.
The public sector continues to play an important role in the general process of consultation, he said, pointing out that representatives participate in the meetings of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), and other social sector groups - labour, youth, women - take part in those of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD).
In addition, at the regular annual meetings of the Conference of Heads of Government, business, labour and civil society groups are provided an opportunity to make statements on their priorities, Carrington noted.
Recalling that the heads, in recent years, have voiced concern that the private sector had not effectively used the time allotted them during meetings, he expressed the hope that they "would at least make suggestions for a more satisfactory mechanism" during the ongoing deliberations.
Commenting on the reports from the national consultations and the Working Document which was circulated to the Heads of Government, Carrington said this clearly expressed that the civil society grouping is concerned with the complexity of globalisation and the challenges that it poses for the small, vulnerable states that make up the community.
"They are aware that you are even more concerned with the slow pace of implementing the Single Market and Economy and the need for greater engagement of Civil Society in that process. Indeed, Heads of Government cannot but be aware of your concerns regarding the threats to security and to our youth, caused by the escalation of crime linked to drugs and illicit arms and now terrorism.
"And as indicated in the Nassau Declaration on Health, they are alarmed by the latest threat posed by the scourge of HIV/AIDS, which is now the highest cause of death among the 14-44 age group within our society, with an increasing rate among women," he added.
He said Heads of Government, ministers, diplomats, technocrats and the general public hope that out of the encounter will come a viable framework to effectively address these challenges, which pose a threat not only to the integrity of the community but to its very survival.
Carrington also said that the media, in addition to being an essential component in the civil society family, have the special task of communicating the message from the conference to the regional public.
Also addressing the opening forum was CDB President, Guyanese-born Dr. Compton Bourne who said the CDB recognises "the very crucial and important role that non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and civil society organisations need to play in the social and economic development of its member countries."
Also, that as a social partner the role is critical, simply because Caribbean governments cannot do all that is needed on their own, and must rely on the power of partners to help, especially in the areas of social development, he said.
As a result, the CDB has assisted non-governmental organisations in several activities, he added.
Chairperson of the `Forward Together' encounter is local non-governmental organisation (NGO) representative, Ms. Jocelyn Dow who had participated in the local national consultations.
In addition to representatives from member states, other participating groups are the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC); the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC); Women and Development Unit (WAND); the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action CAFRA), and the Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development Haiti is also represented at the forum.
Yesterday's agenda saw participants during the first plenary session forming working groups to deliberate on issues such as Human Resource Development (HRD) and Equity; the CARICOM Single Market and Economy: Capital Investment and Requirements for Competitiveness: and Governance; the Relevance and Efficiency of the Instruments.
It concluded with a report from the groups and discussion on the way forward.
Today's `Engagement with the Heads of Government' includes the presentation of a statement by the President of the West Indian Cricket Board (WICB); perspectives from the heads; proposals from Civil Society and responses from Heads of Government.