Historic CARICOM encounter ends with recommendations on way forward By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
July 4, 2002

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THE historic Caribbean Community (CARICOM) two day Civil Society Encounter, held at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara concluded yesterday with a number of issues discussed and recommendations arrived at which are aimed at 'the way forward' for the region.

Heads of Government attending the 23rd CARICOM summit which opened late yesterday afternoon, met representatives at the encounter for several hours yesterday morning.

The 'Forward Together Conference' saw participants forming working groups to deliberate on issues such as Human Resource Development (HRD) and equity; the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME): Capital Investment and Requirements for Competitiveness; and Governance and Participation.

The report of the working group on HRD said its vision for the future of the Caribbean is that the region should be seen as that part of the world where the population enjoys a good quality of life with the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health care and employment being all virtually satisfied.

According to the group, the environment should be one which provides clean air and water, unpolluted seas and healthy communities - an environment that has not been destroyed by the development process.

Some of the issues considered by this group were the vision of the Caribbean Community, volunteerism, sharing of information, integration of youth, crime and security, skills development, role of culture, migration/internal brain drain, domestic violence, gender and HIV/AIDS.

According to the HRD group, some of the challenges are the recognition of the importance of youth, emphasising the role of trade unions, strengthening the base of labour and domestic violence, and the strengthening of national machineries for addressing gender issues.

Other challenges entailed the inclusion of differently abled persons in all HRD programmes and addessing the needs of indigenous groups.

Some of the group's recommendations are aimed at urgently addressing at the national and regional levels, legislative gaps with respect to the needs and rights of differently-abled persons and create national and regional mechanisms for the effective participation of indigenous and other historically disadvantaged ethnic groups, e.g. Maroons, in the decision making process.

Other challenges facing the region, with regards to human resource development, are crime and security and the threat of external forces; HIV/AIDS as a threat to the region; relevant education and training with special emphasis on access for marginalised and at risk groups; and development of foreign language competency.

The working group on the HRD recommended a creation of a culture of peace, the involvement of civil society in programmes for HIV/AIDS, the promotion of programmes to develop healthy lifestyles, the refocussing of the education systems to take account of requirements of the new economy and appropriate training for teachers and educators.

In terms of the challenges of youth employment, care of the elderly and civic responsibility, the HRD working group recommended that unemployment should be decreased, especially among youths through collaborative programmes and policies between governments and civil society such as monitoring, retooling and apprenticeship programmes.

In terms of the elderly, it recommended the establishment of systems for assisting them such as implementing a 'charter on ageing', while with regards civic responsibility, the group recommended citizen education programmes and regular meetings of civil society at the national level.

In terms of dealing with crime and security issues, the group recommended the targetting of victims and perpetrators of crimes at the community level, and to lobby governments to allocate funds from crime and security budgets to deal with these issues at the community level.

On the challenges of protecting intellectual capital and enhancing and promoting volunteerism, the HRD group recommended the enacting of copyright legislation and the creation of a CARICOM volunteer youth corps.

The working group on the CSME, 'Capital Investment and Competitiveness' noted that the key issues and challenges it faces are human capital, international trading agreements, financial considerations, transportation, export opportunities and initiatives, and technological imperatives.

Regarding human capital, the group noted the challenge of the shift in national and regional education and training systems to provide the basis for creation and sustenance of domestic capital, and increased access to tertiary education; the development of an entrepreneurial spirit; the placing of greater emphasis on accreditation; and a breakdown of language barriers by developing multi-lingual workers.

With regards international trading agreements, the group highlighted the fact that small states do not have the capacity to compete with large, developed economies and this is a major challenge for the region. It said, too, that CARICOM must take the necessary steps to counteract unfair competition such as U.S. agricultural subsidies, and that there is a need for more support for the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) leading to more active and meaningful participation in trade negotiations.

In terms of the challenge of financial considerations, the group noted that there is an over-reliance on debt capital and associated high interest rates and that the region must find a way to channel savings into the productive sector since Central Bank data shows tremendous liquidity. The group also said that operating inefficiencies may be reduced by introducing performance based compensation for both management and line staff.

The two challenges facing the transportation sector are that intra-regional transportation is prohibitively expensive and inefficient, while the CSME will require affordable and efficient air and sea transportation.

Regarding the challenges facing export opportunities and initiatives, the group said CARICOM must differentiate its goods and services, and that CARICOM nationals in the diaspora present a significant potential market.

In terms of the framework for government and civil society partnership, the working group recommended to the CARICOM Heads the need for existing CARICOM councils to be more consultative, participatory, transparent and accountable. "At national and regional levels, we must establish lines of information so that civil society can provide input," the group stated in its report.

It said, too, that CARICOM must institutionalise a framework for continuous consultation at the national level, and interest groups throughout the region should nominate representatives to participate in negotiations at the CARICOM Councils and sectoral working group levels.

The working group also recommended that each territory should establish mechanisms at three levels - a socio-economic partnership, a business forum for governments and private sector to engage in ongoing dialogue, and an NGO forum.

The group also recommended that individuals should be encouraged to form companies as an alternative to sole proprietorships, and for the complete implementation of the Treaty provision for the avoidance of double taxation on dividends.

The working group on 'Governance and Participation' considered the issues of a creation of new arrangement/partnership between stakeholders at national and regional levels, including the conceptualisation of strategies for development, consultation between stakeholders, involvement of stakeholders in implementation of development programmes; participation of stakeholders, as relevant, in all CARICOM councils which should be supported by national mechanisms; collective evaluation of development programmes; and strengthening systems of accountability among stakeholders.

It recommended as mechanisms for strengthening and developing frameworks, the creation of national/regional networks; funding of civil society's participation by government and facilitation of access of funds; civic education; mobilisation of people around development issues; dissemination of information on the issues; institute collective learning as a development strategy; impact assessment of civil society's work in national/regional development; creating greater space for citizens' participation in development; documenting best practices for sharing and for promoting civil society organisations.

It also recommended sustainable development/equity and justice on the national and international agenda, and reform of local government to include civil society representatives and to promote non-partisan modalities of governance.

The encounter also came up with some recommendations as to the `way forward'. These include:

** observing CARICOM Day throughout the region

** promote and strengthen laws and policies for consumer protection as an integral feature of the CSME

** address urgently at the national and regional levels, legislative gaps with respect to the needs and rights of the differently abled persons.

The conference also recommended that the rights of persons to move freely must be acknowledged; that a study be undertaken to identify new and innovative mechanisms to compensate CARICOM states for the loss fo skills due to extra-regional migration.

It concluded too that these mechanisms could include bilateral and multilateral arrangements which support skills development.

The encounter also recommended as the way forward, the adoption, as a principle, of the active participation and inclusion of youth at all levels and stages of national and regional development; the implementation of 'The Charter of Civil Society'; the commitment to ongoing dialogue and consultation with Civil Society, including a triennial 'Forward Together' Consultation.

The 'way forward' also included the introduction of effective national legislation for the protection of the environment which gives effect to the revised Treaty, and international conventions to which CARICOM states are signatory; and to create national and regional mechanisms for the effective participation of indigenous peoples and other historically disadvantaged ethnic groups in the decision making process.

It recommended too that given the growing incidence of social disintegration due to ethnic insecurity and racism, the region must recognise the need for regional and national instruments to work towards a culture of inclusion and peace as a matter of urgency; the need for the Community to adopt a common definition of 'civil society' to which state and non-state actors subscribe; and enact and/or amend appropriate legislation to encourage philanthropic contributions to civil society.

The conference also recommended that stakeholders participate in all CARICOM Councils, which should be supported by national mechanisms.