Civil society to urge inclusion of charter in constitutions By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
July 3, 2002

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A recommendation that the CARICOM Civil Society Charter be incorporated into the constitutions of member states to take into account basic rights, is among several expected to be put to CARICOM Heads of Government at an historic engagement today.

Others include a task force to review the charter and mechanisms to implement and monitor provisions in it at the national level. There was also a recommendation that CARICOM Day be made a national holiday in all member states and that the regional civil society encounter be held every three years.

Several recommendations came out of the first regional Civil Society Encounter, which began yesterday at the Ocean View Hotel and Convention Centre and rapporteurs were working late last night to put together a report to present to the Heads who will meet members of the civil society and non-governmental organisations today.

Yesterday, three working groups deliberated on: Human resource development and equity; the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Capital investment and requirements for Competitiveness, and Governance; and the relevance and efficiency of the Instruments of Government.

CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington and President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Compton Bourne made presentations at the opening session.

Carrington said it was not always appreciated how much has been done to engage major stakeholders more meaningfully in the community's development.

He said that at regular annual meetings Heads of Government, business, labour, and civil society have been provided with opportunities to make statements on their priorities. But, he added that in recent years, Heads have voiced concern that the segments allocated to these partners have not been effectively used.

He asserted that the Heads were concerned about the complexity of globalisation and the challenges it posed for small vulnerable states; the slow pace of implementation of the CSME and the need for greater involvement of civil society in the process; the threats to security and youths caused by the escalation of crimes linked to drugs, illicit arms and now terrorism; and the threat posed by the scourge of HIV/AIDS which is now the greatest cause of death among the 14 to 44 years age group with an increasing rate among women.

He expressed the hope that civil society and regional governments will at the end of the discourse "have a viable framework to effectively address the challenges, which pose a threat not only to the integrity of the community but to its very survival."

Carrington also directed attention to the media, which he said was an essential component of the civil society family and had the task of communicating the message from the conference to the regional public. However, noticeably absent at the encounter was representation from local and regional media organisations.

With regards to business, labour and other sectors, he noted that several consultations have been held at the national level throughout the community on the various aspects of the CSME, dubbed the flagship of the community. Consultations have also been held with general and legal interest groups on the role and functions of the Caribbean Court of Justice, an integral part of the CSME.

Gender and women's groups, he said have been involved in the series of discussions that have helped to define CARICOM's priorities in the 'Beijing, five years on' process.

Youth parliamentarians with various partners in the Bahamas, Grenada and Guyana have permitted youth groups to assist in defining regional priorities for youth development, he said, noting that two CARICOM youth ambassadors have been appointed to serve for two years in virtually all member states. The present group is to meet in Suriname in August to review the strategies for behavioural change to halt some social problems, chief among which is HIV/AIDS. They are expected to perform their functions of ambassadors, in collaboration with national youth organisations and the ministries of youth to advocate and implement their respective programmes.

He said that one of the most dynamic partnerships with civil society in recent times has been the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS, established in 2001 and coordinated by the CARICOM Secretariat, which brought together partners including the Caribbean Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+), national AIDS programmes, governments and NGOs. Several international agencies provide technical assistance and the donors include the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the UK's Department for International Development, the European Community, UNAIDS, and USAID. This partnership, he said, was currently negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for cheaper anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS.

In the general process of consultation, Carrington said, representatives of the private sector take part in meetings of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). In addition other social sector groups - labour, youth, women - all take part in the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD).

It was noted that the peoples of the region knew very little or nothing about the CSME and there was a recommendation that the region invest in public education with regard to it in collaboration with partners such as the Caribbean Congress of Labour, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce and NGOs.

At the last plenary session following presentations by the working groups, there was support for a recommendation that CARICOM Day should be made a national holiday in all member countries. Guyana observes CARICOM Day as a national holiday on the first Monday in the month of July.

It was also recommended that there should be NGO legislation in member countries and specific government subventions to support increased participation of NGOs in policy decision within the framework of NGO legislation, to take care of accreditation, monitoring and evaluation among other provisions.

The recommendation that a task force be established to make full use of the youth ambassadors' programme and ensure that adequate resources are provided to ensure that youth parliaments function effectively was a source of discontent for the Caribbean Federation of Youth (CFY), which saw both the youth parliament and the ambassadors, as a failure. However, it was agreed that there should be collaboration between CARICOM and the CFY to establish a process to clarify the issue.

It was recommended, too that governments recognise the need to place environmental issues on the front burner; establish a firm basis for increasing the input of indigenous peoples in the decision-making process; develop common policies among member states for inclusion of persons with disabilities; make consumer protection an integral feature of the CSME taking into consideration the effects of privatisation.

Among those providing financial assistance for the two-day encounter were the Inter-American Development Bank, CIDA and the CDB.