Region's problems symptomatic of changing society - Jagdeo
NGOs submit 15 recommendations to CARICOM Heads By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
July 4, 2002

Related Links: Articles on the Caribbean
Letters Menu Archival Menu

President Bharrat Jagdeo has reiterated that the many problems the region faced were symptomatic of the profound changes the society in the Caribbean was undergoing and as such there was need for the interchange of ideas between civil society, non-governmental organisations and governments.

Jagdeo made the comments prior to the representatives of civil society outlining a number of challenges facing the region in its development thrust and presenting the CARICOM Heads of Government with recommendations they would like to see institutionalised.

Chairing the second day of the historic Civil Society Encounter at which Heads of Governments and NGO representatives met at the Ocean View Convention Centre yesterday, Jagdeo welcomed them and urged that they tour the country, particularly the hinterland regions. At the time he was chairing the meeting, protesters were storming the Office of the President. Two of the protesters were shot dead after they attacked offices in the compound.

With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Haiti's President Jean

Bertrand Aristide, the other CARICOM Heads of Government were present. Dominica's Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Montserrat are not attending the summit. Listing some of the many problems - such as unemployment, crime, HIV/AIDS and migration of skills - that the region's small and vulnerable economies face, Jagdeo said they were compounded by "tremendous double standards."

The poorer nations, he said, were told among many things, for example: not to subsidise, yet new subsidies were given to many sectors in industrialised countries; not to remove trade barriers, but the industrialised countries erected new trade barriers. These major challenges, he said, needed to be looked at in devising strategies to confront the changes.

Guyanese businesswoman Jocelyn Dow, who chaired the previous day's meeting, applauded the regional governments for attending the encounter, which she said signalled a new recognition of the critical importance of deepening the democratic process through participation of all the major stakeholders.

Noting the many challenges created by the processes of globalisation, including aspects of societal disintegration, Dow said that current governance systems were not designed to contend with such challenges. Calling for urgent action, she said that it was civil society's belief that many of the issues identified could be mitigated and even resolved. To do so, she said, new and innovative institutions and legislative framework, the strengthening of existing ones and commitment to time-bound goals must be established.

Civil society, Dow said, knew that this responsibility did not lie only with governments, but recognised that governments had the power and the responsibility to initiate and facilitate the urgent changes needed.

Over the past decade, Dow said, civil society organised to address these issues by creating networks and programmes and a policy framework for the engagement of all social partners. It was timely, she said, that the Caribbean Community represented by the Heads of Government and civil society representatives should commit to a new and deeper relationship. This relationship, she said, must take account of the different country experiences, common history, cultures and diverse ethnic and racial groups.

The encounter, she said, could lay the basis for a new development model for the region that was people-centred, holistic and sustainable and would allow for the full potential of all of the region's peoples to be realised.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society groups on `The Way Forward', Deputy Chairperson of the Association of Development Agencies, Judith Wedderburn listed some 15 recommendations which Heads of Governments should consider for immediate implementation.

Generally, the participants felt that the Caribbean 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. The environment should be one which provides clean air and water, unpolluted seas and a healthy environment that has not been destroyed by the development process."

The recommendations are:

1) Observing CARICOM Day throughout the region;

2) Promoting and strengthening laws and policies for consumer protection as an integral feature of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME);

3) Addressing urgently at the national and regional levels legislative gaps with respect to the needs and rights of the differently-abled persons;

4) A study to be undertaken to identify new and innovative mechanisms to compensate CARICOM States for the loss of skills due to extra-regional migration. This could include bilateral and multilateral arrangements which support skills development;

5) Adopting, as a principle, the active participation and inclusion of youth at all levels and stages of national and regional development;

6) Implementing the Charter of Civil Society;

7) Committing to ongoing dialogue and consultation with civil society, including a triennial `Forward Together Consultation';

8) Introducing 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;

9) Creating national and regional mechanisms for the effective participation of indigenous peoples and other historically disadvantaged ethnic groups, for example the maroons in Suriname, in the decision-making process;

10) Developing regional and national instruments to work towards a culture of inclusion and peace as a matter of urgency, given the growing incidence of social disintegration due to ethnic insecurity and racism;

11) Adopting a common definition of `civil society' to which state and non-state actors subscribe;

12) Enacting or amending appropriate legislation to encourage philanthropic contributions to civil society;

13) Creating a popular education programme at national and regional levels on the Caribbean Single Market and Economy in collaboration with civil society in particular the Caribbean Congress of Labour, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, NGOs and the media;

14) Setting up collaborative programmes and policies between governments and civil society, to decrease unemployment, especially among youths. This will include mentoring, retooling and apprenticeship programmes;

15) Including stakeholders in all CARICOM councils, which should be supported by national mechanisms.