Social conflict strangling region's growth
-warns CDB president Bourne By Edlyn Benfield
Stabroek News
February 5, 2004

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Growth in the Caribbean has slowed in recent years compared to the buoyant 1990s and this may have arisen from increased social conflict.

So said President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Compton Bourne yesterday at the opening session of an International Conference on "Governance, Conflict Analysis, and Conflict Resolution" organised by the University of Guyana along with the Clark Atlanta University.

He noted the rise in social conflict of varying forms, scope and intensity in some countries and suggested that in the existence of such social conflicts, some observers would be inclined to find an explanation for economic under-performance.

He said it was widely held that social conflict, especially of a violent nature, retarded economic growth and development.

Among the effects of social conflict are the loss of human resources through death, incapacitation, alienation and emigration.

Human resources could become under used through unemployment and discriminatory employment practices. Productivity could be wasted by public officials being forced to concentrate on security and safety instead of directly productive activities. Then there was loss of capital through acts of criminal destruction; the deterrence of foreign investment and diminished flows of foreign aid.

Inequality of income between ethnic groups or rural and non-rural communities as well as religious differences contributed to social conflict, Bourne said. Corruption which corrodes rules-based institutions and gives rise to discriminatory allocation of economic resources and the role of informal groups also play their part.

He stressed that governance criteria was explicitly incorporated into the bank's lending programmes and technical assistance activities, including those focused on poverty reduction.

He warned that "the peaceful resolution of social conflict may be frustrated by articulation of extremist, antagonistic positions and views or may be facilitated by expressions of moderate, conciliatory or compromise-seeking behaviour and views."

Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally said free debate was vital if the conference was to produce concrete results, and the most serious obstacle to dialogue was suspicion and lack of trust. He urged everyone to approach the process with clean hearts and minds.

Bourne's remarks were underscored by Director of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Ambassador Denneth Modeste, who referred to the OAS's mediation efforts in Haiti.

According to the Ambassador, in July 2001, the OAS almost came to an agreement with the government and opposition but talks between the two parties failed after the opposition introduced a complicated proposal.

The lack of a credible electoral council is another major issue of contention in Haiti added to the government's refusal to accept the OAS' recommendations regarding the calculation of the election votes.

Ambassador Modeste also noted that the politicisation of Haiti's police force by its President Jean Bertrand Aristide and the opposition's ownership of a major media house further complicated that country's social conflict.

He said these high-handed operations by the leadership of Haiti had resulted in the current impasse which was grossly affecting the nation's people and the situation was thus becoming increasingly violent.

Caricom Secretary General Dr. Edwin Carrington meanwhile noted that the region was at a very important stage in its history because of its active engagement in the process of achieving a single market and economy.

He pointed out that in working toward this achievement, it was necessary for consideration to be given to the resolution of certain difficulties including questions about "the competence to be accorded Community institutions...and the appropriateness of structures and management procedures..."

"At the moment, [the region is] at the crossroads of a quest for a mature regionalism. In this regard, in the smooth governance of the community, an important dimension in conflict prevention and resolution lies in the relationship of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) - the Community's flagship activity," Carrington asserted.

He said given the CCJ's legal independence and authority in respect of matters falling within the CSME, it could pre-empt and resolve conflicts through its rulings and as such contribute to the governance of the Community.

Consequently, Carrington pointed out, Caricom citizens could rely on a legitimate law enforcement entity. So states within and beyond the Community could be assured of an authoritative and predictable system for the settlement of disputes.

He said preemptive conflict resolution was the most effective means of settling conflicts by correcting the conditions from which it evolved. Thus it is incumbent on the Community to take into account the interests of all parties whether they be more developed, less developed, big or small.

In order for good governance to prevail, there must be sustained dialogue between leaders and the people, reinforced particularly by the Community's secondary institutions such as the media and academia, Carrington suggested.

Clark Atlanta University Professor Dr. Cedric Grant said the aim of the project, started in 2001, was to strengthen democratic governance in Guyana through the enhancement of the capacity of civil society in the area of conflict resolution and management.

The participants are chosen from the UG faculty and it is hoped that the conference will enable the university to function as a more active and effective agent in this area. The conference continues today.