Media Center



March 21, 1995 - St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda

"We envision an OAS that caters to the needs of those states that require its support and collaboration the most; an organization whose activities reflect in practical terms the solidarity among its membership; a technical cooperation agency that channels available resources to programs and projects that respond to the interests of the countries, and implements them with the best professional expertise and in the most efficient manner possible; a flexible and open institution that is able to attract financial cooperation from other public and private organizations and governments and foster horizontal cooperation."

On this occasion when I visit your beautiful country, I express my sincere appreciation to the Right Honorable Lester Bird, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and to his government for their generosity in kindly hosting the Twenty-ninth Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES), that has come to a successful conclusion. My special thanks to the new Chairman of CIES, Ambassador Patrick Albert Lewis, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the Organization of American States, for his unwavering efforts to make this meeting possible. We extend our friendly greetings to the people of this island nation who have received us in such a warm and hospitable manner. I also want to express our appreciation to the ministers and heads of delegation and to the delegates who have participated in CIES for their contribution to its success.
The magnificent setting of the Caribbean is an appropriate ambience to reflect on the accomplishments and shortcomings of the past, as well as on the challenges and opportunities of the future as we embark on a course of revision and revamping of OAS activities in the economic and social areas. These charming lands of tradition and progress blend the cultural heritage of many peoples who have made the Americas a dynamic community of democratic nations.
You are schooled in the tradition of representative democracy. You are also a people who have excelled in cultural and pragmatic endeavors, as reflected for example in the works of your Nobel Laureates, the superb poetry of Derek Walcott, and Sir Arthur Lewis’ consequential contribution to the development of economics. You have brought a new perspective to our Organization, rounding the expression of constructive diversity that characterizes this bountiful Hemisphere.
The Inter-American Economic and Social Council has a distinguished tradition of service to the development of the American nations. CIES has conducted, from the early years of the 1950s, some significant technical cooperation and fellowship programs. The Inter-American Development Bank was established by this Council in 1959, and the Charter of the Alliance for Progress was enacted by CIES in 1961.
In the more recent past, however, there has been at times an absence of clear policies and orientation, and a lack of purpose in the declining technical cooperation programs. Furthermore, some disenchantment has been expressed by member states regarding OAS performance in economic and social endeavors. Financial resources for cooperation have sharply decreased in real terms, compounding the erosion of technical assistance.
This twenty-ninth CIES meeting has taken place at a juncture that opens broad perspectives for reviving OAS cooperation in the economic and social development of our nations. Increasing democratic solidarity offers new avenues for a real partnership for development among the countries of the Americas. The General Assembly has taken significant steps to bring the OAS cooperation for development up to date: in Managua it created the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), and in Mexico City it established the guidelines for future action by that new Council, whose objective is to promote cooperation among the American states for the purpose of achieving integral development and, in particular, helping to alleviate extreme poverty. Last December at the Summit of the Americas, the heads of state and heads of government of the Hemisphere underlined the relevance of the Organization, visualizing key roles for the OAS in areas such as democracy, human rights, trade, and the environment.
The transition to CIDI, which has been a central issue in your deliberations, is a clear opportunity to revise OAS technical cooperation and make it an effective instrument to better serve the member states. That transition, however, also poses the danger of becoming just another formal change without touching the core of our activities. It is our challenge to break new ground in setting up the new Council.
We envision an OAS that caters to the needs of those states that require its support and collaboration the most; an organization whose activities reflect in practical terms the solidarity among its membership; a technical cooperation agency that channels available resources to programs and projects that respond to the interests of the countries, and implements them with the best professional expertise and in the most efficient manner possible; a flexible and open institution that is able to attract financial cooperation from other public and private organizations and governments and foster horizontal cooperation.
As I have stated on several occasions, we can not try to be all things for all people. An efficient OAS has to limit its technical cooperation to the neediest countries in the Hemisphere. The stronger American developing countries should become donors. Their decision to become net contributors to technical cooperation programs will enhance solidarity among all countries in the Hemisphere, as was requested yesterday by Prime Minister Bird in his opening address. By progressively waiving their claim to technical assistance, the new donor countries will also liberate some funds that will allow larger programs to be undertaken. This does not mean, however, that the donors will not participate in those programs that relate to the exchange of experiences and sharing of expertise.
Trying to implement a cluster of small projects in many different fields of activity has been one of the main constraints of OAS technical cooperation. We all feel that project proliferation has come, among other sources, from the absence of clear-cut priorities. In the area of technical cooperation, rapidly changing demands have been met by embracing new areas of work that, instead of superseding old ones, are superimposed on previous priorities. On occasion, traditional activities have survived, with just some superficial changes, to accommodate new policy orientations. Thus, virtually any activity seems to be justified in light of the existing array of mandates and guidelines.
Soon after CIDI was created, the Special Session of the General Assembly in Mexico City approved a set of general priorities that should guide the activities of the Council as it begins functioning. The noble ideals of Mexico City have to be tempered by the realization of our limitations. Even if all technical cooperation resources were devoted to overcoming poverty, OAS annual average per capita contribution in Latin America and the Caribbean would only amount to 10 US cents. What we should do in this respect is to support a learning process on designing, implementing and evaluating social policy.
Structural economic adjustment policies have often been blamed for the growth of poverty in the region. That is far from true. What is true, however, is that the need to give preferential care to economic matters limited the attention given to social issues. There is mounting consciousness that this trend has to be reversed.
The juridical mandates conferred to the Organization by the Charter have been given operational content by the General Assembly in Asuncion, Santiago, Nassau, Managua and Mexico City. Fortunately, the thrust of those mandates was also incorporated in the Summit of the Americas Plan of Action. In fact, the Miami Agenda is compatible with existing juridical mandates of the OAS.
Beyond this fundamental coincidence, we must assign clear terms of reference to the priorities that are to guide OAS action in the economic and social area. The efficiency of the Organization requires that it limit its technical cooperation to a narrow set of well-defined matters which it can excel. The Secretariat should abide by those priorities once they are determined. The Secretariat should be in a position to offer programs in areas of interest to the member countries, as well as to respond to their initiatives.
The system I propose will overcome traditional flaws in technical cooperation management that have justifiably been highlighted by several governments, most recently by the Caribbean countries in Belize. There has been, among others, a tendency for projects to respond to the needs of the staff, not those of the governments. A rigid personnel structure has resulted in experts successfully lobbying governmental agencies in the countries of the region for the continuation of their services. The composition of our technical cooperation programs tends to resemble more closely the installed professional capacity of the Secretariat, rather than profile the needs of the people or governments of the Americas.
Let us stop patronizing the member states and let us roll up our sleeves to meet their needs in the terms they perceive to be in their interest. As I said recently in Belize, in commenting upon the remarks of Ambassador Layne on behalf of the Caribbean countries, it is time the Secretariat stops interfering with governmental decisions, abides by the priorities of the countries, and adjusts traditional methods to the reality of new circumstances.
As we set our priorities, due consideration should be given to the different needs and interests of countries and sub-regions. By way of example, in regards to a sector that has been given special attention in this and other recent meetings, we have to enhance our tourism program, to link it with matters of trade, and to adapt it to the specific circumstances of countries, such as those in the Caribbean, for whom tourism is a very high priority.
Additional funds are another necessary ingredient to establish a meaningful technical cooperation program. Some of those resources may proceed from a reallocation of existing budgetary appropriations as an adequate ranking of priorities is adopted. It will, however, also be essential that fresh resources be tapped from outside the Organization, as was underlined by participating countries in the meeting in Belize. I feel certain the OAS, the core organization of the inter-American system, will be able to obtain significant outside resources.
Horizontal cooperation is a means for capturing complementary funds from participating countries. It is also a way to facilitate, through the use of OAS resources, technical cooperation among developing countries. Beyond its financial implications, horizontal cooperation is a true expression of a partnership for development. The OAS has a role to play in the promotion, support and coordination of horizontal cooperation. An action program in this respect can be built upon the pioneering activities of the Argentinean Fund for Horizontal Cooperation. The traditional efforts of Venezuela, the Mexican Technical Cooperation Program with Latin America and the Caribbean, the recent meeting sponsored by the Government of Chile with Caribbean countries, and the establishment of the Brazilian Fund of Horizontal Cooperation are also valuable experiences that should provide inputs for expanding OAS engagement in horizontal cooperation. Let me assure you that as Secretary General, I will redouble my efforts to expand and improve OAS role in horizontal cooperation, and to attract countries with medium- and large-sized economics to participate in this activity.
Regarding other possibilities, we should not pretend to be self-sufficient in the realm of technical cooperation, but rather attract financial and professional resources from non-member governments and other international organizations. Co-financing and other forms of joint implementation of programs and projects must be simulated. This will demand that our projects be technically sound and financially ambitious. It will also be necessary to reform our programming, executing and evaluation instruments.
Working with other institutions requires greater flexibility than we have under existing programming guidelines. If we want to tap funds from the outside we can not freeze our resources over time, thus renouncing the opportunity to adapt to change and transformation. Our professional expertise will also be tested in the process of obtaining outside funds: besides the contribution of a better geographically balanced Secretariat’s staff, it will be necessary to contract consultants of the highest quality to complement career employees’ skills and know-how. Increasing utilization of consulting services will also contribute to greater flexibility in meeting changing circumstances and facing new priorities.
The success of technical cooperation is largely dependent upon effective engagement of the recipient countries. Governments should share the cost of projects by contributing financial and, most importantly, human resources to their implementation. They should have greater participation in determining the means to execute cooperation programs, and they must take part in some evaluation mechanisms that yield adequate information on results and permit accurate programming. Governments should be shareholders in technical cooperation programs, not detached beneficiaries thereof.
Greater country participation will also allow more cost-effective delivery of OAS technical services. It will be feasible to streamline headquarters managerial support and supervision and suppress costly administrative intermediaries, in particular some of the current national offices. I have been listening to several very constructive ideas in this respect.
In discussing the matter of the future of the national offices, let me start by stating once more that the existence of those offices in Caribbean states, particularly the smaller ones, may be more justified than in other places.
I share the concern expressed by Prime Minister Bird to the effect that it is fundamental that OAS technical cooperation be cost-effective. As I explained in Belize, the question of national offices should essentially be a matter of cost-benefit. Their usefulness should be measured in the context of the delivery of technical assistance. If our ultimate objective is, as it should be, to identify the most effective way to use our existing resources to increase actual technical services delivered, then we must be willing to look at the cost effectiveness of relying on national offices to manage this process. Currently, the cost of the national offices drains in some cases up to 50% of the funds earmarked for technical cooperation. I find it hard to justify such a high overhead when every additional dollar invested directly can have a greater impact, especially in smaller countries. The final decision must be based on objective evidence.
Moreover, the extraordinary advances in communications, which are a hallmark of the times in which we live, mean that the Secretariat no longer, or a least not always, needs a local presence to communicate with the governments.
I want to refer specifically to fellowships, which are a very important component of OAS activities in support of development. I am aware of the high priority member states attach to our fellowships and training programs, and I share their interest in making them better instruments contributing to the advancement of human resources in the Hemisphere. In this regard, I think that fellowships should follow the same priorities and general orientation as all other technical cooperation activities. I also believe it is necessary to revise the criteria for funds allocation for fellowship programs. The selection criteria should be clearly and adequately defined, and there should be transparency in their implementation. Along these lines, I intend to present a proposal on this issue to the General Assembly.
Finally, allow me to address one of the main issues discussed in this meeting. As the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda rightly pointed out, the Free Trade Zone of the Americas cannot limit itself to being a simple extension of NAFTA to the rest of the Hemisphere. Instead, a free trade zone for the Americas must take into account all the different levels of development, the sizes of the local markets and the complexities of the regional or sub-regional agreements.
In order to meet these challenges, the new Trade Unit has already begun to work on an exhaustive comparison of all the different trade agreements. This process includes the creation of an information system able to provide relevant legal and economic information. As recently as last week, the Unit held in Washington a meeting of all regional organizations that promote economic integration, including among others, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, ALADI and SELA.
It is the explicit purpose of the Trade Unit to examine the ways, such as trade preferences and asymmetric agreements, in which the countries with the smallest and weakest economies can become part of a hemispheric free trade zone that would be beneficial to their national interests.
Mr. Chairman:
Winds blowing from the shores of the Caribbean Sea have rekindled in CIES the spirit of renewal. We realize that what is valuable in the past can be preserved when it becomes the foundation upon which the future is built.
Evolution is a necessary condition of progress. Let us pursue together the process of converting the OAS into an innovative, flexible organization, capable of perceiving the political and developmental needs of the people and countries of the Americas and to respond to them in an efficient, timely manner. We should not fear change or avoid discarding old structures in the search for modernizing an institution that must adapt itself to a world and a Hemisphere in a profound change.
These Islands have been parties to some paramount adventures in history. I invite you to join me in drawing a vision of the future on which the OAS can set its course of true service to its constituents, the peoples and governments of our nations.