Media Center



March 4, 2015 - Washington, DC

OAS IN 2015 - a unique opportunity for repositioning and renewal

The Organization of American States is today faced with a unique, once in a decade opportunity for introspection, recalibration and renewal. The occasion of the election of a new Secretary General and Assistant Secretary, enjoined with a firm mandate to the Permanent Council to prepare a Strategic Plan based on the Strategic Vision and Objectives that have been approved, together frame a golden juncture for the Organization to pause and rethink itself and renew itself with new leadership, new ideas, and a firm foot on the ground of 2015. Let us seize the moment.

Her Excellency Niermala Badrising, Chair of the Permanent Council,
Distinguished Ambassadors / Permanent Representatives, Alternate Representatives, officials of the General Secretariat

Esteemed colleagues, dear friends:
I count it a distinct honor to stand before you in my capacity as the candidate of Belize for the post of Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and to discuss with you my thoughts and ideas on how I propose to undertake the responsibilities of the office of the Assistant Secretary General, while working closely with all of you in the Permanent Council to seize the opportunity that is upon us to transform the organization into the OAS that we all want and that is befitting of the premier multilateral institution of the Americas. It is a significant moment for me, having spent nine years as an Alternate Representative and six years as the Permanent Representative of Belize, and having been involved in all the big issues faced by the OAS over the last fifteen years. In this context, I wish to underscore that all my proposals are anchored on the recognition that we can only move forward successfully if we do it in a transparent, respectful, and strategic partnership between the Permanent Council, the Offices of the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General, and the staff of the General Secretariat. We are in this together.

Before I continue, I wish to express a heartfelt thank you to all my colleague Ambassadors, Alternate Representatives and members of the OAS staff who have been kind to share with me their views on how we can turn the OAS around. The input of everyone will be required for us to really transform this Organization, and to build around the consensus that we have secured in the strategic vision.

And this joint undertaking approach, this collective ownership of the Inter-American system, cannot be overemphasized. We are all here, all the Member States, because we want to be here, because we see value in this organization, which binds our membership and anchors our relations on the founding principles and essential purposes of our OAS. I emphasize this collective ownership because like all of you I am acutely aware that the OAS, despite the tremendous work it delivers on a daily basis, is much criticized from all corners of our Americas, and often times for good reason. And like you I want to promote actions that will change the Organization and the conversation about the OAS, from its perception as a slow cumbersome political apparatus to one that profiles an agile, efficient, modern organization that functions well in the twenty-first century and preoccupies itself with the new age manifestations and challenges of poverty, crime, erosion of faith in the democratic creed, and in the arena of human rights. Like all of you, I want to transform this organization into the OAS that we need, and I am convinced that together we can do exactly that.

Estimados colegas:

Tengo muy presente que el deseo, la necesidad de transformar nuestra organización es algo que todos reconocemos. También me queda bien claro que no será una tarea fácil, ni rápida, ni exenta de ciertos sacrificios, pero en alguna parte tendremos que empezar. La renovación de nuestra organización tendrá que ser basada en la Carta de la OEA, la Carta Democrática Interamericana, y la Carta Social. Además necesitara como ejes principales los valores y principios que como organización predicamos a diario. Estos incluyen un compromiso por parte del nuevo liderazgo de la OEA de administrar la organización en una forma transparente, equitativa, predecible, y basada en políticas claras, que toman en cuenta equidad de género, que sean ampliamente conocidas por el personal de la secretaria y los estados miembros y que sean aplicadas en todo y a todos de manera imparcial. Yo estoy comprometido en este sentido.

La renovación de nuestra organización requiere un liderazgo que genere confianza y que inspire al personal reafirmando el impacto positivo que tiene la organización en muchas áreas que afectan directamente las vidas de nuestros ciudadanos. De igual forma, el restablecimiento de un nivel de confianza entre el Consejo Permanente y la Secretaria General es un elemento esencial el cual tendrá que ser basado en un dialogo respetuoso, transparente y continuo. Solo si nos hablamos, si nos comunicamos, podremos generar esa confianza que permita adelantar decisiones y acciones que conduzcan a la organización en el sendero de su renovación. El reposicionamiento de la organización en la perspectiva regional también requerirá de una actuación política ágil y basada en los principios fundamentales de la OEA, pero también desempeñados con un tacto político acorde a la misión de la OEA de ayudar a resolver conflictos entre y dentro de los estados miembros.

Role of the Assistant Secretary General
My Dear Colleagues:
I wish to explain what I see as the role of the Assistant Secretary General. In my view, the Office of the Assistant Secretary General is an extremely important one, and the holder of that office must work very closely with the Secretary General and enjoy a very good working relationship with him / her. The two leaders must have a shared vision, since a ship cannot sail in two directions at the same time because it will get nowhere. The ASG should complement the work of the SG, and there should not be a competition between them. The office of the ASG is of singular importance not only because it is also an elected position like the Secretary General, but because it represents a critical node within the Organization which I see as a hub of strategic convergence - it serves as Secretary of the Permanent Council and is the point where the Council has direct and immediate contact with the General Secretariat, it serves as the interface between the Office of the Secretary General and the staff of the General Secretariat, and it has daily interaction with the Office of the Secretary General. It is an office that holds substantive responsibility for the day to day running of the Organization, and also has political sway given its constant interface with the Permanent Council and the need to hold over from the Secretary General when the need arises. The post of Assistant Secretary General is therefore a very important responsibility requiring an extensive and intimate knowledge of the OAS, the ability to communicate and be the interlocutor between the General Secretariat and all members of the Permanent Council and with the Organization's personnel.

New Management of the OAS
Having established what I see as the role of the ASG, let me now turn to one of the critical responsibilities of that office and one that will require much dedicated attention given the current realities within the Organization, given the period of transition relative to the change in leadership, and also given the process of management modernization that has been initiated based on the Murray report - I refer of course to the management of the Organization. I am convinced that the management of the Organization must be based on the principles of transparency, accountability, equality of treatment, fairness, respect, and that it must rest on clear policies that are widely known and applied across the board.

If I am elected Assistant Secretary General, I intend to work along with the Secretary General to continue, as soon as possible, with the implementation of the recommendations of the Murray Report, especially those that only require action by the Secretary General. Said report, in my estimation, represents an excellent guide for the internal renewal of the General Secretariat. I am fully aware that the implementation of the entire suit of recommendation - or the ones that we can agree with - will also require a careful coordination with the Permanent Council given that certain recommendations can only proceed with the political mandate given by the Council. In that respect, I would be pleased to work with all of you to carefully and responsibly engineer the implementation of those recommendations that will make our Organization stronger.

It is clearly understood that setting in place the policy frameworks and increasing the efficiency of the organizational decision making process using modern management tools is only part of the equation for transforming the organization. A critical element that will also be required is a dynamic leadership that inspires confidence in the staff, and instills the pride that should be an integral part of working with an organization like the OAS. After all, we are not only the oldest multilateral institution in the world, in the Americas we have had concrete and beneficial impact in many facets of the everyday life of many people, and more importantly, the OAS has the potential to renew itself to have an even bigger impact in our Americas going forward.

I want to tell the OAS staff that I believe in effective, rules based management with a human touch, and one that prioritizes results and accountability. I am an advocate for meritocracy and transparency. I also want to assure the Permanent Council that I believe that we should practice what we preach, and that the big principles and initiatives we preach in the Americas and to the wider world must also be first applied with our own employees - when we talk about effective public management in our countries and municipalities, we prescribe certain practices that can also be applied in the Secretariat because we are in fact charged with administering international public funds. When we talk about inclusion, we also need to see if we are in fact applying those principles at headquarters. When we talk about transparency, good governance, empowering people, we also need to make sure that we apply them at home.

The revitalization of the General Secretariat, I believe, will contribute to the enhancement of trust through a more efficient utilization of resources, a better reporting structure, and a streamlined personnel policy that provides for fair recruitment and hiring of employees through competition, and with due emphasis on the need for proportional representation in the staff component. Transparency in the recruitment process should ensure that we hire only the best and most suitable candidates, and this practice of careful selection should also extend to the trust positions. Coming from a country that is both Caribbean and Central American, I am familiar with the persistent clamor for a more equitable regional representation in the staff composition. If elected, I intend to give this matter the attention it requires.

One thing that should be made clear is that I believe any changes that take place should be incremental, and not sudden. We need to understand the inner workings of the organization before we start making changes that could cause additional stress and have the opposite result to the sought outcome.

Budget and Funding
As mentioned earlier, I will not go into detail regarding the recommendations in the Murray Report, because we have all seen them and have copies. However, I do want to touch on some issues that are of particular importance. The first is that having to do with the budget and funding of the OAS. This is a long standing and chronic problem which has been exacerbated over the years to the level of a recurrent crisis. The regular budget of the organization is of particular concern, and is one that we will have to be addressed very early in the new administration. This discussion is clearly a sensitive and difficult one, but a necessary one nonetheless. I appreciate that there are no easy answers to these problems, and that the complexity of the problem will require political decision making at a high level.

The idea of creatively exploring other sources of funding and access to resources will also need to be explored.

The other issue in the Murray Report that I want to mention is that related to the appointment of an ombudsperson. This is an important and timely recommendation, and one that we should move to implement as soon as possible, because it will formally institute someone that will watch out for the rights of employees and be there when they need help. In addition, this also gives me the opportunity to state very clearly, that I strongly believe in a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to the harassment of employees or anyone for that matter.

The Inspector General
The strengthening of the office of the Inspector General also bears mention. This office is of such a sensitive and critical nature, that perhaps it is about time that we initiate a discussion on whether or not the post should be an elected one to ensure that the reporting responsibilities of the Inspector General are not overshadowed or affected because of who appoints him. The office should have a level of independence to ensure that it can perform its duties in the best possible manner.

National Offices
Ladies and Gentlemen - I believe that the National offices of the OAS are valuable assets of the organization that have been underutilized and therefore widely criticized as redundant.

The existence of these offices have become a controversial issue, with strong advocates on each side of the debate on whether or not to close them down. I do not agree with the blanket proposition that these offices should be closed down, because I do not believe that an across the board policy can be applied to them. I recognize that these offices have been much criticized, and in some cases for good reason, but I also think that they collectively represent a vastly underutilized asset of this organization that, if elected, I intend to put to good use. To start with, let us charge them with specific responsibilities, including the elaboration of a handbook setting out what they are supposed to do in the new dispensation. Let us make them the focal point of all OAS and OAS affiliated agencies in the host countries. Let us assign them duties commensurate with an external representation, and instruct them to play a substantive role in elevating the visibility of the OAS and changing the conversation about our organization to a more objective, integral perspective of our organization. I also do fully appreciate that the relative value of some offices may be higher than others, taking into consideration relevant criteria such as size of host country, access to local authorities, and prospects for increased activities of the OAS in those jurisdictions. We must also take into account the political sensitivities of some of these representations. If elected into office, I propose to clarify the roles we expect these offices to play, charge them with specific responsibilities, and thereafter conduct an objective evaluation of these offices and their value to the organization. We can take the hard decisions, based on results and facts, after that.

Efficient communication structures within the OAS
Many have observed that the OAS operates more like a collection of independent entities rather than as a cohesive unitary institution. This may be due to disparate mandates and different funding streams and perhaps even competing interests on the part of the different secretariats and departments. If elected, I will establish a coordinating structure that would bring together all the secretaries and heads of department in periodic coordination meetings so that we are all looking at the same big picture and so that the distribution of responsibilities across the various departments takes place in a coordinated manner. More importantly, this would ensure that we are all working together to solve the same big problem with each department contributing according to its expertise and mandate. Such coordination would avoid duplication of efforts, reduce waste, limit the competition between the departments for funds, and enable vital information sharing that would enhance efficiency.

Dear Colleagues: Coordination and integration are essential elements that have to be strengthened and institutionalized in a renovated OAS. The organization deals with a number of very important and cross-cutting issues that can only be properly managed if approached with an integral perspective. I am referring to issues like migration, which the unaccompanied child migrant crisis last year placed into start prominence. The migration issue has elements of development, security, human rights, and governance all of which are covered by the OAS but in different secretariats and therefore requiring an integral perspective. The issues of youth, gender issues, poverty alleviation, and climate change are other examples of cross cutting themes.

Estimados colegas - Nuestra organización necesita fortalecer la cooperación solidaria con una dosis de pragmatismo, mas uso de tecnología y privilegiando operaciones estratégicas de alto rendimiento y así convertirla en cooperación inteligente o "smart cooperation."

Quisiera tocar en algunos temas relacionados con la cooperación. Primero, yo estoy convencido que la cooperación en todas las áreas, en todos los pilares, sigue siendo una tarea esencial y transversal de la organización y tenemos que hacer todo lo posible para hacerlo más eficiente, más moderno, utilizando tecnología de punta, y con más valor agregado. Lo segundo es que entre los estados miembros existen diferentes "constituencies" o distritos electorales con diferentes intereses y prioridades. Esto significa que no debemos aplicar el mismo modelo a todos los distritos porque no funcionara. Por ejemplo, en ciertos temas, las necesidades y prioridades de un pequeño estado Caribeño sería bastante diferente de los de un país grande de sur América. Estas diferencias apuntan a la necesidad de un alto nivel de pragmatismo en la coordinación y implementación de los diferentes pilares. Otro punto importante es que los cuatro pilares se interrelacionan y no debemos imponer barreras estrictas entre los diferentes pilares. Tenemos que buscar las fórmulas que brinden complementariedades y que multipliquen los beneficios y el impacto de nuestras iniciativas en dichos pilares. Tenemos que enfocarnos en los temas comunes que son transversales a los cuatro pilares y construir alrededor de ellos. We must always bear in mind that without development, we cannot enjoy our human rights or claim to have a good democracy, and none of these can occur in an environment that lacks safety, security and stability.

También tenemos que ser más creativos en el área de cooperación. En el 2015, en nuestro hemisferio existen múltiples iniciativas y modelos nuevos de los cuales podemos aprender y la OEA puede jugar un rol muy importante como canalizador de nuevos ofrecimientos de cooperación. Sabemos por ejemplo que varios países miembros están invirtiendo muchísimo capital en temas de innovación y investigación y que desde ya han indicado su disposición de compartir estos conocimientos con otros estados con menos posibilidades de hacer estas inversiones. También conocemos de excelentes modelos de iniciativas público privadas que han funcionado en algunos países y de los cuales podemos aprender todos. La OEA puede ser ese canal para compartir estos modelos. En el 2015, una OEA renovada necesita fortalecer el concepto de cooperación solidaria inyectando una dosis de pragmatismo y eficiencia. We need to strengthen solidarity cooperation and convert it into demand driven, pragmatic, and above all SMART Cooperation.

The Pillars:
Todos reconocemos que no podemos seguir como estamos, que no podemos seguir actuando de la misma forma y esperar que los resultados sean diferentes. Una organización renovada también implica un nuevo enfoque en los pilares de nuestra organización.

The strategic vision of the OAS and the decision to elaborate a strategic plan provide a valuable road map that should instruct the work under the four pillars.

Integral Development
First we will look at integral development. I believe that the average citizen in our hemisphere wants a good job and a good income, a safe and secure environment for his/her family, access to quality education and public services, a voice on his/her future and a good government.

Looking ahead, we must ask ourselves: What are the unique strengths of the OAS in the area of development to address the needs of our citizens and how do they complement (and not duplicate) the work of other organizations of the Inter-American System?

Ministerial and high-level meetings are at the heart of the policy dialogue of our organization. These meetings constitute an important competitive advantage for the OAS and offer opportunities for the formulation and implementation of a more integrated development agenda to address the complex challenges faced by our region. The OAS is, in fact, the only Inter-American institution which has a broad policy range working with several ministries (Foreign Affairs, Labor, Education, Science and Technology, Social Development, Tourism, Sustainable Environment, and Culture) and high-level authorities (competitiveness and SMEs) in the area of development. We need to take better advantage of the synergies among the different areas of development in which the OAS works and provide a space for multi-sectoral dialogue among ministers and high-level authorities.

The challenges our countries are facing are complex and require cross disciplinary interventions. For example, quality education, technical and vocational education are essential elements to reduce the skill and competency gaps to meet our countries’ labor market needs and boost productivity. A rich and vibrant exchange on lessons learned among labor and education ministers, competitiveness councils as well as SME authorities would help our countries address these challenges in a more holistic and coordinated manner.

This leads me to highlight another asset of our organization: the concept of Partnership for Development. This concept is a unique model of development cooperation in our region which distinguishes our work from other institutions. In these high-level exchanges policy innovators and early adopters share their successful practices with other member states. We must strengthen these exchanges and expand their impact by opening the partnership to the participation of the other agencies of the Inter-American System such as the IDB, IICA, PAHO and the other institutional partners of the OAS.

Now, how can we improve on the way we respond to the needs of our citizens and member states in the area of development?

1) As I mentioned earlier, we must have a more integrated approach. Let me give you a few examples.
a. Climate change is the defining issue of our time because as recently stated by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “there is no Plan B for action” as “there is no Planet B.” Our work on energy and climate change would benefit from a dialogue with policymakers in several other areas, including competitiveness, social development and science and technology. Climate change, as well as gender, should be viewed as a cross-cutting issue at the OAS.
b. Our capacity building work to strengthen SME support institutions should not only include programs tailor-made for traditional small businesses and high-impact SMEs in the innovative sector and creative industries. It should expand its reach and address issues related to small businesses being socially and environmentally responsible (such as by paying taxes or by reducing the environmental impact of their production, including instigating recycling programs, reducing waste, energy savings, installing solar panel).
c. Our work on inclusion should be truly inclusive. Inclusion applies not only to social development but more broadly to all dimensions of integral development: human, economic, sustainable, and social.

The question then arises, how will we fund the development initiatives? Well, we will be proactive in our institutional outreach and seek strategic partnerships with the institutional partners of the OAS as well as the affiliated agencies.

If elected to the post of Assistant Secretary General, I will work to ensure better cross disciplinary coordination, more efficiency, and a pragmatic approach to these matters.

Multidimensional Security
En el área de seguridad multidimensional, hay que reconocer que la OEA ha hecho y sigue haciendo trabajos muy importantes en varios temas de la gran problemática de la seguridad. La CICAD y el CICTE, así como el Departamento de Seguridad Publica, hoy día se desempeñan en una gran gama de actividades con impactos específicos y directos, y estos deben continuar. Su labor en el desarrollo de leyes modelo, de fortalecimiento institucional a nivel nacional y regional, y el compartimiento de mejores prácticas son muy útiles. Sin embargo, pienso que como institución debemos mejorar la coordinación entre estas unidades, y también buscar las áreas donde sus trabajos se complementan. Aún más importante, pienso que debemos poner más enfoque en temas de prevención. Es decir, no debemos esperar que el joven se vuelva miembro de una pandilla para intervenir, debemos intervenir antes creando oportunidades de capacitación, empleo, expresión artística, deportes y más que todo, sembrando esperanza para evitar que la pandilla sea la única o mejor alternativa. Las respuestas a los problemas de seguridad de nuestro continente deben ser pragmáticos y con plena concordancia con los derechos humanos.

Human Rights
During the last decades the Inter-American System of Human Rights has been an invaluable mechanism for the protection and promotion of human rights. There is no questioning the importance of the issues it is charged to deal with. However, it is no secret that it has come under severe criticism from several Member States, and it is not an issue that should be ignored. In this context, I think that it is only logical that we create more spaces for frank and respectful dialogue, both formal and informal, between the Commission on Human Rights and the Member States. We should not wait for an issue to become a problem before we start talking about it and trying to resolve it. I also totally agree with the position expressed by the former Foreign Minister of Uruguay and candidate for Secretary General, who posited that the work of the Inter-American Commission was and should remain an eminently technical function. In my view there is need for a much greater focus on the issue of promoting human rights, making human rights more accessible to the people, and sensitizing and educating our communities about their rights and with a particular emphasis on partnering with the centers of learning in our countries. The need for these promotional activities is especially high in those jurisdictions that have not signed the Convention, since focusing on promotion with the educational institutions begins to lay the groundwork for debate and discussion on these issues eventually leading to political discussion about them. I also believe that in certain jurisdictions, the focus on citizen’s human rights should also be complemented with the teaching of citizen duties and responsibilities in a democratic, law abiding society. This approach may sound laborious, but we need to start somewhere.

Democracy and Good Governance
There is no question that under the pillar of democracy, the OAS is a recognized leader in the strengthening of democracy and democratic institutions. These are ongoing dynamic processes that require dedication and persistence, and they constitute core functions of our organization. We should also recognize that democracy is not limited to the holding of free fair and transparent elections, but includes the entire spectrum of citizen participation in pursuit of their just aspirations. The initiatives underway by the OAS dealing with effective public management at the level of municipalities must be strengthened, and it should be amplified to promote also the role of municipalities as facilitators of agents for economic development in their jurisdictions. Taken in tandem with the promotion of democratic values and effective public management, the economic impact angle underscores the inextricable linkages between democracy and development and human rights.

We must never forget that democracy is a process not a destination.

Institutional Outreach
Dear Colleagues: One of the critical tasks ahead for the new OAS administration will be to reach out to and reengage and strengthen relations with the Governments of the Member States, including with the different Parliaments and Congresses. Having good and productive relations with all Governments is important for the building of trust.

The OAS Permanent Observers are an important component of the organization, and we must reenergize our efforts to work closer with them.

As part of its institutional outreach, the OAS should also build on its complementary and mutually beneficial relationship with the regional integration organizations such as CARICOM and SICA and others such as CELAC. CARICOM last year approved a Strategic Plan setting out its priorities for development, and the OAS should be a strong partner in pursuit of this strategy, which in fact covers many of the areas in which the OAS is engaged. The same goes for SICA and its Central America Security Strategy, and the new scholarship program being proposed within CELAC. There are important opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration that we as an organization should maximize.

Furthermore, the OAS cannot and should not operate as an institutional island with only procedural and protocolary engagement with the other institutions of the Inter-American system. The OAS lies at the center of this system, and it needs to promote a symbiotic, mutually beneficial engagement with these organizations in order to exploit the complementarities, increase the impact of invested resources, and utilize strategic partnerships to advance its work. In this regard, I propose to organize periodic information sharing and coordination meetings with the IDB, PAHO, IICA, and the World Bank, and explore opportunities with non-traditional partners such as the CAF Bank and the international environmental NGO’s such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, etc.

It should be noted that not all OAS members States are members of the IDB, and therefore this is often seen as an obstacle to the full engagement in the development field with the IDB. It is time that we address this issue and start to explore ways to overcome this barrier.

I am convinced that the OAS is uniquely positioned with its brand and it’s convening power to bring all these organizations and resources into strategic alignment for the implementation of its mandates.

Other issues
Many critics dismissively state that the OAS has lost its relevance. I disagree. The OAS is many things to many people, and very important things done by the OAS everyday are critical to many of our countries. What I think is that in order to redefine the presence of the OAS in the hemisphere, we must place the organization at the center of the big discussions that define our time: issues of energy security, renewable energies and climate change, issues of internet connectivity, issues of migration, matters related to organized crime and far afield threats that may find their way to our shores, to name a few. Even more important, we have the institutional infrastructure to make this happen.

We must also, as an organization, rationalize the relationship between the OAS and the Summits of the Americas process, especially in light of the upcoming historic Summit in Panama, where for the first time the entire continent will be present.

Finally, as an organization, we need to focus on what we agree on rather than what separates us. Perhaps we should try reducing issues to a pure technical level for a more efficient management and thereby reduce the political polarization that unfortunately accompanies many issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I stand before you today convinced that here in this room we have what is needed to change our organization into the OAS that we want, and that our people deserve. I am convinced that together we can do it. Yo les pido que me den la oportunidad de trabajar junto con ustedes para lograrlo.

Muchas gracias, Thank you very much.