Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Here follows a statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell at the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly 14 June 2016:
“Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas”
Colleague Ministers and heads of delegations
I wish to express profound appreciation for the wonderful arrangements and hospitality that the Government and People of the Dominican Republic have afforded to my delegation this week. I am glad to be here.
We meet at an interesting time. In the wake of the Paris Agreement and the agreement on the 2030 Agenda, we recognize the daunting task of sustainable development in an integrated world and the real threats to its attainment.
We meet at a time when many question the role, relevancy and legitimacy of the OAS, so the thematic focus for this General Assembly – “Institutional strengthening for Sustainable Development” – renders itself particularly timely.
Let me say that our country continues to believe that this organization has a role to play in world, hemispheric and regional affairs. It therefore requires in its management and leadership, a skill that is evenhanded in its applications and responses to the challenges which face us, being able to withstand even the most unfortunate statements which are made, sometimes even of a personal nature, always remembering the larger and greater task at hand. The people of the hemisphere want the organization to play a constructive and honest broker role in all our countries, despite what individual actors in countries may say about it. We must remember that it is the people of the hemisphere we serve and apply ourselves as honest brokers in that role.
Let me also say that we deplore the recent lack of civility that has leaked into the public discourse in the international fora both at home and abroad. We remind actors both at home and abroad of the need for a civil discourse. Language and words have consequences and we cannot pretend that the unbridled viciousness with which public discourse often occurs particularly with the advent of social media, does not lead to the mindless physical violence that acts itself out in so many of our countries, including my own. The public incivility seems to feed people who think they can take up guns and act out against their opponents and those who they do not like. This then should instruct our own discourse within this body.
While the challenges to sustainable development in the Americas are manifold, The Bahamas believes the OAS, in particular, the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI), has an indispensable role to play in helping Member States meet our evolving national and international obligations.
Key Challenges faced by The Bahamas
We join Member States in commending the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change reached last December. Few challenges rise to the level of an existential threat for a country; but for my country and many other Small Island Developing State (SIDS), the threat of climate change is real, palpable and pervasive. For context, should the current climate trend maintain, and the sea level continues to rise within the next century the entire Archipelago of The Bahamas will be submerged. Therefore, we are anxious to see the commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement animated by the urgency to mitigate and adapt to this threat; to see countries move beyond talk to action.
The Bahamas has certainly been a leader in environmental protection and with the recent adoption of a National Energy Policy for the next two decades my country will seek to aggressively pursue renewable energy alternatives. The principle of common but differentiated responsibility does however emphasize the necessity of polluters, the developed and industrial countries among us, shouldering the burden of the consequences of their actions and of those amongst us who are best able to limit their carbon emissions exerting leadership in solving the problem. I would urge all developed countries to find the courage to demonstrate their enhanced commitment to the preservation of our planet.
Access to Aid and Finance
To achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, which comprise more than 160 targets, The Bahamas, an archipelagic Small Island Developing State, like others, will need the assistance of the international community. A focus on institutional strengthening within the framework of sustainable development will be meaningless if countries do not have access to sufficient affordable financing for development. The economy of The Bahamas is exceptionally exposed to various types of vulnerabilities including, environmental, economic and social, and other external shocks, all of which at times disrupt the planned fiscal policy of the Government that is geared towards the further development of a sustainable economy. The reverberations and duration of these shocks are protracted and much more profound on nations like The Bahamas.
The Bahamas, despite its small population size, faces challenges due to geographic distribution of its population, a result of its archipelagic nature. This therefore necessitates the continued maintenance of approximately 54 airports, 20 of which are international airports, over 100 public health care facilities and more than 150 public schools. Despite these immense costs of duplication of infrastructure, often my country is misguidedly dismissed as a “high income” country that is not in need of aid or assistance.
What we want is a broadening and modernizing of the development indicators used to assess development need. GDP per capita should not be the primary determinant for the question of international economic assistance or concessional access to development financing. Instead, the unique circumstances of Small Island Developing States especially of those that are most vulnerable, should be given due consideration when deciding qualifications for economic assistance.
We commend recent reforms at the IDB, through the macro development vulnerability index, whereas they seek to introduce vulnerability assessments into their lending decision making criteria and welcome recent moves by governments, such as the United States, to reform criteria for aid and financing for energy projects, climate change financing and disaster risk management in the region. Deeper structural reforms are required still, however, across the international financial system in order to institutionalize more fair and equitable decision-making.
Conduct of Diplomacy
One of the indispensable attributes of our Organization is its construction, which facilitates equitable political access for all Member States, large or small, developed or developing. This is something that must be treasured and safeguarded, given this is one of the few significant political multilateral organizations that assures equity in all aspects of decision making between Member States. We have to work to ensure that this Organization’s legitimacy as a political forum is maintained and that it continues to function as a place where each Member State’s issues can be brought to the table and every country’s vote and voice carries equal weight.
The OAS works best when there is engagement in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and a common understanding of the role that we all play in the proper functioning of the system.
The Bahamas remains hopeful that, going forward, Member States will no longer be consulted as a last thought and at the proverbial eleventh hour on emergent political, human resource or financial crises. We reiterate that the work of the Organization, whether that be reform, policy direction or political engagement, should be driven by Member States. We also reiterate that more work must be done to ensure that the staffing of the OAS Secretariat adequately reflects the rich diversity of the Americas which will facilitate more democratic, inclusive and relevant work by the Organization.
In 1973 when Sir Lynden O Pindling, the founding Prime Minister of The Bahamas set out on the journey of independence, he plotted the course for a small nation. It was ambitious but at the same time simple, not to be dominated by ideology but to plot a practical course in our world affairs to ensure that our people would survive as citizens in the world for the long term. We remain true to that mission today.
We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
The daunting challenges of climate change, reforming access to aid and finance and building educated, competitive societies as an antidote to poverty and inequality require a moral, political clarity, dedication, urgency and purposeful action without ideological constraints that Sir Lynden advocated 43 years ago when speaking at the United Nations.
The sustainable development of our countries and the legitimacy and credibility of our Organization hangs in the balance. Our citizens demand that we act collectively to meet these challenges. The Bahamas is committed to working with colleague Member States; we know the problems, we have talked about them extensively, the time has come to act.
I thank you.