Rhetoric must become Reality.
The newly appointed Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Zhivargo Laing deserves credit for refocusing attention on negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Area of the America’s (FTAA). However the press reports on the negotiations for the most part are limited to announcing that talks are underway. Nothing of a material nature as to what is being discussed is reported, the consequence of which is that the public is kept in the dark.
Let’s back up for a moment. Manifesto ’92 promised “deliverance.” This included a pledge to “Restore credibility to our country’s reputation through up-front dialogue and straight, honest dealings with the private sector at home and abroad.”
If the rhetoric of “transparency” is to become a reality, instead of avoiding the factual content of the discussions, detailed information needs to be made public. This can be provided to the press as well as posted on the Internet.
� FTAA and Transparency
The official FTAA web site (www.alca-ftaa.org) states: “Governments in the Western Hemisphere have committed to transparency in the negotiating process. For this purpose they have agreed to create a Committee on Civil Society, in order to facilitate the input of the business community, labor, environmental, and academic groups, who wish to present their views on the issues under negotiation and on trade matters in a constructive manner.”
This all sounds very transparent. The reality is that the few business people that have been requested to serve on the negotiating committees are reportedly forbidden to share the specifics of the issues under negotiation.
It is also regrettable that the Bahamian Government’s contact information cannot be found on the FTAA web site. The address, phone number, fax number and e-dress for Barbados, Dominica and the Dominican Republic representatives are posted …but not for the Bahamas.
� The Caribbean Community
A search on the Caribbean Communities web site (www.caricom.org), the body that is negotiating on our behalf reveals no information on the process either.
There is also the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) that is supposed to keep us up to date on events. Here again, there is a bi-weekly newsletter that is long on symbolism but short on substance. The limited amount of information they supply can be found at www.caribrnm.net.
The Bahamas does not have a web site for this purpose.
� The Treaty-making Process
The Secretary General to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mr. Mike Moore, a former New Zealand MP, says:
“Citizens of individual countries will not, and should not, accept any form of international regulation or institution over which they have little control. Keeping control of bureaucrats at a domestic level is tough enough: at an international level it will be tougher”
He goes on to say that Parliament should be able to scrutinise international treaties before the government signs them. In fact he says “Parliament should have a constitutional role in the treaty-making process.”
Apparently the New Zealand government has adopted many of his proposals.
He further states:
“In the end there is no single structure, institution, theory, flow chart or magic bullet. Domestic civil society was painfully built up over centuries by thousands of concerned individuals and their interaction. Trust in law and society’s institutions was eventually earned. International civil society will be built on integrity, and respect will be earned on the basis of results. But it’s a long, imperfect process.”
We deserve no less in our country.
� Share the details
Minister Laing has a huge responsibility, but may find that sharing more detailed information will increase interest from the community to help with this process. However, if the “official” position of secrecy continues, Minister Laing may not get the response he needs.
Government ought to consider Mr. Moore’s recommendations for including Parliament along with providing all information relating to the negotiations. This may be laborious, but in the end transparency will be a fact – not just a meaningless phrase.
Stop the rhetoric. The Bahamian society is intelligent enough to handle reality.