Mon | Oct 16, 2017

Time for change at OAS

Published:Saturday | June 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMLuis Almagro, Contributor

"In my nine years in this organisation, there has never been a town hall meeting, a candid and direct dialogue with the secretary general," said a staff member, to our surprise, during just such a forum we organised during my first full week as secretary general.

Far from being a modern Organization of American State (OAS) based on knowledge and constant learning, the OAS is mired in command, and, control structures. We must and we will change that through a sustainable process.

The OAS's upcoming general assembly, our 45th, and my first as secretary general, should be a turning point where all stakeholders take the first step in assuming our respective responsibilities to realign the OAS to make it the hemisphere's premier political forum that ensures more rights for more people throughout the Americas.

Key to this process will be an open dialogue with the foreign ministers of the hemisphere on the future of the institution. As I have already said, my administration is committed to establish, by the end of 2015, new strategic guidelines, which, based on the ministers' guidance, will be the basis of institutional realignment.

My actions are inspired by the great strides the organisation's member states have made in defining a strategic vision and thus advancing along a path of transformation that will generate greater legitimacy, confidence, and security that the OAS is an equally shared space where voices are heard and are taken into account.

We must be inflexible in demanding respect for human rights and democracy. There will be no double standards during my administration, and we must be an example - first of all in our own house, of transparency, tolerance, dialogue, and accountability - to be able to demand something from others.

We cannot fall into the habit of 'do as I say and not as I do'. To that end, the time has come to stop labelling each other and to look at what we have in common.

It is no small thing to be a hemisphere that follows an envious path of peace and democracy while other regions boil over with conflict. We must not, however, be complacent; as it is true, there are imperfections, there are tensions, and seemingly endless confrontations. In these cases, we must extend a hand to help bring people together, to reduce distrust, and to create certainty for all.

The OAS, aside from being the sole forum that brings together all the region's subgroups, has great potential to provide quality services in the areas of security, governance, justice, anti-corruption, and ethics in public policies and electoral systems, among others.

To that end, together with the member countries and the staff of the organisation, we will pursue results-based management in those key areas and on the initiatives that we will carry out with other multilateral organisations:

- A school of government for public servants and civil society.

- A regional system for the prevention of conflict.

- A Pan-American Education System.

- Citizen security in the Americas.

- Disaster management in Central America and the Caribbean.

I have repeatedly said that I didn't come to Washington to manage an OAS in crisis, but to facilitate a sustainable renewal, a process that must be based on constant dialogue in the quest for consensus with all regional groups and countries that make up the Organization.

During my term, we will focus on priority areas of action and will let go of the old practices of adding mandates that cannot be subsequently implemented and which exist only on paper.

We want an OAS that contributes to the strengthening of our hemisphere in the global context, which shows that the Americas are actually part of the solution to global issues, from climate change to religious intolerance to food security, among others.

We are headed in that direction towards change, and the 45th General Assembly will be the first necessary step of mutual trust, which allows us to walk that essential path together.

- Luis Almagro is secretary general of the OAS. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.