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UN body wants continuity - FAO pushing for mature governance from CARICOM states

Published:Monday | December 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
The stance outlined by Deep Ford, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations coordinator for the Caribbean, would require representatives of the Government led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and the Andrew Holness-led Opposition to both sign on to future projects, ensuring continuity no matter the outcome of an election.

The ongoing failure of CARICOM countries to reap the full benefits of aid programmes, because of disruptions whenever there is a change of administration, is now a matter of serious concern for at least one international funding agency - the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

This lack of continuity has resulted in significant wastage of resources, made worse very often by duplication of projects and blatant squandering, as political parties appear to engage in one-upmanship to the detriment of their constituents and the public purse

"We have to mature our governance structures, we have to grow political parties that talk to each other, we have to grow ministers in the same political party that talk to each other," Dr Deep Ford, FAO coordinator for the Caribbean, told The Gleaner recently.

"It is not when you go to Parliament on a Tuesday that you slap backs with each other and say, 'How you doing?' And during the entire year, minister of education and minister of health and minister of agriculture don't sit down and have a conversation and say, 'The three of us have a lot of synergies between school feeding, between nutrition and between agriculture food that we are making available to the people and have a common integrated programme across ministries'," he lamented.

"We have ministries in our world that are silos on to themselves."

Ford, who attended the inaugural Caribbean Pacific Agri-Food Forum in Barbados where he is based, told The Gleaner that in its effort to promote "mature governance", the FAO would be looking to a new model in respect of how it engages with these countries.

"So this is one of the aspects of governance that we are promoting: it's called building parliamentary fronts. This is very carefully chosen because we are not talking about the political party. It's not a political front; we are talking about the government on both sides of the aisle, so that when we sign people on to work with us, we want to sign on the minister of agriculture and the shadow minister of agriculture; the minister of education and the shadow minister of education," he said.

"Because this means continuity, it means serious thought, it means commitment to your country - not necessarily to a party and a five-year programme, it must be a longer programme."

private-sector coalition

Ford's comments are similar to those expressed by a coalition of eight private-sector and civil-society groups that recently urged Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness to give their unwavering commitment that whoever holds the reins of power after the next general election will be wedded to five principles of good governance - fiscal responsibility, price stability, social safety net, public-private partnerships and ease of doing business.

The FAO executive continued: "So we need to focus on governance. Now, the great Kofi Annan, after decades in the United Nations, was asked the question, 'What is missing? Why have we not been able to transform so many economies, so many societies after all these five, six decades of development; all this money that has been poured into these countries, why have we not been able to bring poverty to an end? Bring hunger to an end across the world?

"And his answer was a very simple one, it was one word. He said 'governance'. Governance is the issue. He said if we can get mature governance, he said if we can get policy in place, public policy, public purchasing, if we can get strong messages, if we can get sensible advocacy, we can make a difference and we can make all the changes that we need to make in our society and in our economy."

The FAO, according to Ford, has already started the process, citing an example in St Vincent and the Grenadines where it recently signed an agreement for a parliamentary front against hunger with the ruling United Labour Party (ULP) and the main opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP).

The Ralph Gonsalves-led ULP has since won a record fourth consecutive term in power, trumping the Arnhim Eustace-led NDP 8-7 in a result it is contesting.

Ford, seeking to explain the importance of the new FAO approach, said: "It is one programme. The continuity is built in (because) when that shadow minister (becomes) the minister of agriculture, if the government changes - it's the same programme tomorrow morning as it was yesterday. So we feel that that continuity is really what we're after. The consistency, continuity of the coordination of the production systems, etc., because planning in five periods is a very difficult thing and it's very disruptive."

"He (the St Vincent shadow minister) was a signatory. We had never done business before like that, and it is a very, very difficult way to do business because governments don't want you talking to the opposition. Governments want to say, 'Why did you invite this man to this meeting?' As a matter of fact, on occasions, the shadow minister was available to come to meetings (in St Vincent) and the minister couldn't, and it was the shadow minister there who was virtually representing the country. And how could you have the shadow minister at your meeting?"

Ford admitted that some persons are likely to be sceptical about the potential acceptance and success of this approach, given the long-standing, ingrained political culture that is an accepted way of life in most Caribbean countries. Still, he remains confident that it will succeed, if only because it must.

"We have to mature our governance structure (because), if we don't, we gonna be going around and around like we've been going for so long. Some people will say we are dreaming; well, reality comes from a dream and we feel that if we can promote this ... and we have had success in several countries," he said.