KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The Commonwealth champions the cause of small states and its demise would be to the detriment of small nations such as those in the Commonwealth Caribbean, according to regional diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development. It comprises the world’s largest and smallest, richest and poorest countries and are home to 2 billion citizens of all faiths and ethnicities. Member countries span six continents and oceans from Africa to Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and the South Pacific.
The Commonwealth connection remains “an irreplaceable asset for small states in many practical ways,” said Sir Ronald, who was a member and rapporteur of the Eminent Persons Group of 10 individuals mandated in 2009 to examine of options for reform of the 63-year-old, 54-member state, “values-based” body. Sir Ronald noted that in 1985 the Commonwealth’s work on the particular vulnerabilities of small states led to the World Bank’s decision to make special provision for small-island states within its concessionary lending. “Since then the Bank has ‘graduated’ many small states from concessional financing on the single criterion of per capita income. But, although ‘graduated’, the majority of these countries continue to be afflicted by many of the challenges facing other developing countries,” he said, adding, that it is critical that the criteria used to determine the economic well being of small states be reviewed. “Tonight, I call on the leadership of small states to urge the Commonwealth collective to mandate the Secretary-General to again appoint an expert group to establish the case for concessional financing for small states, and, on the basis of such work, to renew high-level advocacy on their behalf,” Sir Ronald said.
He made the point as he delivered a lecture in celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen’s ascension to the throne and head of the Commonwealth The lecture, hosted by Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, was titled “The Modern Commonwealth: Its relevance to St Vincent and the Grenadines – a Small Island Developing State.” Sir Ronald said that with 32 of its 54 members being small states, the Commonwealth must continue to champion their concerns, adding that small states are usually the hardest hit by both economic and financial crises, and natural disasters. He said that while small states played no part in creating the global financial crisis that began in late 2008, the growth rate of the majority of small states in 2009, 2010 and 2011, following the effects of the crisis, were below the average for the world and below that for developing countries as a whole. Sir Ronald further said that the Commonwealth Secretariat operates programmes “with particular small states components running through the full gamut of its activities including education, climate change, trade facilitation, and human development”. Technical Cooperation
He noted that while the Commonwealth is not an aid agency, since 1971 it has operated a “modest” Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC), providing technical expertise to small states. Over the last decade, 60 per cent of its resources has been devoted to small states, said Sir Ronald. In SVG, in the decade ending 2010, the CFTC provided direct assistance of about 30,000 pounds while the country contributed 14,020 pounds to the aid programme. “So that for every 1 pound that St Vincent contributed to the CFTC, it got back over 3.40 pounds worth of direct assistance,” Sir Ronald said. Among the projects in SVG to which CFTC provided direct assistance, are maritime boundaries negotiation, improving sustainable debt management, and I.T. system development for airport management, development of a tourism investment plan.
CFTC funds have also helped with strengthening customs administration and management to improve efficiency and increase customs revenue, development of credit facilities for micro and small businesses, advisory support on International Law Treaties and Conventions, and capacity building for public sector development. Sir Ronald said that in the same decade, over 190 Vincentians have been trained in priority areas of need for public sector development. “Beyond relevant and appropriate technical assistance, perhaps the greatest importance of the Commonwealth to small states is that it provides leaders of these states with direct access to Heads of Government and Ministers of large countries that would otherwise be impossible,” Sir Ronald further said.
Leaders equal He said that at Heads of Government meetings, leaders of small states have direct access, as equals, to the leaders of Britain, Canada, Australia, India and South Africa — important members of the group of 20 largest economies. “Small states leaders can advance their own causes and interests and try to engage leaders of influential Commonwealth countries to progress them in the international community,” Sir Ronald said, adding, “Despite this focus by the Commonwealth on small states, their condition remains difficult. But their situation would be unimaginably worse without the championship of the Commonwealth.”
In discussing the Commonwealth’s role and relevance for small states, Sir Ronald said that of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states, 32 are small states, with populations of 1.5 million people or less, located in the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, Africa and the South China Sea.
“From the inception of small states’ membership in the association, the Commonwealth has shown consistent leadership in articulating to the world the challenges they confronted,” he said, adding that Caribbean countries have used the Commonwealth “to good effect to sensitize countries outside of their region to threats to their territory”.
He mentioned Belize and Guyana, which face territorial claims from Guatemala and Venezuela, respectively.
The two former British colonies have used Commonwealth meetings at all levels to win public declarations of support for their territorial integrity, and to promote peaceful settlements of these issues, Sir Ronald said. “Undoubtedly, the governments of Guatemala and Venezuela have been cognizant of the position of Commonwealth countries and this may have influenced the restraint that they have so far exercised in not using their superior military capacity to further their territorial ambitions.”