Date: 17 Oct 2010
Speaker: Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith,
Location: The Senior Leaders Forum at the Commonwealth Association of Public Administration & Management (CAPAM) Biennial Conference, Malta
Thank you very much. It is my pleasure this afternoon to make a few brief remarks on Regional Governance at this Senior Leaders Forum.
The afternoon’s programme, as you will have seen, promises to be a rich one. It will examine regional governance in its breadth and complexity and I do not want to pre-empt in any way the treat that I am sure is to come. Never-the-less I am emboldened to offer a few thoughts on this very relevant topic since regionalism is important in the Commonwealth and to the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Regional Governance and Regional Integration
Regional governance, in the context that it is being used at this Senior Leaders Forum, has its roots in the increasing importance of regional integration amongst countries, and if I may digress for a minute to make a distinction. Regional governance can be addressed in two ways, given that the idea of structuring governance functions at the regional level within countries has also become increasingly topical. This other approach to regional governance is in itself a matter deserving study, holding, as it does, implications for devolution and for local governance.
But the latter is not our concern today. Of much greater immediate interest to the Commonwealth is regional governance that is emerging from and accompanying the drive towards regional integration across the globe.
Regional Integration in the Developing World
It is important to note that while the European Union may be among the oldest and best known regional grouping, it is in fact in the developing world that the movement towards regional integration has surged most strongly in recent years.
From the perspective of the Commonwealth, this is of some significance for 48 of our 54 members are developing countries. Even more to the point, 32 of our members are classified as small states. It is precisely these countries that are best placed to benefit from the economies of scale that go with regional integration and the efficiencies associated with producing regional public goods and services.
Regional Trade Agreements and Beyond
The pervasiveness of regional integration arrangements is indicated by a WTO projection some years ago that by the end of 2010 there would be over 400 operational regional trading arrangements. However it is important to recognise that it is not just the number of regional trading arrangements that is relevant, it is also their nature and changing structure.
The current wave of integration arrangements, unlike their predecessors, go well beyond trade and border measures to regulate a host of trade related areas such as investment, services and government procurement. These arrangements now seek to establish regional transportation networks, manage water basins and infrastructure, energy and the environment. Regional partners engage in monetary cooperation, foreign policy and security coordination, establish common courts and seek to deliver shared services in areas such as health, education, agriculture and telecommunications.
In the region with which I am most familiar, the fifteen member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which started as a free trade area, now engages in extensive policy, economic, and functional cooperation and has established an institutional framework to match.
By way of example there is now a Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System, a Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, CARICOM Implementing Agency for Crime and Security, Caribbean Examinations Council, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism and a Caribbean Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality. From memory, there is more but none of this is particularly unusual across a number of integration movements.
In Africa there are over 30 regional arrangements, eight of which are recognised by the African Union. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has for example established an ECO-bank, a regional development fund and a regional investment bank. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has established major regional initiatives in agriculture, energy and transport infrastructure, covering roads, sea and air. Similarly, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has major regional initiatives in agriculture, energy, Information and Communications Technology, transport and infrastructure. Additionally one must mention the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as an innovative instrument aimed at fostering in member countries policies, standards and practices that promote political stability, sustainable development and regional and continental integration.
Regional Integration and Governance – Challenges and Opportunities
What are the implications for governance, given this current wave of regional integration and the related establishment of a range of regional institutions?
There are obviously both challenges and opportunities that arise for public service delivery because of regional integration.
The opportunities have been alluded to earlier. Countries that are contiguous or in close proximity, such as small islands, can benefit from economies of scale: share costs by operating common services, pool negotiating power and political clout in their interface with the wider global community, and more broadly can derive synergies from combining human, financial, institutional and other resources.
What are some of the challenges that regional integration poses for public service delivery?
I think at this juncture it is a useful reminder that these challenges must be placed in the context of the overall objective of the public service - which is to enhance the welfare of citizens through good governance and efficient delivery of services.
In this context, the overarching challenge is the potential misalignment between regional programmes and national and citizen interests.
In participating in regional arrangements, countries seek to pool sovereignty. In doing so, both decision making and implementation through regional secretariats, regional institutions or other modalities will be moved up the ladder, and a rung further away from the citizen.
This can impair accountability, run counter to subsidiarity, and risk distancing decision making and implementation processes from those they are intended to serve. Managing this tension is probably the most challenging issue in realizing the governance potential of regional integration.
This can be addressed by encouraging and ensuring transparency, engagement and accountability at both national and regional levels and by providing more space for direct interface by civil society, private sector and citizens, with regional institutions and processes.
It can also be addressed by extending certain rights that citizens enjoy at the national level to the regional level - such as access to information - through appropriate instruments like legislation and charters.
The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Support for Regional Bodies
Let me emphasize that the Commonwealth Secretariat is fully cognisant of the growing importance of regional groupings in a modern and globalised context. Indeed the Secretariat directs an increasing proportion of resources and assistance to the regional and inter-regional levels. Regional organisations require clear, consistent mandates and strong political and financial support from their member states.
In addition, they need strengthened regional institutions and technical capacity as well as accountable processes, to deliver regional programmes and projects efficiently and in a responsive manner.
These regional arrangements and institutions are, for example, increasingly conduits for donor and other external resources and how Paris Principles, such as ownership and alignment, can be creatively and effectively applied in this context should increasingly engage national, regional and global actors.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is committed to working with regional organisations and institutions to achieve their goals, to deliver regional public goods and other services, and in enhancing their capacity.
By way of illustration: we have recently launched, after extensive consultation in the region, the Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility: we continue to deliver trade capacity support to regional organisations in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Africa; we provide debt management support to regional and sub regional organisations: we provide regionally based training in legal drafting, human rights and other areas and we deploy experts on climate change to regional institutions, among other initiatives.
Given the focus of this Conference, I should note that our support for the public service also has a strong regional dimension. The Secretariat convenes at the regional level regular meetings of Heads of the Public Service and Cabinet Secretaries; regional meetings of Points of Contacts to discuss the priority needs of our member states and regional caucuses of Public Service Ministers at our Biennial Ministerial Forums, the third of which is to take place in just a few days.
Let me conclude by emphasizing that we take this approach not merely because it may be logistically and administratively convenient to do so, although sometimes it is, but because we fully recognize that increasingly the boundaries between national and regional challenges are non-existent or blurred and therefore regional approaches and regional dialogue are absolutely imperative.
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