The Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
46th Regular Session of the General Assembly of the OAS
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
13th – 15th June 2016
Political Dialogue on the Theme:
“Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas”
Your Excellency, Andrés Navarro, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic and President of the General Assembly
Your Excellency Luis Almagro Lemes, Secretary General
Your Excellency Nestor Mendez, Assistant Secretary General
Ladies and Gentlemen
Please allow me to start by adding the voice of Jamaica to the sentiments shared earlier by our colleague Members, by expressing our sincere condolences to the United States of America, in particular to the families and loved ones of the victims of that terrible crime in Orlando – our hearts and prayers go out to them.
It is indeed an honour for me to join you here in the beautiful and historic city of Santo Domingo at this, the 46th Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly. I am particularly pleased that this, my first visit to the Dominican Republic, is also the first time that I am participating in a meeting of this august body.
I wish to express my profound appreciation to the Government and people of the Dominican Republic for the warm and gracious hospitality extended to my delegation since our arrival, and for all the arrangements that have been made to facilitate a smooth encounter.
May I convey to you, Mr. President, heartiest congratulations as you assume the Presidency of the General Assembly. I am confident that under your leadership, our deliberations will lead to proactive undertakings for the future.
Mr. President, Colleagues
We are meeting here today, within the context of a rapidly changing world, faced with many complex challenges which threaten to marginalize small states such as ours in the Caribbean. As small island developing states, our region finds itself in a precarious position, as we face unique circumstances including small, open and fragile economies, vulnerability to exogenous shocks, ongoing oil price instability, small fiscal space, chronic indebtedness, including high debt to GDP ratios, persistently high levels of poverty, as well as acute vulnerability to the effects of climate change.
This situation is further complicated by the Middle Income Country (MIC) status ascribed to the majority of Caribbean countries, which continues to obscure the range of economic difficulties with which we are confronted.
Of these challenges, perhaps the one with the greatest long-term threat to the economic viability of the Caribbean, is the impact of climate change. We note the negative effects it has had on our agriculture, infrastructure, tourism and other important sectors of our economy, coupled with the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, which often nullify advances in our development.
Against the backdrop of these constraints on development, the highly successful Paris Climate Change Conference was an important milestone for the international community which developed a universal, comprehensive and binding legal agreement to combat climate change through reduced emissions and to provide climate finance for adaptation.
This built, of course, on the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which outlines clear objectives to address social, economic and environmental challenges and seeks to strengthen implementation through the revitalization of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.
For Jamaica, and indeed for all countries in our region, the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require coordination and coherence. In planning our steps forward, we must make every endeavour to ensure that our resources and institutions are appropriately allocated and aligned.
Jamaica, therefore welcomes the selection of the theme of this year’s General Assembly, “Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas” which is both timely and relevant, given the priority being placed on the economic and social development of our region at this time.
The Draft Declaration of Santo Domingo which we will adopt today, fittingly draws attention to the fact that socio-economic development and protection of the environment are interdependent pillars of sustainable development, just as democracy, the rule of law, and development are inter-related and are ‘essential for national and international sustainable development’.
I am also pleased to note that the Inter-American Program for Sustainable Development (PIDS), which is important for the promotion of dialogue, information-sharing, and tracking progress on sustainable development and the environment in the region, was updated and is to be adopted by this General Assembly.
I commend all my OAS colleagues who have participated in the negotiations of these drafts, for the efforts made to ensure that, to the extent possible, the text adequately reflects the collective interests and priorities of Member States.
It is significant that the Inter-American Democratic Charter underscores the inextricable link between poverty eradication and development, by reaffirming that the fight against poverty, particularly the elimination of extreme poverty, is ‘essential to the promotion and consolidation of democracy and constitutes a common and shared responsibility of the American States’.
The basic tenets for the new development framework for sustainable development are the eradication of extreme poverty, reduction of inequality and the need to ensure that no one is left behind. The full engagement and inclusion of our young people is therefore an imperative. We must ensure that adequate attention is paid to their economic empowerment to enhance their contribution to the development of our nations.
Jamaica, therefore, firmly believes that the eradication of poverty must remain an objective of the OAS, and that if it is to do so, it is essential that notwithstanding budgetary adjustments to be made, the integral development programmes and projects, including scholarships and training courses for development purposes be retained. We also strongly support the continuation of OAS assistance for small and impactful projects that propel sustainable economic growth and job creation in our respective countries to help to address high levels of youth unemployment.
Mr. President, The OAS is particularly positioned, given the hemispheric membership it enjoys, to ensure that the new global development architecture is beneficial to all Member States. The strengthening of its institutions, especially those focused on development, is particularly important. In this regard, its policies, programmes and projects, must be aligned to the new global reality for sustainable development. Capacity building and the strengthening of institutions, both in Member States and at the Organizational level, must be given more than active consideration, they must be given focused and urgent action.
In this regard, Mr. President, and taking into account the important and ever-increasing mandates assigned to the OAS, we acknowledge with concern, the financial challenges of the Organization. We are aware that it will take discipline and conscious acts of restraint on the part of both the Secretariat and the Member States, together with creative solutions. Only this combination of efforts will bring the OAS back to a stable financial footing, allowing it to execute its work programme efficiently.
As a long standing committed member of the OAS, Jamaica will continue to support the efforts of the Permanent Council and the OAS Secretariat to address the dire financial situation of the organization, including proposals to encourage the prompt payment of quotas by Member States, as well as in ensuring that our contributions are in conformity with the agreed payment plan.
Jamaica remains committed to the revitalization of the OAS, and supports the process of restructuring to strengthen the Inter-American system. It is expected that actions will of course be pursued in a structured, balanced and respectful manner.
As we did close to 50 years ago when we joined the Organization, today Jamaica values the OAS as an important institution for the promotion of dialogue and cooperation, within the four main pillars, human rights; democracy and governance; integral development and multidimensional security.
In this context I wish to join previous speakers in underlining the importance of the OAS standing with the people of Venezuela during these challenging times, in promoting dialogue among all concerned parties, towards a peaceful resolution of the situation. This should be guided at all times by the abiding principles of democracy, mutual respect, respect for the rule of law, and maintaining as a primary focus, the well-being of the Venezuelan people.
It is difficult to speak of this matter without, of course, recognizing that there has been unfortunate language used by the Secretary General. However, this does not disqualify the entire organization from playing a meaningful role. The OAS has more significance than that. I believe we should be mature in our approach in order to not exacerbate the situation. Let us rely on the process of mediation already underway, and seek to play a constructive role going forward. If we are here speaking about institutional strengthening, then we must believe in our institutions and allow them to work – insisting on transparency and consultation in all relevant processes.
I wish to reiterate our dedication to the attainment of “Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas” and our commitment that Jamaica stands ready to participate in the implementation of these objectives within the framework of the OAS.
We must ensure that while we seek to strengthen the Organisation, the OAS retains its credibility, relevance and profile. Let us take the tough decisions, being ever aware of each other’s views and constraints. Let us do the work together and strengthen our countries and our much valued Organization.
It cannot be business as usual. The world is watching and a generation is depending on us. We must attain the sustainable development goals in the best interest of our region and our peoples. Let us not let them down.
Thank you, Mr. President.