“Strengthening Dialogue and Concerted Action for Prosperity”
47th Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly
Tuesday, 20th June, 2017
of the Honourable Darren Henfield, MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Check against Delivery.
Colleague Foreign Ministers,
Secretary General Almagro and Assistant Secretary General Mendez,
Permanent Representatives and other guests,
Mr. President, while I would contend that The Bahamas is the most beautiful country on earth, it is indeed a pleasure to be a guest in Cancun, and to experience its renowned beauty and the warm hospitality of its people, despite the rains.
I want to express profound gratitude for the excellent arrangements and reception afforded my delegation this week by the Mexican Government and People.
I wish to begin by thanking the Government of Chile for its generosity, which will help to educate our people towards improving our Caribbean region.
The Bahamas, as many of you know, held general elections 10 May, which resulted in a change of administration. Elections were held in a free, fair and peaceful manner, in keeping with The Bahamas’ long and proud history of democracy and the rule of law. I take this opportunity to thank the OAS for having mounted a Mission to observe the General Elections, and to support The Bahamas in its exercise of continued democracy.
We meet at a time, colleagues, where most of our countries still struggle with residual effects of lagging recession and other social ills, where our citizens have demonstrated an increasing impatience with and are demanding more from the Order that has been built around globalization, where norms around multilateralism and international partnership are being critically revisited and where some even openly question the relevance and credibility of this Organization.
The value of the OAS as a Political Forum
Mr. President, colleague Ministers, The Bahamas wishes to underscore its belief in the necessity of multilateralism, of peaceful settlement of disputes, of problem solving through dialogue and of collective efforts to address common challenges.
As such the OAS remains the most appropriate political forum for discussing and coming to common agreement on the issues of the hemisphere. Our dialogue must always be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and a common understanding and with due respect for sovereignty and the principle of non-interference.
Above all else, the Organization’s legitimacy as a political forum must be maintained and it should continue to function as a place where each Member State’s issues can be brought to the table and every country’s vote and voice carry equal weight.
Institutional Strengthening at the OAS
As inheritors of this, the world’s oldest regional body, it is our duty to ensure that it continues to be renewed in order to meet the needs of successive generations.
The good book wisely admonishes us not to pour ‘new wine into old wine skins’. We must heed these words as we continue to undergo a period of introspection regarding the improved functioning of our Organization.
We need an honest approach towards reform of the organization, with a focused and comprehensive dialogue on what is required to fashion the OAS that we all want. This includes dealing with issues such as strengthening the Permanent Council, reviewing the checks and balances governing the General Secretariat and, enhancing fiscal oversight mechanisms for the Secretariat’s work. In the end, we should have a Secretariat that better reflects the rich diversity of the hemisphere and an Organization that is equipped to meet the needs of a modern Americas.
Challenges to Prosperity
Alongside our efforts to invigorate the architecture of the institution, we must also ensure that the Organization is addressing the real needs of our citizenry, namely the desire to live in safe societies which develop in an equitable and sustainable manner. Security, which is of utmost priority to The Bahamas should also be high on the agenda of the OAS. Whether it is security issues such as drugs, crime, arms and human trafficking or existential threats such as the alarming impact of Climate Change and global warming, these are problems that are bigger than any one country, so we need a true partnership, involving all stake holders, to ensure security and prosperity.
In this connection, The Bahamas will continue to play a leading role, through its current Chairmanship of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), to combat the world drug problem, taking into account all dimensions. Furthermore, The Bahamas, in seeking to comprehensively address the effects of traditional and emerging threats to security, remains committed to its international obligations and will continue to pursue collaborative partnerships at the regional, hemispheric and international levels.
Development is an important pillar for my Country and indeed for the region. The attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, which comprise more than 160 targets, is of utmost priority. In the spirit of partnership, we expect sustained and equitable focus by the Secretariat to support the development aspirations of member states. Therefore, we reject the notion that the OAS should not be in the business of development work, and that the important activities being carried out by the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI) might best be facilitated by other Inter-American entities. Capacity building, technical cooperation, human development and political agenda setting are areas where the OAS has a clear comparative advantage when compared to other multilateral bodies and the work in these areas is already a signature of the OAS brand.
I referred previously to the existential threat of climate change, which is especially true for Small Island Developing States like The Bahamas. To be clear colleagues, if business remains as usual, 80% of The Bahamas, which is within 5 feet of sea level, will be submerged this century. While each nation must determine its own course on international matters, we reiterate our unwavering belief that there is a universal moral urgency to move from commitment to action, predicated upon the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Each country, small and large, developed and developing, must find the courage to do their part. The Bahamas therefore reaffirms the Paris Agreement and anticipates that multilateral agencies such as the OAS and other agencies of the Inter-American System like the IDB, will assist wherever necessary with technical and financial resources for adaptation, building resiliency and mitigation efforts.
The economy of The Bahamas is exceptionally exposed to various types of vulnerabilities including, environmental, economic and social, and other external shocks, all of which at times disrupt the planned fiscal policy of the Government. The reverberations and duration of these shocks are protracted and much more profound on nations like The Bahamas. Too often in decision-making regarding development assistance and development financing the indicators used have been imbalanced. What we need is a broadening and modernizing of the development indicators used to assess development needs, beyond the outdated and crude metrics, such as GDP per capita, which lead to narrow economic classifications which do not account for the real development and governance challenges of states, especially the unique circumstances of Small Island Developing States that are most vulnerable. We call on the OAS to advocate on behalf of the changes needed in the international financial architecture.
Education is both an accelerator of sustainable development and the precursor to the successful achievement of societies that are safe, well governed and inclusive. We congratulate Member States for recently adopting the Inter-American Education Agenda in The Bahamas and we will continue to insist upon progress in implementing our shared goals for cooperation in education throughout our tenure as Chair of the Inter-American Committee on Education. We also join others in emphasizing the value of the OAS Scholarships and Training Programs.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of the productive structure in the Caribbean region; in this connection the OAS project on the development of Small Business Development Centres in the Caribbean is an example of an effective OAS program which meets a real need in the region.
The Bahamas also supports the Development Cooperation Fund, of which we currently are Vice Chair, given it is the only source of funding available directly to member states for national priorities through the OAS. It should be supported in the next program cycle.
A call for a Renewed OAS
Mr. President, there will be much dialogue during the course of this Assembly but in order for our time here to truly count, in order for our work to fulfil its obligations to our citizenry, we must begin to move from talk to action.
We must commit to redouble our efforts towards reform and engagement and, if we truly believe in the Organization, to find new and innovative approaches to support its work, in accordance with each Member States’ capacity.
More now than ever we need an OAS that is as robust as it is agile; that enhances its credibility as a forum for political dialogue but also strives to meet the real needs of citizens on the ground in our societies; that continues to renew itself even while staying true to its core values.
The Bahamas reiterates its commitment to this Organization and to the fraternity of the nations of the Americas to do all it can, in concert with Member States, to help us realize this vision.
Thank you, Mr. President.