ASUNCION, Paraguay -- Fred Mitchell, Bahamas minister of foreign affairs and immigration, told fellow delegates attending the Organization of American States (OAS) 44th regular session of the general assembly in Asuncion, Paraguay, that the issue of inclusive development is central to the economic and social objectives of the Bahamas government, particularly given the lingering effects of the global recession, which left as vestiges significant unemployment and underemployment across the hemisphere.
Fred Mitchell, Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, addressing the 44th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Asunción, Paraguay, on Wednesday
“We are aware that a narrow obsession on simply growing the economic pie is counterintuitive to the equality demanded by our citizenry and that such tunnel-vision often produces externalities that offset the gains of increased economic growth,” Mitchell said. “Our focus, therefore, has been on growing the economic pie alongside ensuring that as many of our citizens benefit from this growth.”
The foreign minister said the Bahamas government continues to work to institute “a social and economic floor, buttressed by a responsive safety net, through which no Bahamian can fall, by means of, amongst other things, the development of conditional cash transfer programmes and a national health insurance scheme.”
“Additionally, our goal is to ensure the broad availability of and accessibility to development prospects across the archipelago of Islands,” Mitchell said. “The current administration has sought to further this goal with the creation of the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute on our largest island, Andros, which we hope will be a springboard to greater food security and employment prospects for all Bahamians, including our youth.”
Noting that of particular concern for The Bahamas are the issues related to the inclusion of youth in the social and economic life of the country, Mitchell added, “We have been particularly seized with the challenge of youth unemployment, a challenge shared across the Hemisphere, and we are of the view that recent developments in the production of a draft national youth policy and investments in the soon-to-be University of The Bahamas will assist with ensuring our youth take their rightful place as citizen stakeholders.
He said The Bahamas is also “making concerted efforts at targeting at-risk youth with the introduction of the government’s urban renewal programme, the brainchild of Prime Minister Perry Christie, recognized as a regional best practice, and which serves as a comprehensive approach to crime, antisocial behavior, and community safety through the integration of efforts and resources by a wide range of agencies and the community at large to target poor housing conditions, joblessness, illiteracy, homelessness, and other social ills that contribute to crime and anti-social behaviour.”
“Let me emphasize here, Mr Chairman, that, often forgotten in the list of groups facing exclusion in the modern day Americas, are our young men, who are falling behind our women in the areas of higher education and employability,” Mitchell said. “Sadly too many end up in criminality and lack a general sense of belonging and ownership of their respective societies. Ending the downward spiral that has begun for many of our young men has to be a central focus of any efforts towards inclusive societies. So while the fight for justice, equality an inclusion for women rightly continues, special focus must be given the development of boys and men.”
Addressing the issue of “social inclusion in the Americas,” Mitchell said, “In the area of inequality, as is true across many fronts, the hemisphere has made tremendous strides over the past decade. Research from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) indicates that the gap between the rich and the poor shrunk in the majority of our countries, greater percentages of our populations are earning more and access to early child hood, primary and secondary education across the Americas has increased considerably.”
He added, “However, there is much more that must be done regarding poverty and inequality, and certainly in the area of youth unemployment, before we can proclaim ‘mission accomplished’. The Bahamas strongly believes that creating a reasonable economic and social floor through which none of our citizens can fall has to be the policy framework which underpins decision-making across the hemisphere.”
Noting that financing for development “is still a key to the onward success of our country and our sub region,” Mitchell declared, “We again say that we must translate into actual policy, the general rejection of GDP per capita as the key indicator of whether financing for development is available in small states where GDP per capita is not an adequate measure of the wealth and development of that country.
“Ambassador Eugene Newry, has coined the term ‘carilateralism’ to speak of the value added that can be obtained from enhancing intra-regional trade and closer cooperation on development through focusing on maximizing each state’s comparative advantages and learning from each other’s best practices. It is through this convergence, this intentional focus on synergy of policy focus across the hemisphere, that we will truly unleash the potential of the Americas for the mutual benefit of all states.”
Insisting that in “everything that we do, we must be people focused,” Mitchell added, “The true beauty of the Americas lays in the rich demographic, linguistic and cultural diversity. Our hemisphere is amongst the most diverse regions on Earth, and the mandate this diversity provides for us should make possible ever-increasing multiculturalism, tolerance and non-discrimination without any exceptions made for neat, often prejudicial distinctions and categories as fundamental universal values which apply to all people.”
Continuing, he said the OAS provides the key mechanism for facilitating convergence for our sub region, as it is the primary hemispheric body for political dialogue.
“This organization’s role, above all, must be to continue to deepen the functional cooperation of member states; to foster working together to collectively maximize and attain the full utility of development results across the Americas,” Mitchell said. “Just as democracy is an important catalyst and precursor for inclusion in our countries, the organization has a responsibility to ensure that its evolution adequately reflects the consensus of all member states, particularly as the organization moves into a period of greater introspection on its mandates and strategic vision. Democratic inclusion at the OAS also necessitates that the Secretariat adequately and equitably reflect the rich diversity of the Americas, particularly amongst the professional positions, and that we work to strengthen the work of the national offices, which provide a cost-effective and visible presence for the OAS in respective member states.”
He added, “We, as member states, as shareholders of the organization, have a similar duty, however, to ensure that these deliberations not be ‘business as usual’ and that the OAS be reformed in a manner that ensures its relevance for the 21st century Americas. Key to this will be ensuring that we get function right before being overly concerned with form and that amongst the competing priorities of development, democracy, security and human rights of the organization there be an understanding of the interdependency of the key pillars for ensuring holistic development.”
Noting that this year is being celebrated as the International year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a group amongst which The Bahamas is counted, Mitchell said, “Given the preponderance of member states which meet the characteristics of SIDS, the OAS can play a unique role as an international institution in leading the charge for the recognition of the vulnerabilities of small island developing states and in corporation of this recognition and the overall post-2015 Development Agenda into tangible mandates of the organization.”