First UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report: Welcome By Ms. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Rep. – Barbados & OECS

This Media Workshop comes one year after a UNDP Caribbean Regional Democratic Governance Dialogue, here in Barbados, among high level Caribbean decision-makers, including a former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and sitting Ministers, as well as regional academicians who study, investigate, and think deeply on issues of governance, and UNDP governance experts and practitioners. The outcome of that dialogue, which drew on the rich experience, knowledge, and skills of the group, helped frame a UNDP 2012-2016 agenda, in support of Caribbean governance.

An important part of this agenda is the development of Democratic Governance analyses, knowledge and advocacy products that can help to enhance citizenship democracy in the Caribbean and provide an inclusive platform for defining and moving on to the next stage of the region’s development.

In this regard, UNDP recently conducted democratic governance assessments in Barbados, and has started in the OECS with Antigua and Barbuda. These assessments are defining Caribbean-specific indicators for measurement of the quality of Caribbean democracies.

Complementing this body of knowledge for policy makers and political actors, UNDP also launched the first Caribbean Human Development Report on Citizen Security in February this year. The Caribbean Human Development Report, which brings us together today, offers a comprehensive analysis and recommendations to shape a Caribbean Action Agenda for the Future.

The data, analysis, and recommendations of the Human Development Report for the Caribbean or the CHDR as we familiarly call it, will form the basis for UNDP technical assistance and policy advice to ongoing and new projects that can assist countries in their efforts to ensure inclusive, rights-based Caribbean societies, and equitable opportunities for Caribbean populations to achieve their full potential.

This media workshop is part of the knowledge sharing thrust, and the continued UNDP advocacy and identification of solutions to complex development challenges, which were strong requests to us during the Regional Democratic Governance Dialogue. We hope this workshop will position the media, as key partners in development, to enhance understanding of the key challenges to Caribbean democracy; of how to strengthen citizens’ engagement in identifying and implementing solutions to those challenges; and to assist governments and development partners to prioritise responses to achieve sustainable human development in the region.

We also expect through this engagement, to strengthen the use of communications as an essential tool to, maximise development results, consolidate democracy, and assist the targeting of scarce resources.

Journalists, as you know, do not only inform our daily realities. You also explain and play a vital role in interpreting those realities and how people understand the contexts, the trends and the social phenomena to help them make decisions about their future. In order to improve Citizen Security, the press represents an essential channel for the transmission of messages that will influence how people perceive their insecurity and the responses to it, and the role of public institutions, the public and other key stakeholders.

Media and journalists are privileged actors in the effort to strengthen public safety in its two dimensions: the objective dimension – the reduction of actual occurrence of criminal acts – and the subjective dimension -perception and feeling about the physical and social environment as safe and peaceful.

We encourage the media to go beyond disseminating stories about the incidence and impact of insecurity and violence, and to also give visibility to good practices, based on the regional and international experience. The media can also help to install an integral approach to addressing insecurity that incorporates social, economic and political aspects.

This initiative is a good partnership model. It enables UNDP, as I alluded to before, to coordinate our efforts with other development partners, in this case USAID and CIDA, based on analysis and recommendations emanating from an inclusive process and embraced by the countries, to immediately take concrete action to move from analysis to implementation. It uses a body of work capable of building consensus around the causes, contributing factors, and solutions to galvanise common action for a common agenda. In this way, development partners can take coordinated action in support of national and regional interests for maximum impact.

For example, the CHDR drawing on available data and new primary data, highlighted that, in the Caribbean, many of the tensions in society emerge from the high levels of inequality between and within countries and the resulting economic and social exclusion; serious and persistent levels of poverty, as high as 39% in St. Vincent and the Grenadines or 40% in Dominica; unemployment and job insecurity, particularly for young people; basic social services that are failing to meet public expectations; lack of respect for human rights and the basic dignity of the person; weak transparency and accountability in both the public and private sectors; and now the abrupt policy shifts towards fiscal austerity in a context of global recession and uneven global recovery, all have increased the pressure on the many systemic cracks and fissures, and have heightened the disquiet within Caribbean democracies.

And while there seems to be no unease amongst the public about the concept of democracy itself, there is evidence of disquiet and disgruntlement within Caribbean democracies that require attention. Through the report, Caribbean citizens are noting that there is a deficit and an urgent need to strengthen citizens’ engagement and dialogue as a key component of modernizing Caribbean democratic institutions and traditions. They have a strong perception that in today’s Caribbean, the underpinnings of democratic governance – free press, strong human rights protection, a respectful, efficient and effective judiciary – still need to be strengthened. They are therefore asking that we widen the space for democratic dialogue; that governments take care to safeguard the progress made from independence to now, by providing the opportunity for all actors in our Caribbean democracies, including the most vulnerable, to engage in vigorous, but peaceful debate on the matters that are causing this disquiet, this anxiety; and that they also be afforded the space to decide priorities and the matters that are most urgent.

Caribbean citizens are eager to find their voice, and to meaningfully participate in nation building. This is all the more critical given that many traditionally disenfranchised groups perceive that they are denied access to power through more formal channels, leading them increasingly to express their frustrations through alternative, and sometimes violent routes.

These messages came through consistently in the consultations UNDP hosted with a wide cross-section of Caribbean populations in preparation of the Report.

But importantly, Caribbean citizens are optimistic about a future free from violence and insecurity. They informed of the main challenges and contributing factors, but they also emphasized the opportunities: the need to work much harder at ensuring that democratic institutions, from legislatures through to local authorities, are transparent and accountable and can demonstrate skills and capacities to deliver credible services to the public, building on public perception that the police force is still seen as trusted to protect and provide safe streets and communities, and that the judiciary, even though there are areas of concern, is capable to enforce the rule of law. Citizens would like to see inherited top-down, centralized power structures at all levels of government and society reformed, restructured and distributed in ways that facilitate citizen access; that give real voice and space to economically and socially vulnerable people.

Citizens are optimistic that if these opportunities are seized and timely action taken, real progress could be made. Development gains thus far could be preserved and we can step up our game to lift up those left behind.

{L to R} Wesley Gibbings, Anthony Harriott, Lara Blanco, Pablo Basz & William Orme – You, our media partners, are a big part of making this happen; to help widen our space for democratic dialogue; to raise the issues, share the information and make the space for public comment to facilitate citizen involvement in the decisions that govern their lives.

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