by Martin Khor

Havana 15 April 2000 -- Heads of state and government of the developing countries have decided to establish a South Coordinating Commission comprising representatives from among themselves.

The decision was taken at an eventful closing session of the South Summit of the Group of 77 held here late on 14 April night.

The Commission will be chaired by the Chairman of the South Summit (Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo) and will include the chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (South African President Thabo Mbeki) and the chairmen of some South-based regional organisations.

But it was unclear how many and which of the regional groupings are to be included but Asean, CARICOM and the OAU were named at the session.

Further, President Obasanjo announced that he himself, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and Jamaica (P.J. Paterson), and the chairmen of NAM (President Mbeki) and the OAU (Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika) would take responsibility for establishing the Commission.

At the Summit session, it was also proposed that the Commission would also have an executive Coordinator. Subsequently, at a press conference on 15 April afternoon, also in Havana, President Obasanjo announced that Sir Sridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General and now attached to the CARICOM as chairman of its Regional Negotiating Machinery, would be the Coordinator.

Although the idea of the Commission had already been agreed on at an Interactive Debate session of the Summit on 13 April (at which only heads of state and governments and one other representative per country were present), the speed with which the idea had been taken forward (and decision taken by some of the leaders), took most participants, including many of the political leaders and senior officials, by surprise at the closing session.

The session began by adopting the Summit's Declaration and Programme of Action. President Obasanjo then announced that three resolutions would also be put forward arising from decisions taken at the Interactive Debate.

Malaysia's Permanent Representative to the UN then presented a resolution on the need for the South's representation at global decision-making. President Mbeki then presented a motion on the Commission. A third motion, on a South-South health delivery programme, was then presented by President Obasanjo himself.

Subsequently, a fourth resolution was also tabled by President Rawlings of Ghana, on an appeal to the United States to end the embargo on Cuba.

The session ended with a closing ceremony in which speeches were made by the Algerian President, the Jamaica Prime Minister, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Summit chairman President Obasanjo.

In presenting the second motion on an "institutional decision", President Mbeki said that the Summit should agree to transform the South Commission into a South Coordination Commission that should have an executive coordinator. He also mentioned that three persons (himself, President Obasanjo and Dr Mahathir) would help establish the Commission.

Mbeki also mentioned that the Chairman of the G77 would be the chair of the Commission, and that it would also comprise the chairmen of NAM and regional organisations too as members. A coordinator would direct the activities. Funding will be by G77 members. In six months the initial work would be completed and the results will be communicated to G77 members and others. Mbeki also clarified that this proposal would take the place of the relevant parts of the Programme of Action dealing with institutional follow up.

At this point, the Nigeria President clarified that the Chairman of the South Summit and not the chairman of the G77 will chair the commission. The Chairman of the South Summit would also be the chairman of this group.

A further clarification (and modification) of this motion was later given in a closing speech by President Obasanjo in his capacity as the Summit chairman. He said that to enhance South-South cooperation "we agreed to strengthen our capacity, including for the implementation of policies."

To this end, he said, "we decided to establish a coordinating commission with a coordinator and the G77 president, the chairmen of Asean, the Arab League, Caricom, the OAU, NAM and similar regional organisations. The commission will also coordinate the implementation of the summit's Programme of Action as well as its decisions on South-South cooperation."

He added that the chair of the G77 South Summit, the chairman of NAM, the chairman of the OAU, and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Jamaica are charged with the responsibility for setting up the Commission. He also appealed for adequate funding, stating that each G77 member should pay US$ 5000 to strengthen the operational base. He also said that the commission is to be "appropriately located."

The motion by President Mbeki and the closing statement by President Obasanjo caused some degree of confusion among participants as to what had actually been decided on.

Mbeki's statement that the South Commission would be "transformed" into a South Coordination Commission raised questions as to whether he had meant that the political leaders would want to convert the South Centre into the new Commission. This speculation was due to the fact the South Commission is the precursor to the South Centre (the South Commission itself had been wound up after the completion of its report in the early 1990s, and the South Centre had been formed to follow up on the report).

The composition of the new Commission, its location and terms of reference, and the function of the "executive coordinator", were questions that were also the subject of discussion after the end of the Summit's closing session. The text of President Obasanjo's closing remarks, and of President Mbeki's motion, were not available.

Obasanjo's clarification that the Commission would be chaired by the Chairman of the South Summit (and not by the G77 Chairman), and that the Commission would be "appropriately located" gave the impression to some participants that the Commission would not primarily be based at the New York office of the chairman of the G77, but would have a higher profile relating to the level of heads of state and government. Also, his clarification that the chairs of the South Summit, NAM, the OAU and the Premiers of Malaysia and Jamaica would be charged with the responsibility of setting up the Commission, raised questions on the functions of this "core group", and also about the role of the other South-based regional organisations.

Participants were also wondering about the scope of the Commission's work. President Obasanjo had remarked that the Commission would coordinate the implementation of the Summit's Programme of Action and the decisions on South-South cooperation. That would give the Commission already a very wide scope, as the Programme of Action covers a wide range of issues and proposed actions on the themes of globalisation, knowledge and technology, North-South relations and South-South cooperation.

Delegations had expected the announcement at the closing session about the decision to establish a Commission, since this decision had in principle been taken at the Interactive Debate the day before.

Some delegations were however surprised at the rapid evolution of the concept, including the naming of the core group of leaders who will be responsible for establishing the Commission. It was also unclear what would be changed and what would remain of the Programme of Action's section on institutional follow-up (the 10 paragraphs of this Section VI had been approved together with the rest of the Programme at the level of Foreign Ministers that morning).

Although many questions of detail remained unanswered as the Summit closed, some participants felt that the concrete initiative taken by some of the political leaders in getting the wheels in motion to set up a high-level Commission comprising heads of state or government was a much welcomed move. "It indicates that some political leaders are showing personal commitment to inject high-level political will into getting the South's act together," said one participant.

As the Summit ended, expectations had been generated that these political leaders would themselves take the lead in getting an implementation mechanism going.

There is no doubt, however, that the decision on the establishment of this high-level Commission was the highlight of the South Summit. How the Commission will be set up and function, and how much will be done to translate the Summit's action plan into action, will be closely watched in the weeks ahead.

Besides this institutional decision, three other resolutions were also adopted by the heads of state and government at the closing session.

Ambassador Hasmy Agam of Malaysia presented a motion that the Summit mandate the Summit president and the NAM president to transmit to the next G8 Summit and other fora (including international financial and trade institutions) the concerns of developing countries as reflected in the deliberations.

They should convey the firm conviction that the South must be represented in any forum deliberating and deciding on social, economic or political matters which can adversely or otherwise affect our countries.

The motion added that the Group of 77 "will not consider any social, economic, financial or political architecture decided without representation. Notwithstanding such representation, such fora have no authority under international law to take binding decisions that affect us."

President Obasanjo clarified that there were three elements to this motion. "Firstly, to convey to the G8 our feelings and the outcome of this Summit and also to the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, whose decisions impact on us. Secondly, for those bodies which take decisions that affect us, we will let them know that when they meet, we want to be represented so we can give inputs. Thirdly, whether we are represented or not in these bodies, we must have a caveat that decisions they take that can impact on us may not be accepted by us."

Another motion stated that the leaders agreed to establish a South-South health delivery programme, welcomed Cuba's offer to provide 3,000 doctors to the programme, and noted.Cuba's contribution in the medical sector as a clear example of the success of South-South cooperation. This demonstrates great potential in many other social and economic fields such as education where there are no boundaries for the fruits of South-South cooperation.

Following this, President Rawlings of Ghana moved a resolution in the form of an appeal from the Summit to the US to end its embargo on Cuba. The resolution stated that the heads of state and government of the G77 and China assembled here consider it our moral and fraternal duty to appeal to the US to immediately lift the embargo on Cuba imposed since 1960.

The statement added that we also believe the embargo serves no other purpose except to put hardship on the people of Cuba especially women and children. The replacement of the embargo with dialogue will lead to partnership between the two countries that are linked by geography and history. We hope that the US will respond positively to this appeal.

The resolution was adopted unanimously to loud applause.

Earlier, on 13 April, at an interactive session of heads of state and governments, political leaders of the Group of 77 have decided to convey to the Summit of Industrial Nations (G-8) and other groupings of the North that the South must be represented in any forum deliberating on global matters that can adversely affect the developing countries. The Group of 77 will not consider any social, economic or political architecture decided without their representation.

These positions of the heads was part of the Chairman's conclusions presented at the end of the "interactive debate", the highlight of the Summit. It was attended only by about 40 heads of government and state present here, together with one other representative per country.

At the end of the five-hour session, the Summit chairman, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria (which currently chairs the G77) presented a summary of conclusions.

According to diplomats present, the Chairman's summary included a reaffirmation by the leaders of their collective commitment to live up to their responsibility, and called on their partners in the North to join in promoting a new partnership for development.

To this end the leaders mandated the President of the Summit and the President of the Non-Aligned Movement to transmit to the next G-8 Summit and other appropriate international fora, including the international financial and trade institutions, the results of this interactive debate, along with the Declaration and Programme of Action to be adopted by the South Summit.

President Obasanjo was reported to have said that in so doing, "we should convey our firm conviction that the countries of the South must be represented in any forum deliberating and deciding on social, economic or political matters which can adversely or otherwise affect our countries, whether individually, severally, or as a whole group."

The Group of 77 will not consider any social, economic or political architecture decided without their representation, according to the Chairman's conclusions. Similarly, notwithstanding any representations that the G77 may make before such forums, they have no authority under international law to take binding decisions that affect the South countries.

The interactive debate also decided on some measures for South-South cooperation.

To enhance South-South cooperation, according to the Chairman's summary of conclusions, the leaders agreed to strengthen their collective negotiating capacity, including the capacity of their secretariat.

To this end, they decided to establish a coordinating commission in the office of the Chairman of the Group of 77 with a coordinating council made up, inter alia, of the Chairmen of ASEAN, CARICOM, OAU, NAM and similar regional organizations. The Commission will also coordinate the implementation of the Summit's Programme of Action as well as South-South cooperation.

The leaders also agreed to establish a South-South health delivery programme. They welcomed the offer of Cuba to train 3,000 doctors. They noted Cuba's contribution in the medical sector as a clear example of the success of South-South cooperation.

They also welcomed the support offered by Nigeria, Botswana and Libya in this area and welcomed the participation of such international organisations as the WHO and UNICEF.

This project demonstrates great possibilities and potential for cooperation in many other social and economic fields such as education, where there are no boundaries for the fruits of South-South cooperation. The leaders also agreed to strengthen the Perez Guerrero Trust Fund for economic cooperation among developing countries.

President Obasanjo said that the interactive debate had been a historic occasion, as it was the first time in the history of multilateral cooperation that so many Heads of State and Government from the South have engaged in an exchange of views of this nature.

This may be the beginning of a tradition of concertation, coordination and consultation at the highest level of the leaders of the South on major international economic issues of common interest. It has also been a historic opportunity to promote mutual understanding, create awareness and build a genuine consensus on critical issues that developing countries are facing.

Accordingly, the leaders also agreed that a high-level forum be convened as appropriate on a regular basis. Such a forum should work closely with the other fora from the South. To this end the leaders had also agreed to enhance the coordination of the Group of 77 and NAM on economic and financial issues, including South-South cooperation. They asked the Chairman of the Summit and the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement to consider ways and means to do so.

The leaders recognized that globalization is an irreversible process and that there is a need for measures to avoid the marginalization and exclusion of the developing countries and their impact on the cultural diversity of our peoples and their civilizations.

To this end it was urgent to tap the potential of globalization so that it can be transformed from a vehicle of marginalization and exclusion to a force for positive change and an agent of sustained growth and shared prosperity.

The Chairman's summary also said that the positive impact of globalization cannot be confined to the few and powerful of this world. It can and should be a powerful agent for sustainable development that benefits every person on this planet. To this end the leaders insist on the promotion of effective South-South cooperation, and of renewed North-South cooperation, which includes the shared management of the globalization process, democratic and transparent governance of the international financial architecture and international trade institutions, and full respect for the principles of sovereignty, cultural diversity, mutual respect, justice and equity, no matter the size and shape of a country.

However, President Olusegun noted, none of this can be achieved without international peace and security, which are a prerequisite for economic growth. It also cannot be achieved without the necessary political will of all parties concerned, as well as an adequate institutional framework.

In that context the leaders reaffirmed the primacy of international law, the validity of the UN Charter and the culture of peace.

They therefore called on the North to join a new partnership for development, and decided to mandate the Summit's President and the NAM President to convey the results of the South Summit to the G-8 Summit and other forums, and to convey that the South must be represented in any forum deciding on matters that affect the South.

Any "architecture" decided without representation from the South will not be considered by the Group of 77. (SUNS4650)

Martin Khor is the Director of Third World Network.

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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