Your Excellency Mr. Desiré Delano Bouterse, President of the Republic of Suriname

Your Excellency Mr. Donald Ramotar, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Your Excellency Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States

Hon. Jennifer Geerlings-Simmons, Speaker of the National Assembly of Suriname

Fellow Parliamentarians,

Distinguished Invited Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour and privilege to be here in Suriname on the occasion of the series of our Parliamentary meetings. I take this opportunity to thank the people and government of Suriname for offering to host these meetings, which also falls on the 3th anniversary of your independence. You have given us an opportunity to share in the successes of your country in building a solid democracy with a people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Allow me to make special mention or friend and colleague, Rabindre Parmessar, who made such a good case for Suriname to host these meetings. I am glad to say that the host country has indeed exceeded our expectations! What Hon. Parmessar promised, so far I have seen! Yesterday he told me more is yet to come; I am waiting.

Your Excellencies,

The meeting in Suriname is particularly unique, It is the first time that we have a meeting with two Heads of State.

Coming here was not an easy ride. We still recall the regrettable attempts by some in the European Parliament to shift the venue of these meetings because of their views over the political situation in this country. Their attitude also demonstrated utter disrespect for ACP regional institutions, because at the time the offer of Suriname was being discussed, President Bouterse was the Chairman of the CARICOM Heads of Government.

ACP Members were therefore resolute in their stance in insisting that the meetings would go ahead in Suriname, and nowhere else. We were not going to abandon one Member of our Group on account of the views of our European counterparts. That is the essence of ACP Solidarity!

Your Excellency President Bouterse, given the background over the hosting of these meetings, ACP Members are especially glad that you were able to honour us with your presence in our meetings today.

Your Excellencies,

We are pleased to welcome to our meetings a former Member of our Assembly. President Donald Ramotar was for almost 10 years his country’s Representative to the ACP PA and the JPA. He was part of the group of Members that pioneered the establishment of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly. It is a matter of great pride for all Members when they see one of their own ascend to the highest political office in their own country.

Since this is the first time that we are meeting you Hon. Ramotar since your election last year, I think it is a good opportunity to congratulate you personally. On behalf of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly and indeed on my own behalf, please accept our congratulations on your electoral victory, and best wishes in all your future endeavors.

Mr. President, I am pleased to inform you that in making the transformation from Member of ACP PA to President, you were preceded by a former colleague whom you know well, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who was elected President in April last year. Not to disrespect our ACP ministers with us today, could we say perhaps that the ACP PA is a good nursery from where more ACP Presidents could come?

Your Excellencies

I am reminded that in a few weeks, you will be joining your colleagues in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, for the 7th Summit of ACP Heads of State and Government, whose theme is: The ACP Group in a changing world – Challenges and Opportunities.

This is a very appropriate theme at this time of our existence as a Group. Over the past 4 decades, ACP cooperation and solidarity has been quite dynamic. Together with our EU counterparts, we have managed to craft a cooperation framework that is unrivalled in the world and that covers a wide range of areas such as trade, development assistance as well as support for peace, security, governance and democracy in ACP States.

Together, we have been able to develop common approaches on trade relations with the EU and at the WTO, as well as other functional and thematic areas in the framework of sustainable development. I must admit that it has not been an easy task considering the diversity of developmental challenges and interests among member States of the ACP Group.

Your Excellencies

Since I have the audience of two Heads of State, I would like to take advantage of your presence by speaking of issues that concern Parliamentarians. I believe that we need to adapt the role of Parliamentarians in development.

I think that the even though the traditional role of Parliaments in scrutinizing government activities and passing national budgets is still important, I wish to submit that Parliamentarians need to be regarded as development agents in their own right. Being closer to their electorates, they are often in a much better position to know the needs of the peoples they represent.

But often, Parliaments lack the human and financial resources to effectively play their roles. Further, in some countries, there are severe constitutional limitations on the role of parliaments, which often lead to their marginalisation in terms of policy formulation and implementation.

A case in point is the marginalisation of parliamentarians in EPA negotiations, a situation that we have deplored in many of our meetings. In fact, this situation is merely illustrative of the marginalisation of parliamentarians in terms of international agreements and protocols protocols. We would like this situation to be remedied in all ACP States.

Your Excellencies

As parliamentarians, we are concerned about development challenges in our States and indeed the wider world. In the past three years, the world seems to be in constant crisis and the development agenda is consequently in jeopardy. While governments seek solutions to plug holes in national and international financial systems, as well as grapple with the aftermath of the recession and crippling budget deficits, the clock is ticking, with the deadline for the attainment of the MDGs only a few years away.

Parliamentarians would like to ensure that despite pressures on national budgets for other priorities, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty should remain the central objectives. In the developed countries, there is the risk that aid budgets could be among the casualty of austerity measures.

This is worrying because already for some time now, commitments and pledges have not been matched by actual disbursements.

Your Excellencies

Because of the changes taking place at global level, Parliamentarians believe that there is need for ACP States to strengthen and deepen regional integration. The challenge for policy makers, parliamentarians included, is how to rationalize the multiplicity of regional integration organisations to which our countries belong. Besides the obvious drain on resources, there is the possibility of duplication of effort.

A number of ACP States, particularly in Africa, belong to more than 2 regional integration bodies. The situation has further been compounded by negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements, which are being conducted in varying configurations in the East and Southern African regions. This is why ACP Parliamentarians have expressed concerns at the potential of Economic Partnership Agreements to undermine regional integration processes in ACP regions. This is why, during our meetings, ACP Parliamentarians have discussed the possibility of an All-ACP trade regime, as well as deepening South-South and Triangular cooperation.

Your Excellencies

Our views about regional integration, South-South and Triangular cooperation are also informed by what we believe to be a democratic deficit in multilateral decision making. We believe that the developing countries, despite their numerocal superiority, are outmaneuvered and sometimes divided by the financial power of a few developed countries. This is despite the fact that the bulk of the world’s natural resources are in the South.

Your Excellencies

As we find ourselves in the second decade of the 21st Century, our ultimate goal as Parliamentarians must be to ensure that the economic goals of our various States are broadened, moving away from fixation with income growth and profits, to the improvement of living conditions and ensuring of the respect for human rights.

We believe that ACP Governments have an obligation to establish instruments, processes, and forms of governance that will radically change how we have done business in the past. There must be effective representation and participation in design and management of development policy.

We need the best forms of collaboration and human interactions in order to establish the collective good that will benefit all our people; to develop the best quality of life across our Member States; to empower people, create opportunities and security; and thus create societies embedded in freedom, justice, abundance and peace.

Your Excellencies,

We would like our Heads of State to take the lead in improving governance, judicial and security systems. Special attention must be made to protect the rights of women, children and the elderly. There must be zero tolerance for war, ethnic divisions and corruption. We must be absolutely committed in our opposition to unconstitutional changes of government. Democratic institutions must be founded on free and fair elections.

However, the depth of democracy should not be measured by regular and free elections alone. Equally important is the conduct of government in between elections, especially whether political decisions are taken in a transparent, consultative, participatory and inclusive manner.

A number of ACP States will be holding Presidential or Parliamentary Elections in the next 12 months or so. I have in mind, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Cuba, Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Nauru, Grenada, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and of course, my own country Kenya. I wish to call on these countries to ensure that these elections are held in an atmosphere of peace and security in order to ensure that elections are transparent, free and fair.

Your Excellencies

In this century – in our new millennium — we need to deploy a new political and social development agenda to inspire our people as well as our political and economic institutions and organisations to act in a concerted manner; We need to strengthen nations and communities out of disparate groups that may have a very long history of mutual hostility and mistrust;

We need to work out social pacts and build lasting coalitions to get the best out of Government institutions in order to facilitate the achievement of our development objectives.

I thank you for your kind attention.