Decentralised Co-operation or the Need to Help Reinforce the Institutional Capacity of the Civil Society
01 / 1999
The Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) is a regional network of organisations established by Caribbean NGOs to work toward policy change in the interest of Caribbean people. CPDC was established in 1991, initially as a Unit of the Caribbean Conference of Churches, but since 1993 has been operating as an autonomous body. CPDC convened a seminar on Decentralised Co-operation with the European Union in Barbados in November 1995 to explain to its members the funding policies and arrangements of the EU under the Lomé Convention, and to share information about the work and capacity of development NGOs in the region with national officials responsible for public sector management of international resources. Participants to the seminar included the Head of the Decentralised Cooperation unit in the European Commission, Mr. Christian Curé, National Authorising Officers (NAOs), NGOs representatives and representatives of CARIFORUM. The NAOs are officials appointed by governments in the Caribbean region to plan, develop and oversee the disbursement of funding approved under the Lomé Convention. CARIFORUM is a regional mechanism created specifically for managing the process of identifying, planning and eventually disbursing EU funding for regional project under the Regional Initiative Programmes (RIP). CARIFORUM members include CARICOM states of the Caribbean Basin as well as non member states like Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
The Chairman started the seminar by giving a working definition of Decentralised Co-operation. He explained that the Second Financial Protocol of Lomé IV, signed in Mauritius in 1995, includes political and finance issues, trade matters with the preferential treatment given to certain goods, and some sectoral co-operation programmes between the EU and the ACP countries which include for the Caribbean cultural co-operation, the Centre for the Development of Industry, the European Investment Bank, shipping, STABEX as well as Decentralised Co-operation. The purpose of Decentralised Co-operation is to provide the most direct and flexible support to a variety of development initiatives, projects and programmes developed by non governmental bodies like NGOs, local authorities, and communities, etc. Until recently, these development initiatives have mainly been supported through the National and Regional Indicative Programmes (NIP RIP), the programming structure designed by the Government with the EU to meet the country’s priority for EU assistance. With the Second Financial Protocol of Lomé IV, the EU proposes to expand its direct relations with non-governmental organisations with a new modality of development co-operation between the donor and the beneficiary countries,« Decentralised Co-operation"which focuses on project activities presented and designed by local actors. Projects giving attention to building human resource and institutional capacity are usually favoured under the DC programme of the EU. For a successful implementation, Decentralised Co-operation demands responsible and accountable actors of the civil society who can effectively implement projects and ensure compatibility with the administrative and fiscal requirements of the EU. NGOs and community organisations do not always have the administrative capacity to provide the level of fiscal accountability required. Therefore, one of the first purpose of DC is to assist in providing support for capacity building to ensure that partners can effectively meet the standards required.
Three years later, Decentralised Co-operation seems to be a particularly suitable mean to fund the non governmental sector initiatives in the Caribbean region. The starting point for the programming and eventual commitments and disbursement of funding is the Indicative Programme, either National or Regional. Because of the status of the region (small size of population, relatively high per-capita income), the National Indicative Programmes for the Caribbean are generally quite small, ranging from 1-10 million ECU, with an average of 4 million ECU per country. In the case of St. Lucia, virtually the entire amount was earmarked for the construction of an hospital, leaving very little for decentralised co-operation with the civil society sector. In many cases, governments are not too keen on entertaining dialogue with NGOs about the preparation of the NIPs or else the NGOs are not aware of the government intentions. As a result, Caribbean NGOs still find it difficult to have access to funding under the EDF. It is left to the governments to determine how much participation should be allowed to the civil society. Though there are some possibilities to access Lomé resources through the RIP, the easiest way of getting EU funding remains through co-financing agreements with European partners.
Since the seminar, consultation has somehow improved between some governments and the civil society sector. In Barbados and in St. Kitts-Nevis, for instance, there were negotiations between the government and the private sector/NGOs over the allocation of part of NIP funding to civil society initiatives, and in Grenade, the government has developed quite good relations with the NGOs. But a lot remains to be done. NGOs are increasingly assuming social, economical and political mediating roles, and providing services which come to complement these offered by central governments. A significant NGO community has emerged with a rich and diverse experience and capability to support the social and economic development of the region. Only few of these NGOs, however, have the means and the institutional capacity to carry out significant projects. Therefore, the maintaining of specific policies and budget lines aimed at promoting the creation and/or reinforcement of civil society representative organisations, whih have proved successful over the last five years, must remain a priority on the agenda of the EU-ACP co-operation.
This document is the result of a range of interviews/discussions which took place between the author and some representatives of Caribbean NGOs (and particularly the Windward Islands Farmer Association) in the framework of Banana Link’s work between 1996 and today.
Cf. Report of a Seminar on Decentralised Co-operation sponsored by the Caribbean Development Centre with the support of the European Union, Barbados, November 1995. CPDC. To be consulted at Caribbean Policy Development Centre, « Halworth », Welches Road, St. Michael, Barbados (e mail: email@example.com; tel: (809)437 6055; fax: (809)437 3381)
[Written for the public debate « Actors and processes of the cooperation », which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]