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A process ’flawed’ from the beginning ?

Decentralised cooperation in the Caribbean

(Coopération décentralisée dans les Caraibes Un processus biaisé depuis le début ?)


02 / 1999

January 1998, a representative from a Caribbean civil society organisation says publicly:"We seem to be looking at a foreign movie with a very complicated plot. If the complexity of the"Discussion Paper"prepared by the CARIFORUM reflects the complexity of the process to come, we may as well not participate". In February 1999, there is still no Caribbean decentralised cooperation initiative emerging the Lomé pipeline.

Things had seemed to start very well. It was the first time that a Caribbean Regional Indicative programme (CRIP), - or any Lomé regional indicative programme what so ever - would foresee a specific provision for decentralised cooperation (DC): 7,2 MECU within an overall budget of 90 MECU. At the time of the above-mentioned quote, there had already been a regional seminar on DC hold by Civil Society organisations (November 1995)and several consultations under the leadership of the Secretariat of CARIFORUM, a body representing Caribbean States towards Lomé at regional level. What went wrong?

As an independent foundation, the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM)conducted a mission in January 1998. The mandate was to act as neutral process facilitator to a number of Caribbean Countries. Building on the"acquis"of previous consultations, the mission would collect views, identifying missing gaps, trying to resume a dialogue already blocked. The mission came out with various options for policy-makers and a global analysis of the issues at stake, all which can be found in the mission’s report.

With regard to the process followed to operationalise DC, another quote from a civil society organisation spells out the concern of many actors:"We have not been given a driving seat but a passenger’s seat". The report notes that:

"While recognising the efforts of CARIFORUM Secretariat in devising a framework in a partnership mode, a majority of social partners considered the process to be"flawed"in several ways:

Lack of Information. This was seen as the first and major barrier to an effective participation"on equal terms"of social partners in the design of a policy and institutional framework for the regional decentralised cooperation programme. In the absence of a steady flow of"digestible"information on the broader context of ACP EU cooperation under the Lomé Convention and the smaller parts of the picture (e.g. the regional indicative programme, the concept of decentralised cooperation, EDF procedures, etc.), social partners could not really be expected to play a proactive role.

Lack of organisational and capacity support. This was a recurrent complaint throughout the consultation process. If decentralised cooperation is about"putting social partners in the driving seat","process approaches"and"strategies rather than projects", capacity support for social partners should have been an essential element of the process. However, social partners were left largely on their own all along the process. For instance, the idea of creating a"Task Force"to ensure an appropriate participation of social partners in the process, launched during the Antigua consultation (September 1996), never materialised. No special facilities were offered to social partners to meet amongst each other prior to the regional consultations; to jointly prepare strategies for the decentralised cooperation programme on a sectoral or thematic basis; or to work out their own framework for managing the decentralised cooperation programme. Inevitably, this meant that they came ill prepared and in dispersed order to the regional consultations.

Ad hoc approach to consultations. Closely related to the previous point is the rather ad hoc manner in which consultative meetings with social partners were organised. The approach followed was based on the organisation of"one time events"rather than a decentralised process approach. Two major consultations were organised by the CARIFORUM Secretariat over a two-years period of time, with very little happening during this interval. Different social partners attended the two meetings, amongst others as a result of personnel changes at the level of the organisations involved. Apparently, information flows before and after the meeting, were quite deficient.

Selective involvement of social partners. Participation may mean different things to different people. Many social partners felt that their participation was primarily formal. As one actor put it, perhaps too cynically:"we were asked to comment and agree". Few social partners have the impression that CARIFORUM was really prepared to"let go"and to give enough"space"to social partners to come up with their own ideas, strategies and implementation mechanisms."


convention de Lomé

, Caraibes


If audimat techniques could be applied to Lomé, we would maybe discover some other reasons for loosing people along the roads of DC. When and why are they"zooming out"? There is resistance amongst all players. Is it by lack of culture of dialogue, by lack of capacity to enter into genuine partnership arrangements in multi-actors scenarios? By lack of tools?

Accommodating a DC policy under Lomé may imply at least answering to the challenges of articulating three innovative characteristics of decentralised cooperation: dialogue between central agencies and a plurality of new actors, substituting a process approach to traditional project approaches, providing the framework for genuine participation.

As a colleague wrote once:"The EC is far behind other donors in terms of making its concept operational, and in providing a sound institutional base to implement the concept of decentralised cooperation. As the same time there is probably no other donor, which has taken up DC as an institutional-wide approach for development cooperation. In fact, DC features may co-exist among various bilateral donors (e.g. decentralised planning management, participatory development). The EC may be unique in trying to embrace them all under a global approach to development players in Lomé."


[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.]



BOSSUYT, Jean, ECDPM=European Centre for Development Policy Management, Operationalising Decentralised Cooperation under the Caribbean Regional Indicative Programme Draft Report of an Identification Mission (), ECPDM, 1998/05

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