From the podium

From the podium


His Excellency Louis H. Straker (Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished President, Prime Ministers and other Heads of Delegation, Representatives of NGOs, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I bring you greetings from the Government and people of the small Multi-island State of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I also bring you greetings from our Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who would have loved to be here but had to cancel his trip to Rome due to the death of the Head of State, Sir Charles Antrobus, the Governor General who was funeralized and laid to rest last Monday.

Mr Chairman, five years ago a similar forum discussed and agreed upon a Plan of Action to address the global concerns of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. The buzzwords at the time were globalization, trade liberalization and competitiveness. In the various international fora, the developing countries expressed their concerns that these measures, if left unbridled, would affect their economies and deepen poverty.

Today, even before we can come to grips with these ideas, the situation has been exacerbated by the terrible events of 11 September 2001. The cumulative effects of these events have had a tremendous impact on the global economy but more so on the condition of the poor in the developing countries, especially small island developing states, which are buffeted by the vagaries of disasters – natural and man-made.

What is of serious concern to us is the fact that we are forced to shift our focus and re-allocate scarce capital resources which are badly needed for development purposes from the on-going war against poverty to counter the threats against national security and the war against international terrorism.

It would be shortsighted of us, Mr Chairman, if we concentrate on a narrow view of national security to the neglect of other issues which pose as serious a threat to our national security. These issues such as poverty, hunger, crime, unemployment, illiteracy, proper housing for the poor, HIV/AIDS and natural disasters must be recognized as serious problems to the economic and social stability of the developing countries.

How can we envisage a secure world when millions remain in poverty and are forced to go hungry and suffer all the illnesses associated with malnutrition? Millions are faced with starvation when, worldwide, there is a sufficient supply of food to meet the needs of the entire global population.

The Rome Declaration on Food Supply and Security says that "Safe and nutritious food of adequate quality...is no longer a luxury of the rich, but a right of all people".

Food security issues must be kept on the front burner of international debate. But food security rests primarily on food availability and access to it. As members of international organizations in which reside the know-how and the resources to effect change, we cannot give up in despair. Developing countries must be given genuine and equal opportunities to share in the world's wealth and events like that of 11 September should not be used to deny the poor this access.

St Vincent and the Grenadines believe that if poverty alleviation is to be sustainable then the poor must be part of the change process. They must be part of their own solution. My Government has therefore put in place policies and programmes for rural and women development, to encourage agricultural diversification, to provide quality education and skills training, to expand the safety net for the poor and the unemployed and assist those who are physically and mentally challenged. In fact, our mission is to wage war on poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, inadequate housing and an unhealthy environment.

Mr Chairman, it is our view that FAO should continue to play its critical role as a catalyst and facilitator in the fight against hunger. To this end, we wish to acknowledge the contribution of the FAO to the Regional Special Programme for Food Supply for CARIFORUM Countries. St Vincent and the Grenadines has benefited directly from you interventions, most recently in the TCP/Agricultural Diversification, through value-added and the Telefood projects, all targeting the poor.

While we do not wish to offend any of our friendly countries by omitting them for special mention, we must give special thanks to the European Union, which through its STABEX FUNDS and Special Framework of Assistance (SFA) have made funds available for us to tackle many of the social needs required to overcome poverty. We would also like to thank the Republic of China and Taiwan for its unstinting effort and generous contributions to assist in every sector of our economy.

Mr Chairman, for the past two days there have been scores of speeches condemning poverty worldwide and bemoaning the fact that in a world of plenty, hundreds of millions of people are hungry and are dying from starvation. Delegates from rich countries make the same points as delegates from poor countries. Unfortunately, rhetoric does not provide food for the hungry, action does.

At meetings like this we say the right things and maybe our words reflect our intentions but your actions fall short of our promises. We set goals that are laudable and grab the headlines and put us in the media spotlight but when we leave here there are no sustainable efforts to implement our decisions. At best, our efforts are sporadic and by fit and start. We start with a burst of enthusiasm and then our interest fades. The plight of the poor is not a matter of sustained priority for many developed countries. It is an inconvenience that occasionally gains their attention in order to soothe their conscience. On too many occasions the developed nations appear to make generous contributions in their public orations, which they seek to take away in their private negotiations. Many developed countries ought to come before meetings like this and instead of eloquent speeches, repeat the mea culpas and explain their failures.

Mr Chairman, we can all agree on the following: poverty, as intractable as it may seem, can be eradicated but this can only be realized if we demonstrate the will and the determination by our actions; poverty and its consequences such as food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition, etc must be seen as serious security threats to our planet; the eradication of poverty requires policies and planned programmes to which adequate resources should be allocated. It requires the combined efforts of the poor, the private and public sectors and all members of civil society; and the international community, through its institutions, must provide leadership and support to developing countries in the areas where the needs have been identified.

Mr Chairman, the eradication of poverty is no the responsibility of the developed countries alone. We in the developing countries must play a major role. We in St Vincent and the Grenadines do not intend to be in a perpetual state of dependency and mendicancy. We are poor but we have our dignity. We are fighting against powerful forces over which we have little or no control, so we need a little help, temporarily. The developed countries, in many cases, have acted in ways to increase the misery of poor countries through their subsidies and various trade barriers. They have acted to suit their own interests and have not been fair or sensitive to the needs of the developing countries.

Too many times they demand actions from the developing countries which they themselves avoid. Too often they act as centurions and want us to act as servants. It is often "do as I say, not as I do".

But, on the other hand Mr Chairman, developing countries must not only be critical of the developed countries but they must be self-critical. Some developing countries contribute to the perpetuation of poverty on their people through corruption, waste, inefficiency and mismanagement. They engage in conflicts and border wars which they can ill afford. Many leaders enrich themselves by plundering their national wealth to build up large bank accounts in foreign countries or in offshore financial institutions or acquire and maintain lavish resort homes abroad or they live a life of luxury, which is a mockery to the poverty around them.

The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines is waging a ferocious war against poverty through good governance, zero tolerance for corruption and a programme to eradicate poverty. We have already signed the OAS Anti-corruption Convention and will shortly pass integrity legislation in Parliament to criminalize illicit enrichment by politicians and senior public servants. So scrupulous is our Government that no politician or public servant can even use a government vehicle for private purpose. We are waging a war against inefficiency and waste of taxpayer's money. Every trip abroad by Government Ministers and public servants must be justified on a cost/benefit analysis and any expenses abroad must be accounted for to the Accountant General.

It would be unseemly, perverse and hypocritical for us to bemoan our peury while our style of living is a mockery to the squalor in which some of our people live. We deplore the thought of driving around in expensive automobiles and to seek aid from representatives of richer countries driving automobiles that are more modest.

We in the recipient countries must avoid a conspicuous display of prosperity when our people are dying from starvation and go hungry every day. We must make sure that the generosity of our benefactors is matched by the frugality of the recipient governments.

Mr Chairman, I trust that this occasion will provide an opportunity for the international community to refocus its vision on, renew its commitment to, and strengthen its resolve in the battle for the elimination of hunger and the eradication of poverty. We cannot stand as helpless spectators while millions die for want in a world of plenty.

Do we have the desire, the compassion, the love and care for humanity and the will to meet this challenge? If we do, then our mission as individuals, organizations and a community of nations will have achieved its greatest accomplishment.

Remember, none of us will be free when our brothers and sisters languish in hunger and poverty. After all, we must be our brothers' keepers.

I thank you.

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