THE 30th Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states was scheduled to have its ceremonial opening in Paramaribo, Suriname yesterday with an address by Guyana's first-time president, Donald Ramotar — a former parliamentarian — as 'special guest'.
This two-day meeting of the tri-continental group's parliamentarians will precede the ACP's Seventh Summit of Heads of State and Government, scheduled for December 13-14 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, with a work agenda driven by the central theme: "The Future of the ACP Group in a Changing World — Challenges and Opportunities".
Disappointingly, however, there are worrying concerns that the 14 independent member countries of Caricom — the regional economic integration movement that was quite influential in the inauguration of the ACP back in 1975 — is likely to repeat an error of judgement, as happened in 2004, when Heads of Government/State were missing in action.
The disappointment lies in the reality that such a shocking level of leadership absence from the Caribbean could have occurred when all governments, leading institutions and representative civil society organisations so often passionately point to the serious challenges facing this region and why firm solidarity must be sustained within the ACP group.
Currently, like its partners in Africa and the Pacific, the Greater Caribbean bloc of states (including Cuba and the Dominican Republic) are struggling for survival in a worsening global environment of economic recession, political/military conflicts, expanding criminality and climbing joblessness, the latter quite acute among the region's youth population.
It is therefore self-evident that this is the time for the Caribbean region to be more forthcoming in stimulating leadership commitment to deepen and widen the functions and representational profile of the ACP rather than, as it appears, to spread disillusionment and, worse, languishing in a retreat mode.
Having been founded in 1975 on the basis of what's known as 'The Georgetown Accord' to more effectively deal with trade and economic relations with the European Union (EU), successive governments of the ACP have come to be aware of the necessity to function in a wider international environment, and consequently to seek structured relationships, such as, for instance, the powerful G-20 Group.
The ACP group of 79 countries (48 in Africa, 16 Caribbean, and 15 Pacific) represent a population of some 2.5 billion diverse peoples and vast resources, compared with the EU's approximate 500 million population.
The EU's voice and influence are well represented at both the level of the G-8 group of powerful and wealthy nations as well as within the wider G-20, broadened in recent years to include Brazil and South Africa.
The need for wider and more effective involvement in a changing world is clearly a major challenge to be faced. Therefore, it is to the credit of the organisers of the forthcoming seventh ACP Summit that they are focussing on a central theme of this nature.
And having so miserably failed the Caribbean by a shocking absence of Heads of State and Government at the sixth ACP Summit in Ghana in 2008 — the notable exception being the then Surinamese President Ronald Venetiaan — it is to be expected that the Caricom leaders would avoid a repetition of such political detachment, if not contempt, in preparation for next month's summit in Equatorial Guinea.
Ahead of yesterday's start of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly — a biannual event — I sought a brief comment from Sir Shridath Ramphal on the Caribbean's apparent lacklustre attitude towards the coming ACP summit in Africa.
After all, Ramphal has remained a most authentic and influential Caribbean voice, and he was quite an instrumental personality in the framing of the Georgetown Accord as a creative functional tool in dealing with the EU on the basis of the then Lomé Convention.
"I am absolutely appalled," he said, "to learn of the negligible response from Caricom to these meetings of the ACP group of nations... The Caribbean has an obligation to be in the forefront of participation in these significant ACP events rather than, as it appears, being in retreat..."
Well, while a number of Caricom governments are faced with serious domestic social, economic, and political problems, none of these are said to be so acute as to deter quite a few of them from demonstrating scant interest to ensure at least reasonable representational involvement in the summit.
For a start, it would be surprising if any Caribbean government advanced the argument that they were unable to fund a delegation to the summit because of financial difficulties. For there is an understanding that the ACP Secretariat and the host country are committed to provide cost-free accommodation for a Head of State/Government, a Cabinet minister and one ambassador.
Incidentally, within the ACP group of nations there are, for the first time, three women Heads of Government, two of whom are from the Caribbean. They are Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissssar, and Malawi's President Joyce Banda. As of late last week, however, none among the trio had signalled to the summit organisers a likely presence for the summit.
A question of relevance is whether Caricom chairman Prime Minister Kenny Anthony of St Lucia, and/or the community's Secretary General Irwin LaRocque would show up in Equatorial Guinea for the summit.