Saturday, May 9, 2015

Small only in size Trinidad and Tobago Executive Board Representative gives UNESCO a perspective on Small Island Developing States

Our capacities and incapacities as small island states characterise our potential to or not to fully participate as sovereign independent states on equal footing in global development - Kris Rampersad, Trinidad and Tobago Representative UNESCO Executive Board 

Trinidad and Tobago Representative to UNESCO Executive Board,
Dr Kris Rampersad
April 14, 2015, UNESCO, PARIS.

Mr Chairman  Mr Mohamed Sameh Amr;  Honourable Director General, Madame Irina Bokova; Dr. Hao Ping President of the General Assembly,  Colleagues.
I bring greetings behalf of the Government and People of Trinidad and Tobago, who congratulate Madame Director General for her stewardship of UNESCO in these most times of crisis and transitions.

We support the statements of GRULAC and my precedent speakers of the Caribbean. Mr Chair, while they have been general, allow me to be specific, because the nature of the issues surrounding small island developing states remain specific to our localised realities, even as they may be global issues. Our capacities and incapacities as small island states characterise our potential to or not to fully participate as sovereign independent states on equal footing in global development and we hope UNESCO is guided by this reality in all is activities. In this regard we support the SIDS resolution for articulation of a clearly resourced actions to correct this imbalance, including addressing the deficiencies in statistical analysis that plague our region – and to that I hope we can draw on the services of the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.
The Trinidad and Tobago which I represent is genetically continental carrying within it the flora, fauna and geology of continental America having broken off with the last ice age. One oldest known humanoid skeleton of the hemisphere was found in South Trinidad – one of our best kept secrets. But not a secret is that our Pitch Lake has paved tarmacs of roads and airports across the globe.
We are physically some 21 small islands, to be exact, the southernmost of Caribbean islands on the edge of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ridge.
Economically we hover in a categorisation somewhere between developed and developing world that does not take into account many of the challenges that exist within the context of size and inadequacies of capacity.
Culturally we are a global amalgamation of cultures and colours from indigeneous peoples to various migrant streams from Europe in the middle of the last century and the labour push that brought African as slaves, Indians, Chinese, Syrians and Lebanese as indentured labourers preceding the current free movement of labour, that caused the late Nelson Mandela on a visit to see a rainbow nation.
This is an example of what we are referencing in the too simplistic term, Small Island Developing States, which hardly captures the internal complexities and challenges we face so as to make the policies and programmes we are trying to devise at this level effective and relevant.
We are small only as islands in size: the first oil well was drilled in Trinidad. We have given the world the only known musical instrument invented in the last century in the steelpan; and genres of music known as calypso, soca and chutney; no less than two Nobel Laureates for Literature in Sir Vidia Naipaul and Derek Walcott and we have inscribed on the Memory of the World registers authors as Samuel Selvon, Anson Gonzales, and Larry Constantine and our first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams. Also part of our Memory of the World inscriptions include registers of the migration of slaves and indentured Indian labour. We are children of both the slave and silk routes. Our poets and calypsonians do not sing of our oceans and seas as scientific specimens of currents and tides that churn up tsunamis and other natural disasters, nor as passageways to economic prosperity. Our ocean, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean Sea, are extensions of our cultural selves, repositories of the cruel history of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Middle Passage, Slave Route and Indentured Indian Labour Routes, that are bridge those painful memories and legacies in building resilient and inclusive albeit diverse societies
Through the National Commission of UNESCO which I now Chair, we will in July this year launch a researched publication that highlights UNESCO’s presence in Trinidad and Tobago for the last 50 years to collaborate UNESCO’s 70th anniversary celebrations. In July last year, before UNESCO paid its own tribute in October, we initiated Mandela Day celebrations – in collaboration with a committee established by the Prime Minister  - with a rally to capture the spirit and energy and inspire our youth in the “Mandela Effect”.
Our National Commission also embarked on interventions on youths at risk, school bullying. Inspired by your 10,000 Principals Leadership programme, Madame Director General, we initiated a Leading for Literacy and Decade for Literacy in 2012, driving change through reorienting school leadership and will tomorrow launch phase two of this. At the same time, riding on its success, we launched a Leading with Numeracy initiative.
Chair, colleagues, I have detailed some of these to say that even small islands we can boast of great achievements,  the challenges loom larger because of our size and because if we were furnished with capacities we can only do more. We challenge the statistical analyses that assign an economic categorisation based on narrow economic parameters that do not take into consideration the challenges of small island developing states. We thank colleagues for this support of initiatives that recognise the peculiar challenges of small island states as ours and to recognise and take and support steps that will help redress this through the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.
In this regard, we commend UNESCO on its publication of the 2014 report – nice and glossy and well illustrated and easy reading to highlight our age of crisis and transitions. We recognise that in this period of transitions that opportunities can easily become crises and of particular concern for us, is also the crisis that technologies pose to entrench underdevelopment because of lack of capacities, in some of our societies.
And we agree, Director General, that it is a time in which UNESCO becomes most relevant. In being able to shape the macro agenda, to meet the needs of the microscopic communities; to iron out the kinks and straighten the skews in the developmental agenda that has seen the large gaps in meeting the last Millennium Development Goals.
And it is because in these crises and transitions that UNESCO must assert its role and its place in the post 2015 Development agenda: in relation to the Oceans with which it is charged and to recognise their importance, relevance and significance to not just science but also to the cultural beings of citizens who cling to their shores and depend on them for livelihoods.
We commit to working with UNESCO to review and revise programmes and actions to become relevant to communities we serve. I make particular reference to the cultural initiatives that have been conducted in the Caribbean region through UNESCO with assistance from the Governments of Japan and the Netherlands in relation to enhancing our region’s access to the culture conventions, and the general work on the Action Plans for coming years for the Latin American region. In all of these we have made specific interventions on the realities of the regionl; that the one size fits all approach, adopted by some of the mechanisms and advisory bodies are not relevant and in an era of transition when sustainable development implies the ability to strike a balance between feeding citizens as much as conservation, the approach in many instances are punitive and are not sustainable for our region and we hope we can work together to iron out some of these kinks.
In an era where lifelong learning must become unlearning, lifelong modes and mechanisms for the new technologies that are evolving and placing considerable stress on governance and social management systems that see outbursts in crisis of interface between generations, escalate problems of youth at risk, school violence and bullying and other social negatives
Information and communication technologies offer opportunities to hitherto marginalised communities to shape the global development agenda, building ours into knowledge societies and also in deepening our democracies.
T he new environment of information and technologies is indeed fraught with pitfalls but it also allow for the promotion of freedoms of expressions and transparency and good governance and we can utilise these opportunities to share the good examples of consensus and building a culture of peace we ourselves practice in this room.
Chair, we heard your lament on the failure of mainstream media to give due attention to UNESCO’s work and your earlier invitation to enhance such visibility through our own use of social media. Madame Director General, indeed, we cannot leave our phone on silent. We have to hear and share the call for UNESCO’s relevance across the globe and throughout our communities.
By sharing these experiences and showing how we find ways of unravelling sometimes convoluted global issues, not just in the results, but in the processes with which we engage, we on the Executive Board can make ourselves more relevant in demonstrating our commitment to transparency in our governance issue by promoting use of the information technologies at our fingertips.
May I suggest that the Executive Board take advantage of the opportunities offered by new media to enhance its visibility as well as share this culture of UNESCO to promote transparency and open government, that we led by example and explore and take advantage of the many opportunities that the new media environment offers , as it puts the power of media access in the hands of every individual, to use the tools ourselves to make our presence felt, enhance our own visibility. Just as UNESCO has launched its own communication policy to enhance visibility of UNESCO, may I suggest that we revisit our own operational guidelines and regulations to accommodate this new environment of transitions; that allow for addressing crises with engagement, and through openness and transparency allow for leadership by example.
In this, especially as UNESCO is only UN agency charged with promoting freedom of expression, we become the change we want to be, a sustainable part of the global sustainable agenda.
I thank you.
Dr Kris Rampersad,
April 14, 2015, UNESCO Paris