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MEDIA RELEASE October 2, 2001


Pacific Islands civil society representatives from the smallest nations of the Commonwealth began their meeting on "Enhancing Civil Society Participation In The Implementation Of The Cotonou Agreement" today as part of the numerous seminars and events during the Commonwealth People’s Festival currently under way in Brisbane, Australia.

At today’s opening of the Pacific meeting, the Pacific Islands Forum and the European Commission delegation to the Pacific both highlighted the importance of NGOs to development.

The Director of the Development and Economic Division of the Pacific Islands Forum, Stan Vandersyp, stated that like many inter-governmental organizations the Forum came to the conclusion that the growing importance of NGOs could not be ignored and has therefore developed an ‘NGO policy’.

"The Forum Secretariat found that as globalization and regional integration intensifies, it is in greater need of wider community input in order to provide a high standard of policy to its member governments. The secretariat also recognized the significant developmental role civil society organizations play in the region, and that they contribute to common goals such as open and transparent government, are fundamental to democratic development and often have special access to communities, issues and concerns in a way that government does not."

The Pacific meeting is exploring how civil society groups can engage in and benefit from the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group.

The representative of the European Commission delegation to the Pacific, Mrs. Shamina Narayan, said that while the Cotonou Agreement has set out a number of general principles, what is not specified is the practical terms and conditions of the implementation.

"The aim is therefore to establish mechanisms which reconcile state responsibilities and recognition of the added value that non-state actors bring to the development process," Mrs. Narayan said.

The Pacific civil society meeting will also be looking at ways they could strengthen the legal and regulatory framework through which they operate, in particular the Charitable Trusts Act through which many are established. Many critics see the Charitable Trust Act as hindering the ability of NGOs to comment freely without fear of reprisal or restraint from governing authorities.

Despite the cancellation of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM), the Commonwealth People’s Festival, a cross-range of meetings, cultural events and exhibitions from groups and organizations from Commonwealth member countries has gone ahead with great spirit and enthusiasm.

The purpose of the Commonwealth People’s Festival is to exhibit the Commonwealth at work in the non-government and civil society sector and to promote Commonwealth values and principles. The Pacific meeting will discuss issues such as dialogue between NGOs and governments, the legal and regulatory framework through which Pacific civil society operate, as well as strengthening their capacity and resources.

For more information please contact Stanley Simpson at the Commonwealth Festival Media Centre in Brisbane on Phone: 1 07 33083486 or 61 07 3831 6177 

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