The Summit Return on Investment
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2009
By Derren Joseph
April 26, 2009
Facebook says there are 180,000 users from Trinidad and Tobago, or about 14 per cent of us. Both Facebook and Twitter were on fire last weekend, with chatter on the Summit of the Americas. Jacqueline Morris and Judette Coward-Puglisi, in particular, gave us almost moment-by-moment insider commentary on what was happening during the opening ceremony. Well done, ladies! The discussion and debate on the summit continues, both online and offline. Last week, I suggested that rather than only focus on the summit cost, we also focus on potential benefits, and if the returns exceed the cost, we can be satisfied. logo
In January, the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Company held a forum on T&T's ambition to become the convention/conference capital of the southern Caribbean. Business tourism is expected to generate hundreds of millions, and these summits promote this agenda. Remember that oil/gas will not last forever. We need to invest in our post-oil/gas reality, but that leads me to the hard question: what is the right balance? How much do we spend supporting existing social/security/infrastructure issues versus investing in our future revenue flows? Alvin Narine makes the point on his Facebook note that we need to look forward. While there were "hiccups," lessons were learnt, and credit must be given to all involved.
They have contributed to hosting a global event. My friend Adrian Scoon noted that there were now hundreds of young people, in so many disciplines, with this experience under their belt. Alvin shared with me that he thought one of the key summit problems lay in not communicating with regular citizens what the summit meant to them; specifically, how they were to benefit directly.
Jacqueline Morris, on the other hand, is critical of some for not understanding that we are part of a wider region. An engineer by training, Jacqueline has worked with various UN-level working groups (especially around Internet governance).
She describes a consistent lack of Caribbean involvement in these international bodies. In LAC (ie Latin America and the Caribbean), the "C" is often silent. Jacqueline explained that after a meeting of this nature, the implementation process identifies agencies that are empowered and funded to achieve these objectives. Typically, they would include agencies such as UNECLAC, PAHO, IADB, USAID, and so on. Follow-up meetings are advertised, with funding often available for participation.
We should look out for this. It is our responsibility to get involved—whether we are private sector, an NGO or even a private citizen. I was able to attend the Private Sector Forum of the Summit. I saw it bringing us around the table to discuss common domestic problems and learn from each other. Topics ranged from economic stimulus packages to opportunities for using Information and Communication Technologies to drive social and economic development. Now the Caribbean is increasingly learning from our western neighbours rather than just our northern ones.
Politically, the Latin American Herald Tribune called the Summit a success that stunned everyone.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said that "...of all the summits which I've attended in this decade, this is, without doubt, the most successful; the one that opened the doors to a new era of rationality among all the countries." Chavez is so pleased that he will once again fill the post of ambassador to Washington.
Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza said, "those who thought that this was going to be a shouting match have come away disappointed." Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said last Sunday that he was leaving Port-of-Spain "extremely surprised" by the positive things that occurred at the meeting given that the United States and the other countries of the hemisphere had created "a new way of overcoming differences and discussing them maturely."
Personally, I have not completely made up my mind on the Summit. Let's see what happens over the next few years. My friend EC Clyde Parris and I were chatting about it and he suggested that in three years' time, we may be in a better position to more objectively judge the full impact. I tend to agree.
I am just most grateful that our nearest neighbour who has recently spent over US$4 billion on Russian fighter jets, attack helicopters and rifles, is smiling. It means that we can all rest a bit easier!
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