Archive for October 14, 2011

ASEAN ELECTORAL REFORMS SURGING AHEAD

October 14, 2011

ASEAN ELECTORAL REFORMS SURGING AHEAD

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

ASEAN is surging ahead economically and no veteran analyst will deny this development. It has three (3) emerging markets with it—Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam—while its member states Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand have already made it to the wealthy economy status.

That done, ASEAN ought to address too the matters of institutions, governance and culture. Building strong institutions, good governance, and inclusive multi-culture domains are sine qua non in shoring up business confidence and strengthening consumer purchasing power (i.e. redistributing wealth).

In the matter of elections for instance, too many areas in the ASEAN are like cave man dwellers’ era yet, where electoral cheating and violence hold sway as normal patterns. Electoral reforms, in consonance with human rights reform agenda of ASEAN, should be addressed by the entire bloc.

Gladly for observers and especially for ASEAN’s folks who suffer the brunt of warlords’ dirty political maneuverings, ASEAN has included electoral reforms on its table plates of urgent agenda. Below is an update concerning the subject.

[Philippines, 15 October 2011]

Source: http://www.asean.org/26648.htm
Message by Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, at the ASEAN Electoral Management Bodies’ Forum, ‘Inspiring Credible ASEAN Electoral Management Bodies’
Jakarta, 3 – 5 October 2011
H.E. Dr Nur Hassan Wirajuda, Former Foreign Minister of Indonesia
Prof Dr Hafiz Anshary, Chair of the Election Commission of Indonesia Commissioners of the Election Management Boards of ASEAN Member States
Dr Andrew Ellis, Director for Asia and the Pacific of IDEA
Ibu Sri Nuryanti, Member of the Election Commission of Indonesia
Election Commissioners of ASEAN Dialogue Partners
Excellences’
Distinguished Participants
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning,
As someone who was elected as a member of parliament in Thailand eight times in the last two decades, I feel a great sense of affinity with all of you here who are dedicated to the management and conduct of fair and free elections.
I am told that this is the first time that the Electoral Management Bodies from the ASEAN Member States have met at the regional level. This is a result of the far-sighted initiative of the General Elections Commission of the Republic of Indonesia (KPU) and of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). Let me compliment these two organizations for conceiving the idea of this seminar. While the Election Commission of Indonesia has provided leadership, IDEA has been a fervent supporter of work to promote electoral assistance and democracy in ASEAN. Let me thank both KPU and IDEA, as well as the Government of the Republic of Indonesia for their commitment and support of these processes during their chairmanship of ASEAN.
Let me take the opportunity to welcome all the distinguished officials and participants from the ASEAN member States, and ASEAN’s Dialogue partners.
As you are aware, ASEAN Member States have a vision to create an ASEAN Community by 2015. The ASEAN Charter, which was adopted by the ASEAN Member States in 2007, commits ASEAN to the principles of “adherence to the rule of law, good governance, democracy and constitutional government”. The ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC) Blueprint provides details on the measures which the ASEAN Heads of States have agreed to, in order to translate these principles into real and practical life.
The APSC Blueprint commits ASEAN to evolving into a”rules-based” Community of shared values and norms (A.12). These shared values include promoting the principles of democracy – for example by “convening seminars, training programmes and other capacity building activities for government officials, think-tanks and relevant civil society organizations to exchange views, sharing experiences and promote democracy and democratic institutions” (A.1.8.ii); and by “conducting annual research on experiences and lessons-learned of democracy aimed at enhancing the adherence to the principles of democracy” (A.1.8.iii).
While the APSC Blueprint specifically covers the issue of democracy, the Blueprints of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community and ASEAN Economic Community are no less relevant to building the social and economic foundations of a democracy.
How can ASEAN’s stakeholders help the ASEAN governments realise the vision of the ASEAN Community? I would like to introduce you to a number of key ASEAN organs who make policy at the ASEAN level.1 Some of these organs were created when the Charter was adopted:
Here is a list of some of the key ASEAN bodies who perform work at the ASEAN level:
• ASEAN Summit – this body comprises the Heads of State of the ten ASEAN countries;
• ASEAN Coordinating Council – this body coordinates policies from the three pillars of the ASEAN Community before the decision by the Summit;
• ASEAN Community Councils – this body makes decisions on political-security, socio-cultural and economic issues;
• ASEAN Committee of Permanent Representatives – these are ambassadors from the ten ASEAN Member States who coordinate national policies at the regional level;
• ASEAN National Secretariats – each ASEAN member state has a national secretariat which coordinates policies at the national level.
• ASEAN Secretariat – the ASEAN Secretariat facilitates the work of the member states which covers all issues affecting the ASEAN Community;
More specialised ASEAN government bodies related to your work include:
• ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
• ASEAN Commission for Women and Children (ACWC)
• ASEANAPOL – a network of chiefs of ASEAN police who handle matters of law enforcement and crime control
• There are also a host of other ASEAN bodies and working groups which deal with specific issues such as trafficking, trade, disabilities, labour issues, finance and economic integration, and others.
Other non-governmental entities who undertake ASEAN work include:
• the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Assembly (AIPA)
• ASEAN-ISIS network of think-tanks across ASEAN.
• ASEAN Law Association
As you can see, the network of policy-making organs working at the ASEAN level is flourishing. Three years after the ASEAN Charter entered into force, the regional policy-making organs are still evolving and finding ways of working with their colleagues from the other ASEAN Member States. They will need time to find their feet. Depending on the nature of the issues you are confronted with at the ASEAN level, you may find it useful to approach some of these bodies. One of these bodies will likely be working on the very issues of you are concerned with.
Democracy is not only about elections – but credible elections are at its core. Credible elections require a commitment to transparency and to an election environment which enables the voices of political parties and candidates to receive a fair hearing. Credible elections also require effective electoral management– which is both about creating and ensuring a level playing field for political participants, and about organising highly complex events well in a manner which follows the rules. Effective electoral management relies on the independence of electoral management bodies. This applies to all electoral management bodies, whether they are functionally independent or whether they are executive government agencies (or even if they are a mixture of the two).
A General Election is often the most comprehensive activity a country undertakes in peacetime. Electoral administrators and managers have to make a large number of decisions under heavy time pressure and with a lot riding on the political outcome. Their job is not simple. While many of these decisions are technical, most have political implications.
A large amount of money is also needed to organise a credible election. Huge numbers of people are involved, especially on polling day, and the procurement of equipment and supplies also involves very substantial sums of public money. Spending this money with transparency and accountability matters – not only because it is right in itself, but also because the honesty and financial integrity of the electoral authority affects the confidence in the political outcome of the elections.
The challenges of logisticsin elections across the ASEAN Member States can on their own be daunting, and the costs of failure in lost credibility can again be high. For instance, in archipelagic countries like Indonesia and the Philippines whose population collectively are spread over more than 20,000 islands, managing elections are a mammoth logistical and political challenge. If the ballot box, papers and materials have not arrived in time for a polling station to open on polling day, all that can be done is damage minimisation.
Elections are only highly visible during campaign periods and until results are declared, and that is when electoral managers are under most scrutiny. However, good performance by electoral managers is necessary almost all the time – because the cycle of elections goes on all the time. Tasks such as the drafting and updating of electoral procedures, the registration of electors, training, and the resolution of disputes and complaints under an electoral justice system which follows the rule of law are done at other stages of the electoral cycle – and all have a major impact on the credibility of elections. New challenges such as ensuring the opportunity to vote for all adult citizens, including migrant’s in-country and citizens abroad, require inventiveness. Information technology can increase credibility if used well, but can cause more problems than it solves if badly handled – and it is another area in which the role of money and of vested interests needs careful oversight.
We must harness the power of technology to activate networks of likeminded citizens to create a momentum to realise our vision for our future, since we all have a stake in it. The social media has radically transformed the nature of electoral contests and how they are viewed. Information technology is also having a liberating and empowering influence on our community of disabled people in many ways including political inclusiveness even as ASEAN builds a community based upon inclusive values.
Election bodies should therefore continually keep pace with technological advances. As you know, it is also no longer necessary for candidates to meet face-to-face with their voters. Technology will continue to make electoral contests more inclusive. Social media has also allowed people to meet online, and form networks and partnerships to realise common ends. Electoral management is a task that will increasingly require greater professionalism.
This seminar is therefore a valuable platform for professionals from the ASEAN nations to share knowledge, expertise and experiences among themselves as well as with colleagues from dialogue partners. It will create a network of electoral managers within the ASEAN Member States who can work together to face the challenges of organising credible elections at all levels in their countries.
Your task as managers of the election commissions is of utmost importance. I would like to encourage you to maintain the contacts you have made here to improve your work in your own countries. This is a highly significant and powerful network of likeminded people. I would also urge you to understand the ASEAN Charter and ASEAN processes so that you can better contribute to “inspiring credible ASEAN election management bodies”.
Let me reiterate the commitment that our governments have made at the very highest level to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law”, and to “promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms”. It will take time for us to achieve these noble objectives, but our Leaders have taken an important step towards this end. With your knowledge, commitments and expertise, I believe this Forum will accelerate momentum to realise the vision of the ASEAN Charter and the development of a people-centred ASEAN Community based on shared and free values.
1 For a list of the ASEAN organs, and entities associated with ASEAN, see Chapter IV and Annex 2 of the ASEAN Charter
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ASEAN-CANADA TRADE RELATIONS BOOST

October 14, 2011

ASEAN-CANADA TRADE RELATIONS BOOST

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day from the Pearl of the Orient!

ASEAN is on its way to becoming a fully integrated Economic Union by 2015. As it moves closer to the mid-2015 period when integration will be executed, it is most prudent for wealth economies and emerging markets to concur trade agreements with the southeast Asian bloc that is now rising to the fore as a global economic power.

ASEAN is indubitably traversing the path of a Pillar of the Global economy which it can achieve before 2020. With a population that is nearing 700 millions, a large market it impeccably is for enthused trade partners. It now boasts of a middle class numbering past 150,000,000 heads which will breach in a couple of years the USA’s 160,000,000 estimated ‘constantly buying consumer base’ of upper & middle class consumers.

Canada just signed a Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment with the ASEAN, a pro-active decision that will see the fruits of the covenant accruing even before 2015. The summary news report is shown below.

[Philippines, 15 October 2011]
Source: http://www.asean.org/26646.htm
ASEAN and Canada Adopts Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment
Jakarta, 3 October 2011
The ASEAN-Canada relations achieved another significant milestone yesterday as Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu, Minister of Trade, Indonesia and Chair of the ASEAN Economic Ministers, and Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, Canada exchanged letters of adoption of the Joint Declaration between ASEAN and Canada on Trade and Investment.
The Joint Declaration was endorsed by the ASEAN Economic Ministers at their 43rd meeting in August 2011 in Manado, Indonesia. The Joint Declaration, which is also a key outcome stated in the ASEAN-Canada Plan of Action, aims to enhance trade, industrial cooperation and investment; promote and facilitate increased involvement of the business sector, in particular small and medium-scale enterprises; promote greater coordination in the WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; and develop a mechanism for regular exchanges of information on trade and investment opportunities and other promotional activities related to trade and investment.
“We will task our Senior Officials to follow-up on the Joint Declaration and develop a Work Plan. Emphasis will be given to activities related to the development of SMEs and effective partnership with the private sector,” said Minister Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu.
Canada is ASEAN’s 13th largest trading partner and 9th largest source of FDI. Trade between ASEAN and Canada grew at a significant pace, recording annual average growth of 21% between 2005 and 2008. Due to the global financial crisis and economic downturn, trade flows dipped to 15.8% in 2009 but showed signs of recovery in 2010 with total trade amounting to US$9.8 billion, an increase of 8.6% over the previous year. Foreign direct investment (FDI) flow from Canada to ASEAN increased more than two folds in 2010 amounting to USD 1.6 billion. In 2009, the total tourist arrivals to ASEAN from Canada were 1.41 million.
ASEAN is becoming an important market and investment destination for Canada. ASEAN as a group is Canada’s seventh most important trading partner. In 2010, Canada’s investment in the ASEAN region was more than Canada’s investment in China and India combined.
“We see enormous opportunity in ASEAN. It’s a region with a growing middle class and abundant natural resources. It is also an increasingly integrated region that is attracting trade and investment from around the world,” said Minister Ed Fast.
The Joint Declaration between ASEAN-Canada Trade and Investment is timely as ASEAN gears towards deepening its economic integration and enhancing its linkages with its trading partners. “The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is based on open regionalism and deepening trade and economic ties with our partners is an integral part of ASEAN’s economic community building. The AEC will provide trade, economic and business opportunities for ASEAN, Canada and other trading partners to tap on,” said Pushpanathan Sundram, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for AEC in his opening remarks.
In conjunction with his first visit to Jakarta, the Canadian Minister of International Trade also had a bilateral meeting with Pushpanathan Sundram who was representing the Secretary General of ASEAN. The meeting discussed on identifying the important next steps in increasing trade and investment, strengthening cooperation in the areas of social welfare, particularly on gender issues and human rights, as well as establishing an effective platform to engage the private sector.
Canada is one of ASEAN’s oldest Dialogue Partner. ASEAN and Canada will celebrate the 35th Anniversary of their relations in 2012.
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LIVING IN TENT CITY: SOMALI REFUGEES’ ADAPTATION STORY

October 14, 2011

LIVING IN TENT CITY: SOMALI REFUGEES’ ADAPTATION STORY

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day from the Pearl of the Orient!

We have so many narratives about peoples’ adaptation in tent cities today. By tent cities I refer to communities habituated by refugees. In my country PH, I’ve watched how tent cities have arisen as contingency measure after the Mt Pinatubo eruption circa early 90s, and visited some of them to offer relief and rehabilitation services.

Across the planet, tent cities abound like mushrooms as contingencies arising from calamities or politico-military conflicts. Aid hasn’t been wanting at all, as we have too many international organizations—UN agencies, international NGOs, domestic philanthropic groups—that reinforce the efforts of local stakeholders. Their presence helps to alleviate the stress and discomfort of living in tent cities.

Besides, the said agencies help in mediating possible conflicts arising from the tent city occupants. Take the case of Somalis who have been running away from both social conflicts and drought. Given their histories of mutual animosities and distrust, how do they manage to co-habituate tent neighborhoods?

Below is the latest reportage about the Somali refugees’ adaptation inside tent cities.

[Philippines, 14 October 2011]
Source: http://www.unhcr.org/4e77488d9.html
Somali refugees learn to live together in new tented town rising in Kenya
19 September 2011
© UNHCR/B.Bannon
IFO EXTENSION, Kenya, September 19 (UNHCR) – In a windy desert camp, two women vigorously insult each other over who will be the first to fill their plastic can with water. Either side of a standpipe, they hurl epithets. For much of their lives, the women have been accustomed to travelling several kilometres for the precious substance and it is a resource worth battling over. Arguments such as this can quickly evolve into blood feuds involving entire families.
Local leader Bashir Abdi Kassim, 38, arrives on the scene with community security officers before the argument comes to blows. He takes the two Somali refugees aside and discusses the problem. The women don’t yet understand that there is more than enough water for everyone at the new extension at Ifo, part of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in north-east Kenya.
Kassim puts forward a solution that has the elegance of being both obvious and face-saving. Anyone who wants water must place his or her jerrycan in a line. Queue-jumping is not tolerated. “We’ve taken enough lessons about conflict and tribal clashes in Somalia to know that no arguments are good,” says Kassim, who arrived in Dadaab more than a month ago from Gedo region in southern Somalia. “Here we need to work together as a block.”
The dispute is part of Ifo Extension’s social evolution. A delicate lattice of community has begun to take hold among the thousands of refugees who inhabit the white tents – what was once a disparate assembly of refugees is slowly becoming a cohesive group with a shared sense of responsibility and obligation. Families are coming to understand that they need not be as preoccupied with the difficulties of procuring basic necessities as they were when they inhabited more dangerous areas on the outskirts of Ifo.
“The provision of services brings people together and helps to define community,” say Moulid Hirsi, a field associate for UNHCR who has worked in Dadaab for more than 19 years. “It becomes the focal point for common interests and responsibility. You eliminate the ‘I’ and replace it with the ‘we’.”
The sense of neighbourhood is fragile, as would be expected among a group of strangers whose arrival reflects the desperation attendant with drought and conflict. An emergency still whirls around them with continued concerns about disease, security and the provision of basic amenities.
But since the beginning of June, when continued fighting and the worst drought in 60 years triggered the latest crisis in Somalia, Ifo Extension has evolved from a barren landscape to a growing town of 7,300 tents and nearly 30,600 individuals. The goal to provide shelter and services for 90,000 refugees by year’s end remains a UNHCR priority.
Community members are not waiting for the completion of the project to build their own institutions. Some 30 metres from the water point, community members have started their own makeshift school, even as UNHCR and partners lay the groundwork for a tent school nearby.
Osman Aden, 11, and Ali Nunow, 14, are among the students practising how to write extracts of the Koran. “We came together as a group and decided that we would begin this school,” says 32-year-old Ahmed Ali, who teaches the youngsters. “We’ve not been here long but we . . . want to give our children an education.”
Signs of commerce have also begun to appear. Farhan Noor Shringe, 26, started his first business last month next to his tent. Sugar and vegetables are the most popular items, but he also vends flashlights, tea, spaghetti, tomatoes and cigarettes. The profit margin is less than one US dollar a day, but the venture gives Shringe a sense of hope. “I may be a refugee, but I want to be able to survive on my own,” he says. “As this community grows, my business will develop bit by bit.”
In another sector of Ifo Extension, school is in session. About 100 youngsters share desks in a cavernous classroom where, for the first time, they learn to count in English. Teacher and students engage in an eager call and response. For the vast majority in the class, it is the first time they have had contact with an education that meets Kenyan standards – superior to what they are used to.
“The school brings the community together,” says Headmaster Mohamed Abdulahi Bashir. “There are parent meetings, exchanges of ideas.” As classes end, along the school perimeters, a group of 50 teenagers assemble for a discreet mission. “We normally played football when we lived on the outskirts,” says 18-year-old Ali Magaley. “But then our ball broke.”
Youth officer Tomoya Soejima promises the group that in their new home in Ifo Extension football will definitely be on the agenda. The youths quickly provide a tentative list of players and the next day some 20 teenagers arrive. As the game continues, children arrive almost out of nowhere and soon there are four teams playing into the late afternoon – shirts versus skins.
“Football is a unifier,” says Tomoya. “It is an engine for conversation, friendship and empowerment. When they begin to play there is a shyness. But after an hour, you can see the smiles and camaraderie start to grow. It’s like normal life again.”
By Greg Beals in Ifo Extension, Kenya
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WHAT SAYETH AFRICA REGARDING CLIMATE CHANGE?

October 14, 2011

WHAT SAYETH AFRICA REGARDING CLIMATE CHANGE?

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Talking about climate change is one thing else, while acting upon climate change challenges and risks is another thing. Which is which for Africa?

Across the Sahara is a tree planting project running by the hundreds of miles. Started couples of years ago yet, the intervention will hopefully begin reforestration and arrest the prolonged desertification of the region. I already extended accolades to this wonderful project sometime back, and I honestly think that this is one intervention that properly addresses climate change challenges and risks.

The question is, where does food security come into the intervention fray? Given the latest famine and hunger outbreak in the Horn, we can practically see symptoms of failures by state and tiller stakeholders to recognize satellite-evidenced drought coming, or even to recognize what experts have been forewarning all along about a huge famine forthcoming. The result of that failure is a famine of gargantuan proportions that affect at least 11 Millions of warm bodies, a calamity that could see hundreds of thousands die of starvation in three (3) months’ time (as of this writing).

Below is an update reportage about the subject, coming from the FAO.

[Philippines, 14 October 2011]

Source: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/89603/icode/
Africa must face climate change head on / Agriculture should be placed front and centre at upcoming meeting of UN Climate Change Convention
14 September 2011, Johannesburg/Rome – FAO and African leaders are working together to move quickly to adopt a “climate-smart” approach to agriculture to fight the impacts of climate change and increasing scarcity of natural resources.

“Africa needs increased productivity in its agriculture and higher incomes in its rural areas, and rural communities and the agro-ecosystems on which they depend have to adapt to climate change and become more resilient to its impacts,” Alexander Mueller, FAO’s Assistant-Director General for Natural Resources, said in remarks at the conference “Climate Smart Agriculture: Africa – A Call to Action,” convened by the Government of South Africa (13-14 September, Johannesburg).

“FAO together with its partners has developed the concept of ‘Climate-smart agriculture,’ which offers a way to deal with these multiple challenges in a coherent and integrated way”, he said.

The approach aims to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and build resilience to environmental pressures, helping farmers adapt to climate change, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through climate-smart practices that increase the organic soil matter and improve water-holding capacity. This also makes yields more resilient and reduces erosion, helping to mitigate climate change.

The way forward

“Climate-smart agriculture includes proven practical techniques and approaches that can help achieve food security, climate change adaptation, and climate change mitigation,” Mueller said.

“But more support is needed. We need further piloting and scaling-up of early action programmes, we need to bring together finance and investment opportunities and make them available for developing countries. Agriculture and climate finance need to be addressed together,” he added. “Handling one at a time is not going to be enough to meet these multiple challenges,” he said.

Agriculture is key, adaptation is essential

Agriculture is the economic foundation of many sub-Saharan countries, employing about 60 percent of the region’s workforce and accounting for some 30 percent of gross domestic product.

But climate change may reduce crop yields substantially in sub-Saharan Africa by the 2050s. And some 650 million people in Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture in fragile environments that are vulnerable to water scarcity and environmental degradation.

A paper for the Johannesburg event prepared by the South African Agriculture Ministry in collaboration with FAO and the World Bank argues that without measures to adapt food productions to the challenges posed by climate change — and the financing to support those measures — Africa’s poverty alleviation and food security goals will not be reached.

Putting agriculture front and centre in climate talks

“The upcoming UNFCCC meeting in Durban, South Africa (28 Nov-9 Dec 2011), offers an opportunity for Africa to shape the global climate change agenda and this conference will help garner attention for the climate-smart agriculture approach,” Mueller said.

“It is a signal of utmost importance that Africa has put climate-smart agriculture high on the political agenda by convening this conference,” according to Mueller.

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