Eight years after the Caricom Civil Society Encounter was held and the Caricom Civil Society Charter launched, the charter still has no legal standing and there has been little or no structured dialogue between Caribbean civil society representatives and the Caricom Heads of Governments.
Speaking at a national consultation on the Caricom Civil Society Project held at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad in Port of Spain on Monday, retired Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) General Secretary George De Peana noted that apart from there being no legal framework to which civil society could seek redress by way of the charter, the Heads of Government did not carry through with the recommendation to take account of civil society's views in a more structured way.
He expressed concern that current consultations being undertaken by the Caricom Secretariat in collaboration with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago with funding by the European Union would end in futility.
Another consultation is scheduled to be held in Tobago.
Consultations are also due to be held in other Caricom member states.
At the 2002 encounter, he said that the Heads of Governments were not particularly pleased to have the unions address them.
He noted that at one stage the employers associations and the Caribbean Congress of Labour met with Heads of Governments and exchanged ideas but without notification, the discussions with the CCL discontinued while the same could not be said for the employers who "were entertained".
Based on the outcome of the current consultations, he said, "one wonders if there is going to be the same kinds of narrow interests".
In his address, Director of Poverty Alleviation in the Ministry of the People and Social Development Gary Tagallie said civil society needs to take stock of its role. He said many organisations have strayed from their defined roles. "They cannot remain hijacked," he said.
Noting that most civil society organisations were organised for poverty alleviation, he said that the 15 Civil Society Network organisations operating in the 14 regional municipalities and Tobago were important mechanisms for building and encouraging civil society to network with the State and other non-State actors, particularly the private sector.
An issue to discuss, he said, was the State could support the work of civil society organisations without controlling them.
He said, "I think it is possible."