General News Fri, 19 Dec 2003

27th Summit of ECOWAS opens in Accra

Accra, Dec. 19, GNA - President John Agyekum Kufuor, Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on Friday asked member states to institute regular Cabinet sessions on the organisation to receive and debate reports from the ECOWAS Secretariat.

He said such a measure could step up popular education of their people on the importance of the regional integration process.

President Kufuor made the call in an address to the opening session of the 27th Ordinary Summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC).

The theme for the one-day Summit attended by Heads of State and representatives of the 15-member organisation is: "ECOWAS Instrument for consolidation of Peace and Acceleration of Regional Economic Integration."

President Kufuor said there was no doubt that ECOWAS and other initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), provided member states with excellent windows of opportunity and that the Summit should explore the measures to optimise the benefits from them.

He said the ECOWAS Secretariat required to be strengthened and stabilised with more administrative and technical competence and called for a review of its organs to reflect these improvements and fill those positions.

Giving an overview of the activities of ECOWAS during the past year, President Kufuor said many political and economic successes were registered that had improved the peace and security situation within the Sub-Region and enhanced trade and business interactions among the people.

However, he said these successes were achieved at great cost in terms of deployment of human, material and financial resources by ECOWAS and in many instances with substantial support from the international community.

President Kufuor expressed appreciation to the contributions made by the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN) and other international partners whose help had enabled the Community to maintain the peace and security that the Sub-Region was currently enjoying.

He however, admitted that the assistance and contribution from most of the member states towards peacekeeping within the Sub-Region tended to come too little, too late and sometimes nil.

President Kufuor appealed to the Authority to address the problem at the Summit in order that all member states could be seen to bear their portion of the burden equitably and promptly.

He expressed regret that the image of the Sub-Region had been politically unstable and conflict torn because that situation had failed to reflect on the many admirable achievements of ECOWAS particularly the progress being made in the economic sector.

He mentioned the ECOWAS Ministers of Trade meetings in Accra that adopted a common position for the fifth World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico that enabled the group to stoutly defend the Community's position on Cotton.

"This common position must be strengthened to ensure that the Doha Development spirit is kept alive", he added.

President Kufuor said a further economic achievement was the joint stance of ECOWAS Trade and Finance Ministers for negotiation of a regional economic partnership agreement between West Africa and the European Union.

This he said when established would make West Africa a strong customs union and encourage the development of manufacturing and other industries that would use economies of scale to improve the competitiveness of member states in the international market.

President Kufuor appealed to member states that the many customs barriers still existing along their common borders should be reduced and made aware of the evolution of the customs union among them.

He said another challenge confronting the Community was the evolution of a common regional currency and the second monetary zone that would be a stepping-stone for the realisation of a common currency was making progress.

"The report submitted to the Summit by the relevant technical team indicated that the second monetary zone should be realised by 2005 to enable the creation of a single currency for all by 2007", he said. President Kufuor called for the formulation of a regional poverty reduction strategy next year in line with the ECOWAS Secretariat that had embarked upon the preliminary stages of elaborating a regional strategy and programmes that would complement the national poverty reduction strategy programmes being undertaken by most of the member states as the principal instrument for managing their national economies.

"These positive regional developments need to be sustained and improved upon. They are in support of our respective countries' political and economic reforms", he added.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo appealed to the Heads of State and Government to resolve to put the conflicts that occurred during the year behind them and pursue development goals that would improve the living standards of their people.

He asked them not to allow the conflicts to elude them as they entered a new year but rather join hands to focus and position the Sub-Region for peace, stability, growth, development and democratic rule.

Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Executive Secretary of ECOWAS in his report to the Summit said until all member states genuinely adopted the regional approach to national development and proceeded to re-order their economic policies and priorities accordingly, the problem of non-implementation of ECOWAS Acts and Decisions would persist. He said these Community instruments for promoting the integration of the national economies must be recognized as the tools for designing and implementing national macro-economic and sectoral policies and programmes.

Dr Chambas said instead of ignoring completely the ECOWAS instruments or viewing them as imposing obligations on governments, focus must rather be put on their basic objective of enhancing national development.

He said there must be an acceptance and a preparedness at the national level to modify existing policies, procedures and practices to accommodate the new dimensions to national economic management that were introduced by the regional instruments.

The Executive Secretary said growth in the Sub-Region had been elusive, insufficient and volatile while national strategies alone were proving insufficient to enable the Community achieve the millennium development goals.

He said regional integration was key to accelerated development and member states should re-double their efforts to create a larger, more open business and people-friendly economic and social space in West Africa.

" A borderless West Africa in which our people can move about freely and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available for wealth creation", he added.

Source: GNA