7 December 1998
Original: English


Date: 12/04/98

Code: Office of the Assistant Secretary General


I have the honor to forward, herewith, an edited version of my presentation on 2 December 1998, to the Joint Special Working Group of the Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development, on the Strengthening and Modernization of the Organization of American States. I propose forwarding copies to all members of the working group in accordance with the request of the group.

I hope that the contents of my presentation would prove useful to the group in its continuing deliberations.

Accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Christopher R. Thomas
Assistant Secretary General

His Excellency Dr. Antonio Mercader,
Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Uruguay
to the Organization of American States and
Chairman of the Joint Special Working Group of the
Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council
for Integral Development on the Strengthening and
Modernization of the OAS,
Washington, D.C. 20007

2 December 1998

General Introduction

Mr. Chairman: I wish, first of all through you, to thank the members of this working group and in particular the delegations of CARICOM member states for this singular honor of inviting me to share my thoughts with you on this very important exercise for our organization. My presentation comes at a time in your work when the traditional questions associated with an exercise of this kind, namely: What is the mission and purpose of the Organization? To what extent is this mission being achieved? How might the body corporate enhance, refocus or structure actions to optimize its mission and purpose, have already been posited and largely debated. I do not propose, therefore, to return to them. Rather my point of departure will be less philosophical and more function oriented. I propose to concentrate on the Organization’s structure and function and relate these questions to certain hypotheses, on the basis of which I would draw some conclusions. In so doing, I would identify five areas:

    1. Pillars of Organization;
    2. Organizational Structures;
    3. Focus and orientation;
    4. Operational Functioning; and
    5. Resource Support

Additionally, I would end my presentation with certain immediate suggestions as to our present working procedures.

Pillars of Organization

Historically, the three pillars of the Organization have been identified as:

    1. The Charter
    2. The Pact of Bogota
    3. The Rio Treaty

The Charter

The Charter is the basic document of our organization and has now been amended on four occasions. Our mandate from the General Assembly is not to amend the Charter in the course of our present deliberations. The explicit recognition is, therefore, that the Charter’s composite purpose is sound. I certainly agree with this. Perhaps, the best defense of the Charter is that no Summit mandates, no membership action or initiative from an historic perspective, have been configured outside the general purposes of Charter. If this is agreed, then the need to modernize must relate to the creative translation of the purposes and objectives of the Charter.

The Pact of Bogota

The Pact of Bogota is an historic document on the Pacific Settlement of Disputes. It has been ratified by thirteen countries with wide reservations. It is unlikely that after 50 years of the Organization’s establishment, and given our evolving political situations, that the Pact is likely to receive further ratifications. Indeed, the Pact of Bogota has never been really used. The tenets of the Pact continue to be sound. The Pact itself has served an historic purpose in its response to the priority needs of an earlier epoch. Today those priority needs have largely changed.

The Rio Treaty

The Rio Treaty is also an historic document whose purpose responded to a vital political measure of an earlier era. A number of countries are not signatories to the treaty and it is obvious that many members of the Organization will not be future signatories to the treaty. Like the Pact of Bogota, the treaty was conceived for a purpose, whose relevance is more historic than the priority issues of the Hemisphere today. This raises a number of questions. Do the security functions these two pillars were designed to protect meet the present needs of the larger membership? Are we into a new focus on security? Are our security concerns today more economic and social? If the issues today are more predominantly economic and social rather than military, can we expand these treaties? Can we refocus the objectives of the treaties or develop new basic treaties in more functional areas? Would this modernize and strengthen our organization? My answer to that question is yes.

Resolution 1080 prescribes for the mobilization of the Organization’s membership in the event of constitutional interruption in member states. Why not a treaty for economic breakdown or disruption? The cases of Honduras and Nicaragua come readily to mind. The distinguished Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, in his reference to the destruction of Hurricanes George and Mitch in the region, reminded us that affected member states had come to the Organization last year for assistance; that they were requesting assistance this year; and that they would be coming next year. As challenging as coming and coming again is to the creativity of the Permanent Council, ad hoc economic security responses do not provide lasting solutions.

The membership of the Organization has accepted a new focus for security. The development of an economic and/or social treaty providing collective hemispheric response to new security issues, would, in my view, be a modern response to the priorities of the day. This would be both timely and crucial as we prepare for the introduction of a Free Trade Area. A free trade area must be based on a measure of economic stability. If there is no predictably general economic stability, a free trade area cannot be effectively sustained.


It is therefore my conclusion, at this point, that our existing historic treaties are important but not in the same degree for the entire membership. We should therefore review them or replace them, but we should also develop others to which all of the membership can subscribe. Nothing prescribes that there can only be three pillars. Why not, therefore, four or five which will serve to modernize the Organization, integrate its membership and strengthen our hemispheric body.

Organizational Structures

In the organizational area, I identify six organizational structures:

    1. The General Assembly – Regular and Extraordinary Sessions
    2. Meetings of Consultation;
    3. The Permanent Council;
    4. The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI);
    5. Specialized Conferences; and
    6. The Inter-American Organizations.

General Assembly – Regular and Extraordinary Sessions

Our regular session of the General Assembly has evolved from one session every five years to annual sessions. The present arrangement is very practical. In addition, as long as regular sessions of the General Assembly continue to be held in June, a session on budget appropriation for November or after the regular session of the General Assembly is a useful and necessary measure. The special sessions of the General Assembly are useful instruments - as urgent overall legislative mechanisms in response to specific issues.

Meetings of Consultation

Our Meetings of Consultations are adequate mechanisms that have proven to be useful and practical when required.

Nonetheless, I ask the question, have we optimized the new arrangements for our General Assembly? The special session of the General Assembly held in November required a number of ceremonies, including registration of participants, credentials and other conference arrangements for approval of the budget. The process was as follows: Sessions of the Budget Committee, approval by the Permanent Council and subsequent approval by the Preparatory Committee of the General Assembly, followed by debate and approval by the Special General Assembly which in fact constituted a Permanent Council in session. Might it not have been more practical to delegate the approval of the budget to the Permanent Council and dispense with the related ceremonies of the special General Assembly Session? If this violates present Charter provisions, there might be two practical solutions. The regular session of the General Assembly might approve a zero-based budget with necessary cost increases and authorize the Permanent Council to allocate expenditures for new mandates within an overall additional ceiling of say 10%; or the Assembly itself could approve an overall budget and authorize the Permanent Council to allocate within that budget the distribution of additional mandates.

The Permanent Council

The Permanent Council is a very practical mechanism for continuous session and interaction. Its size gives it great advantage for the working inter-relationship of its members. In my view, however, the Permanent Council shortchanges itself. Historically, the Permanent Council has assumed a corporate and advisory role with little or no support policy framework. The request by the delegation of Jamaica, in October, for a meeting on the world financial situation and its possible impact on the hemisphere, which has not yet been held, would be convened with no background documents, no position paper and no basis for policy formulation. There appears to be a need to separate the corporate from advisory role of the Permanent Council and have the Council evolve from housekeeping to larger issues in the engagement of hemispheric questions, with the required institutional support through informed research and documentation.

In engaging hemispheric questions, there will be need to address the Council’s function. Is the Council an operational body or an instrument of political dialogue and discourse? And is political discourse an end in itself or a means to an end? Even if the Council is solely for political discourse, and I do not believe that it is, we will need to extend the dialogue to new and wider social consciousness in order to engage a wider cross-section of our community. If it is agreed that the Council is also to be operational, then its engagement of the wider community should be essentially a call for collective action. In order to achieve the above, there would be need for two requisites - involvement of the wider civil society and the making of the dialogue a function of concrete follow-up action.

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI)

I believe that the Organization’s operational mechanisms for concrete follow-up action must be embodied in the specialized conferences, the inter-American bodies and CIDI. It is important to recognize that link between political and operational mechanisms and to strengthen it. Some effectiveness already exists at the level of specialized conferences and other bodies - for example, the conferences on Terrorism and Corruption; on Arms Trafficking, on the Inter-American Commission of Women, and within CIDI itself. At the level of CIDI, however, the link is not really effective. The Permanent Council and CIDI operate as separate bodies without a dimensional relationship. CIDI itself is not fully integrated. It is not easy to make this observation, Mr. Chairman. The culture of our organization requires that one should not say no. We therefore say yes to the Assistant Secretary General, to the Secretary General, to delegations of member states when we should be saying no, or more politely, not yes. I understand this culture is fast extending to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Management.

Shortly after my assumption of office with this Organization, I perceived a need for recognition by the Permanent Council of a co-responsibility with the Secretariat for improving the efficiency of the Meetings and Conferences schedules. I therefore proposed to raise the matter in the Permanent Council. In consultation with the then Secretary General, Baena Soares, I was advised that it was not advisable to address the Permanent Council in those terms. After careful deliberation, I nonetheless decided to address the Permanent Council. I am pleased to say that the Permanent Council received my observations with due courtesy. I therefore take this opportunity to say to this group that our integral development structure runs the serious risk of over decentralization; our project cycle has moved from flexibility to inflexibility; and our execution agreements have become uncoordinated and confusing to central governments.

In 1963, in response to the disquieting widening array of committees, groups, joint programs and advisory bodies to service the developmental agenda, the Alliance for Progress was formed. In CIDI we are heading, once more, to that array of committees and specialized bodies in service of the development agenda. To strengthen our organization, we must review this entire operation. Overall, there is need for an integrated thread between political discourse, policy articulation and operational implementation. This thread is basic for an integrated action. If the Organization’s target is economic integration, then the channel through which this objective might be pursued, given the economic asymmetries of the region, must be technical cooperation. This is not a new concept. At the first Heads of State Summit of the Hemisphere in Panama, it was decided that technical cooperation should underpin the objective of economic integration. That, in my view, continues to be true today.

The four basic tenets of a modernized and strengthened Organization of American States must therefore be a recognized linkage between political discourse, policy articulation, operational programming and technical cooperation. This proposed linkage holds for all activities- Permanent Council, Specialized Conferences, inter-American bodies and CIDI– since we are all seeking the same objective. In that regard, technical cooperation should not be an end in itself but a product and pursuit of a political mission and commitment.

Focus and Orientation

The approach and perspective outlined above must lead us to review our focus and our orientation. Focus implies philosophy. Orientation implies direction. In more recent times the Organization has re-emphasized and established a number of philosophies: Partnership for Development, Elimination of Poverty, a catalyst role in systems-wide collaboration, facilitator in the mobilization of external resources - all with the aim of achieving hemispheric economic integration. What seems to be missing is directional integration. The basis of this must be a change in the traditional paradigm of benefactor/beneficiary relationship. The concept is already established in our Charter. For example, in the area of trade, Article 40 of the Charter specifically recognizes as a principle, non-reciprocity in concessional trade. The establishment of a committee on small economies in our present trade negotiation should not therefore have had to be negotiated, but rather automatically agreed upon as a spontaneous hemispheric position. The philosophy therefore exists. There is need to give it functional direction. Functional direction will underpin the linkages between political discourse, policy articulation and operational implementation. Technical cooperation would then be rightfully situated as a tool and instrument of the Organization’s objective, not in terms of ten or twelve million dollars but as an institutional collaboration and as a dimension of political commitment towards economic advancement and integration.

In the context of that orientation, all the aspects of institutional strengthening, systemic networking, fellowships, poverty eradication, mainstreaming of women, education, youth development, and employment, become functional extensions of a political commitment to the region, not an end in itself, but as a means towards economic development.


If the philosophy and direction outlined above were put in place, the framework of our operational functioning will then become a derivative of those commitments. A number of conclusions will then become inescapable for our operational functioning.

Operational Functioning

I deal first at the legislative level and then at the administrative level. Firstly, the requirements at the legislative level relate to a further reform of the General Assembly. As I mentioned earlier, certain reform measures have already begun. Those measures were initiated by the Office of the Assistant Secretary General in consultation with a management team of the Secretariat. There has been no attribution to this initiative. The Office of the Assistant Secretary General, however, is satisfied to have contributed to that reform. The reform must be further refined through:

    1. The reduction of items with which the General Assembly traditionally deals;
    2. The integration of the Summit decisions within the General Assembly work in order to establish compatibility with Charter mandates; and
    3. The focus by the General Assembly on a small number of topical issues.

In this regard, I disagree with the observation that the General Assembly become the Summit, or the Summit the General Assembly. The Charter is an instrument of our organization. The Summit is a mechanism of Heads of Government. The Charter is the constant the Summit is the variable. As the variable, the Summit must strengthen the constant and not the reverse.

In respect of topical issues to be considered by the General Assembly, it might also be useful to consider the practice of rotating the choice of one major topic by regional group for development and decision taking by the Assembly. The benefits of the above requirements would be the following:

    1. Effective Integration of membership;
    2. Structured profiling of the Organization; and
    3. The establishment of a central role for the Organization as an agency of regional development.

In this regard, the General Assembly would remain the constant while the Summit provides definition and focusing of priorities.

The General Assembly should also seek to encourage the active participation of Permanent Observers and members of the Inter-American System as it reasserts the Organization’s historic mission as the central political forum of the Hemisphere.

The Permanent Council

The Permanent Council should also reform its operations in reducing its housekeeping agenda and establishing as its primary function, the engagement of topical and relevant hemispheric questions. The required leadership to do this can come from a reform of the procedure and periodicity of its chairmanship. The Chairmanship of the Permanent Council might become elective by region, as in the case of CIDI, and run from one General Assembly to another. This, however, may involve an amendment to the Charter. In my view, the benefits from this would be:

  1. That the Permanent Council would itself serve to focus on the priorities of the region throughout the year, while it discharges the mandates of the General Assembly; and
  2. The Permanent Council would also become an effective instrument in the development of a continuing hemispheric agenda.

This proposed new function of the Council might best be handled through the creation of a political committee to serve that body. If this function were effectively handled with the inclusion of the wider system support and civil society, the entire Summit agenda might constructively be shaped by the Permanent Council. This, in my view, is a natural function for the Permanent Council. The OAS would therefore establish or re-establish, which ever is appropriate, its central role in hemispheric questions with obvious implications for the Summit Implementation and Review Group (SIRG). The pertinence and timeliness of this role at this time in our exercise on modernization and strengthening, cannot be over emphasized.


In addition to the earlier reform which I mentioned with respect to CIDI, there should also be a closer integration with the Permanent Council. There is need also to separate overall policy from programming to establish a space and competence between the policy role of CIDI as a ministerial and associated legislative body, and the executive functions of programming and execution. As in the case of our General Assembly and Permanent Council, CIDI should develop a larger outreach and engagement of the Inter-American System, Permanent Observers and the wider civil society. In this context, the Organization might constructively reduce its present span of activities and, through CIDI, serve as a true catalyst in generating broader collaborative action within the Inter-American System. This would be an effective basis for modernization and strengthening of the Organization. All specialized conferences will flow from these activities or will serve to reinforce them.

At the administrative level, the following reforms would also necessarily flow:

  1. The establishment of a political department to support the Permanent Council, through its political committee, on the development and articulation of an hemispheric agenda. The political department could be an expansion for the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. The democracy function would then become a major component of a structurally expanded unit as the monitoring of elections becomes less cogent.
  2. An integrated Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI), encompassing all existing units with a centralist role in coordination, programming and fund-raising and a related integrated information system.
  3. The establishment of a technical cooperation mechanism, separate but related to the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI), with responsibility for execution, monitoring and evaluation of projects. This technical cooperation mechanism should be closely associated with fellowships and training to provide the progressive relationship between training and fellowship as necessary dimensions of technical cooperation.
  4. The establishment of a stronger and more pro-active public information service.

In the context of this overall configuration, the national offices must assume a greater not lesser role. In the first instance, they are not national offices. Through human temptation, we see establishments that we create as outposts, losing their nexus. As Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, I was at pains to point out to my entire personnel that our diplomatic missions abroad were not outposts but extensions of our foreign service abroad. If we stop seeing the offices as belonging to member states but as necessary dimensions of the Organization’s work, we will restructure them to function in complementarity with the larger hemispheric objective. Public Information, External Relations, Program Development, monitoring, on-spot evaluation, external fund-raising and system-wide coordination, are all relevant functions of the offices of the Organization of American States, in member states. I submit that the focus of our offices in those directions will strengthen and modernize the Organization.

Mr. Chairman, in the context of these proposed administrative functions and without exceeding my terms of reference, I would conceive of an overall administrative structure involving eight broad areas under a standard nomenclature:

    1. A political component;
    2. An external relations component comprising publications services, relations with Permanent Observers and the wider society, and system-wide coordination;
    3. A legal component;
    4. An executive secretariat for integral development involving all existing units;
    5. A technical cooperation component involving training and fellowships;
    6. A public information component;
    7. An administrative and management component, largely as it exists with evolving modernization;
    8. A strengthened department of conference services which would ultimately evolve into a major conference facility for the Organization, in relation to its central role in mobilizing a wider hemispheric agenda.

This suggested structure uses the premise of an open administration. It differs from the standard traditional organization, which, in relation to the dynamics of present and future trends, have been shown to reduce focus and diminish operational impact. More recent experiments at the United Nations with the traditional over-grouping of functions have proven unwieldy and have been discontinued

Resource Support

No modern enterprise can function effectively and efficiently without a close and enduring staff involvement. Staff welfare and career development are essential to staff morale. Staff must also feel that they belong in a relationship with management that is harmonious and functional. These are requisites of modern industrial dictates and practices. The Organization must do more in this area to cultivate a career nucleus of staff.

The dictates of changing demand also require continuous resource replenishment and changes. The flexibility in recruitment and contracting services that the Secretary General is proposing is a practical mechanism to that end. It must, however, be handled with the greatest discretion in order to maintain a balance and ratio between permanent staff and complementary support services. This is particularly important since the Organization is not a commercial enterprise but a political body in the service of a membership, whose objective while being the same, would have priorities that need to be constantly rationalized.

Let me end with a few housekeeping matters that partly involve the culture of which I spoke earlier. This working group has already undertaken a number of procedural reform measures to enhance the Organization’s work. I list a few immediate matters for your consideration:

  1. During the special session of the General Assembly, the Secretariat had to destroy 68,000 copies of the budget resolution because of five short amendments involving two pages, because existing practice required that revised copies in all official languages be submitted prior to approval. It would have been more practical, in my view, to submit all the amendments on a single page to be approved for later incorporation. Savings through this measure, in respect of the Organization’s work, will be considerable. At the General Assembly level this may have practical policy difficulties; at the level of working committees etc., there should be no great difficulty with this implementation. I submit this to the working group.
  2. The Committees of the Organization work through periods of peaks and valleys – peaks being reserved for the run-up to the General Assembly and other major meetings. This characteristic was changed many years at the United Nations as being impractical and an uneconomic use of resources. Yet, we continue to do that. For the last eight years I can testify that our General Assembly work was largely concentrated in the month of May while our own regulations require that all work be finished by the end of April. This process affects quality of work, efficient delivery and results in a substantial cost increase for the same product.
  3. January 1, 1999, the administrative procedures of the Secretariat will be modernized through the use of the software ORACLE. ORACLE requires that certain procedures and management mechanisms be put in place where every office becomes a project. The procedures of every single council and committee of the house are at variance with the requirements of ORACLE. We will then have two incompatible systems with the Secretariat continuing to say yes to member states when the answer should be not yes, and the less that satisfactory existing situation will continue.

Our Department of Meetings and Conferences and our Secretariat of the Permanent Council will be willing to work with the bodies of the house in making the required adjustment. If this working group agrees, we can submit documentation for your consideration within the next few days, which will show that substantial reductions can be made with a change in culture in our present working methods.

Mr. Chairman, the Assistant Secretary General is not noted for extended communications in the Permanent Council or anywhere else. I therefore thank you and the members of this working group for having permitted me to indulge, on this occasion, beyond my allotted time.

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