Observers’ role redefined

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu
Observers’ role redefined

Sep 1, 2014-

The Saarc member countries have agreed to enhance cooperation and dialogue with Saarc observer nations, but any assistance to be extended by the observers to the regional organisation will have to be ratified by the member states.

A four-day meeting of the Saarc Programming Committee that concluded in Kathmandu on Monday took the decision before forwarding to the Saarc Standing Committee, a regional body of foreign secretaries of Saarc member states.

Earlier, any assistance for project or programme provided by the nine observer nations had to obtain a clearance from the Saarc Secretariat based in Kathmandu. Currently, Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar and the US are observers.

The meeting also prepared separate interactive guidelines to create a clear demarcation on what kind of support the association should accept from observer nations and impose a moratorium on unacceptable assistance from observers. Similarly, if a observer nation wants to extend financial assistance for a member state to execute its projects, then the Saarc Secretariat will have to be informed first, said a senior Nepali official who was briefed on the decisions taken during the meeting. Thereafter, the secretariat will forward the proposal to the member states for a formal decision on the matter.

“The meeting of Saarc member states at foreign secretary level will then take a decision,” he said.

Several observers like Korea, Japan, China and the EU have expressed their interest in extending financial assistance to Saarc by investing in various projects. The meeting also prepared a Terms of References ( ToR) on receiving support and assistance from observers.

“Previously we had limited engagement with the observers. The new modality has offered vigorous engagements between the Saarc member states and observers. In the past, observer nations used to extend financial assistance directly to various Saarc projects, sometime keeping the Saarc secretariat in dark while sometimes without the knowledge of the concerned member state(s). But after the new ToR comes into effect, we hope that such tendencies will end,” said a senior official at the Saarc secretariat. However, the issue of inducting observers as dialogue partners in the Saarc process did not figure in the meeting, said sources.

Similarly, Saarc member states have agreed to reduce the number of the association’s regional centres from 11 to 5 in order to end the duplication of  work and also to reduce expenditure.

The programming committee meeting on Monday also proposed to reduce the number of the regional centres from 11 to 5 and recommended the decision at Saarc foreign secretary level.

The meeting has decided to merge SAARC Information Centre located in Kathmandu and Saarc Documentation Centre stationed in New Delhi and keep it within the purview of Saarc Secretariat in Kathmandu.

Similarly, the Saarc Meteorological Research Center established in 1995 in Dhaka, the Saarc Natural Disaster Management Center setup in 2006 in New Delhi, Coastal Zone Management Center of Maldives and Saarc Forestry Center established in Bhutan in 2009 will be merged under a new set up called Saarc Environment and Disaster Management Centre. However, the location for the secretariat of this new centre has not been decided yet.

The meeting also proposed to permanently shut down the Saarc Human Resources Development Center in Pakistan, according the diplomat.

Following the decision, the Saarc Agriculture Center that was established in 1988 in Dhaka, the SAARC Tuberculosis Center established in 1982 in Kathmandu, Saarc Energy Center established in 2006 in Pakistan and the Saarc Cultural Center that was established in 2009 in Sri Lanka will remain intact.

The formal decision to reduce the centers will be taken in 18th Saarc Summit to be held in Kathmandu in November, said the officials at the Saarc Secretariat.

The meeting also decided to enhance cooperation and dialogue with Saarc observer nations which are nine in number. Saarc is the only regional organisation whose number of observer nations is more than the member countries. Saarc has eight member states while nine nations have observer status in the regional grouping.

Published: 02-09-2014 09:23

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