Bangkok Conference – 5 Years ASEAN Charter

Bangkok Conference – 5 Years ASEAN Charter
23/01/2014

Nearly 80 participants from 10 countries gathered in Bangkok on 15 and 16 January 2014 to discuss ASEAN as a value-based community.

These are interesting times in Bangkok, and it was touch-and-go until the last moment whether the first conference of the DELGOSEA II network would be able to take place as planned in Bangkok, seeing that it was scheduled to start the day after the ‘Bangkok shutdown’ began. However, with some encouragement from DELGOSEA’s Thai partners and heartened by the fact that virtually none of the participants had cancelled, the decision was made to go ahead as planned.

There were certainly no regrets – the participants enjoyed two intensive days, with speeches and panel discussions on topics such as administrative and financial decentralisation in the ASEAN states, people participation in local decision-making and an assessment of good local governance in the region.

The theme of the conference was ‘5-years ASEAN Charter’ with Article 1 of the ASEAN Charter providing the starting point for the debate, stating that one of the purposes of ASEAN is ‘to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms’ and another one ‘to promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sections of society are encouraged to participate in and benefit from the process of ASEAN integration and community building.’

Two keynote speeches set the tone for the conference: The first one was by H.E. Rodolfo Severino, former Secretary General of ASEAN who was absent, due to health concerns, the second by Gerhard Stahl, Secretary General of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union.

Both speakers saw globalisation and other economic developments as a driving force of increasing regional integration and both were concerned with the question of how such integration could be achieved without sacrificing local traditions. Mr Severino’s speech acknowledged frankly that there were a variety of challenges for ASEAN in proceeding cautiously towards an economic community: differences in countries’ infrastructure, concerns from SMEs about increasing competition and concerns from citizens about how to preserve cultural identity. Such integration that will also allow for the free movement of people across borders within ASEAN brings challenges to local governments who have to adjust their provision of services. And how do you reconcile different approaches to decentralisation and different government structures at the sub-national level?

The European model of local governance, which Mr Stahl presented, offered some suggestions of how to meet these challenges – and while it ‘is certainly not to be considered a template for automatic application without adaptation elsewhere, it is perhaps one model that provides helpful pointers as countries everywhere seek to enhance local democracy and citizen participation’.

Panellists from different DELGOSEA network countries provided an impetus for discussions on the experiences of decentralisation in various ASEAN countries as well as different models of people participation. The last session looked at transparency and accountability in local governments, assessing the state of affairs in different states.