Lack of qualified persons hampering EU trade deal implementation units

A Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) official who has been assigned to oversee the Bank’s administration of a fund designed to help prepare the region for the full and effective implementation of trade deal with Europe says the lack of qualified persons is a key impediment.

In a recent interview Valarie Pilgrim said that the establishment of Implementation Units to oversee the phasing in of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union is being delayed by difficulties that are arising in the region “to recruit suitably qualified and experienced personnel to execute the work programmes of the EPA Implementation Units at compensation rates that states can sustain beyond the life of the project”. The issue is most acute when it has come to the recruitment of legal professionals, namely legislative drafters,” CDB Focal Point  Pilgrim said.

Several of the applications submitted to the CDB by both Caribbean Governments and private sector entities for access to funding for projects through the Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration Trust Fund (CARTFund), set up by the UK Government through the Department for International Development (DFID) have been approved.  The 10 million pound sterling Fund was set up “to help the region overcome some of the supply side constraints to the region’s ability to take full advantage of the EPA. However, Pilgrim says that some CARIFORUM  state entities and private sector organizations had failed,  to meet the criteria set out by the Regional Preparatory Task Force (RPTF) set up to oversee aspects of the implementation of the Caribbean/EU Economic Partnership Agreement.” Pilgrim said that  “applications needed to be more results-focused” in how they were structured. “This is perhaps reflective of the reality that the region is still in the process of building capacity in the areas of managing for development results and administering international trade agreement,” Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim explained that when the bank undertook to oversee the project  “the expectation was that applications for projects would have been informed by RPTF studies”. She said that while it was designed to be demand-driven, states and private sector actors and other entities crafted their applications based on what they deemed to be their priority needs.
According to Pilgrim out of the more than 100 applications received by the Bank from every CARIFORUM state only 65 per cent of them “were in line with the objectives of the Fund.” Applications to the CartFund for project funding are subjected to both screening and appraisal processes and according to Pilgrim the Bank encountered difficulty in moving some applications from the screening to the appraisal process because some project designs were not sufficiently robust. “Project applications needed to incorporate clearer project definitions, stronger logic models for the solutions being proposed and sustainability had to be built into the project.” Pilgrim said that the Bank also found that there were “inadequate levels of counterpart contributions – cash and human resources – to the proposed projects at the application stage. She said that the Bank was concerned about the absence of counterpart contributions “because the level of counterpart contributions is indicative of ownership and influences the level of transfer of knowledge from consultants to counterpart staff in the beneficiary organization.” CartFund grants are awarded in accordance with the normal terms and conditions that apply to CDB grants. “The issue is most acute when it has come to the recruitment of legal professionals, namely legislative drafters,” Pilgrim said.

In view of the time that it has taken to appraise, approve and commence the implementation of projects, a decision was taken to extend the deadline for the disbursement of funds beyond the 2010 deadline.

Pilgrim said that the CDB was encouraging regional Business Support Organizations to leverage the Fund, since, according to her, they represent “sector level interests.” Private sector entities in Belize, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica have already had CartFund project applications approved.

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