Nov 18, 2007
ASEAN BUSINESS SUMMIT
'Only a third of Asean pledges implemented'
Revealing this 'unacceptable' record, Tommy Koh says new Charter aims to improve on it
By Ling Chang Hong
OVER the years, Asean countries have made many pledges and commitments, but they have managed to implement only a third of them.
Revealing this finding from an Asean report, Ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh said this record was 'unacceptable'.
The new Asean Charter, to be signed by Asean leaders on Tuesday, is one way to rectify the situation, he said.
It creates a system compelling all 10 members of the grouping to take their commitments and agreements more seriously.
Prof Koh said: 'I think that the current SecretaryGeneral Ong Keng Yong and his two immediate predecessors, Rod Severino and Ajit Singh, have all said that from their studies, only about 30 per cent of Asean's agreements have been implemented.
'I think this is, frankly, not an acceptable record,' he told Channel NewsAsia in an interview.
Prof Koh was Singapore's representative in a high-level task force responsible for drafting the historic document that will serve as Asean's constitution.
Describing it as a 'good, balanced document that takes into account the interests of all 10 member countries', he said the Charter will allow Asean to reinvent itself to become a more dynamic, cohesive and rulebased organisation.
'It will also streamline its institutions and its decision- making processes,' he told The Sunday Times in a separate interview.
Despite its many successes, the 40-year-old grouping has realised that there were shortcomings. One of the major flaws, he said, is that Asean members have not taken their agreements and commitments seriously enough.
'So a key feature in the Charter is the emphasis on developing a culture of taking our obligations seriously,' Prof Koh said.
Under the Charter, the Secretary-General will be empowered to monitor compliance with Asean agreements. He will also report breaches to the Summit for the leaders to make a decision.
It also spells out a system for settling disputes effectively and peacefully, which Prof Koh describes as 'one of the most important achievements of the Charter'.
Commenting on the Asean practice of trying to reach decisions by consensus and not interfering with member states' internal affair, he said that there was wisdom in sticking with these principles, especially in sensitive areas such as security.
He added: 'The Charter also recognises that the noninterference principle should not prevent leaders from addressing pressing transboundary challenges such as pandemic disease, haze and terrorism.
'The important role which Asean is playing in the Myanmar crisis shows that the principle of non-interference is not an absolute principle.'
The seasoned diplomat, who has been following Asean's development right from its birth, said he was certain that the Charter would enable Asean to play a bigger role in regional and global affairs.
To criticisms that Asean is little more than a 'talk shop', Prof Koh said: 'It is through this frequent meeting of different officials at different levels...that we have created this high comfort level that we have with one another.'
Always one to look on the bright side, he added: 'I'm optimistic that, maybe in another 10 years, many young people in Asean would not only feel that they are Indonesians or Malaysians or Singaporeans, but they are also citizens of Asean.'
ECONOMIC competition for investments is getting tougher. China and India are rising, and sucking investments and trade.
The challenge is considerable. As a share of the world's total, foreign direct investments (FDI) into the South-east Asian region have fallen from 7.7 per cent in 1992-1997 to only 2.9 per cent in 1999-2005. South-east Asia's share is now only slightly higher than Africa's at 2.2 per cent.
Hence the need for further economic integration in Asean so that it remains an attractive destination for investments, said PM Lee.
An Asean Economic Blueprint - to be signed by Asean leaders on Tuesday and aimed at creating a single market and production base in the region with a free flow of goods, services, investments and skilled labour by 2015 - is a step in the right direction.
But 'systematic and committed' follow through will be critical.
PM Lee added: 'The Charter moves Asean towards a rules-based organisation which, coupled with transparent regulations, is critical in enhancing Asean's credibility and attracting investors. I am confident that with the right attitude and political will, we will achieve this.'