By Orville Williams
One of the core motives behind the establishment of the UN Common Premises here in Antigua is to improve the agency’s capacity to execute projects and respond to emergencies in a more efficient manner.
That revelation came yesterday from Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr Aubrey Webson, during an appearance on Observer AM.
“This is something that the government really felt was [necessary]. [With] the UN presence, we know that it can respond to the needs of Antigua and Barbuda, and it can respond timely and quickly in the case of a disaster,” he said.
“Antigua will now have a direct voice into the system on the ground, because you can do all you like from a distance abroad; having someone or representatives on the ground makes a difference in making sure that you get projects and making sure that projects are done [properly] and so on.
“So, I believe [the UN Common Premises] will make a difference in the kind of value we get for our representation and for our participation in international community work and in the United Nations,” the Ambassador explained.
The premises – located on Independence Drive in St John’s – was officially opened last week, and is the first of its kind to be established in the Eastern Caribbean.
It currently hosts offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Dr Webson revealed too that other UN agencies could be incorporated there in the future.
Prior to its opening, Antigua and Barbuda was served primarily by the United Nations Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Multi-Country Office (MCO), along with countries like Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
According to Dr Webson, it is more financially prudent for the operations to be decentralised.
“Economically, it’s better for the UN to have these offices reaching out, so you don’t have to always be moving [from site to site]. The Barbados office serves about 10 islands, and that’s the most in any part of the world.
“So, having the head office in Barbados or Port of Spain [in Trinidad] makes sense, but having satellite offices in the other islands is eminently sensible if we are going to keep costs down and respond to the needs of the islands in a timely and efficient manner,” he said.
The Ambassador also responded to queries about the potential longevity of the local office, saying it is likely to become a permanent staple in the UN’s framework, despite any changes in leadership at the top.
“Once we have secured the budget from the UN system to make this happen, which we have just about done, this will exist forever and hopefully will even expand.
“So, I’m not really worried about the next Secretary-General. If he or she has a different view, I don’t think that will affect the operations of this [premises],” Dr Webson asserted.
Dr Webson noted, too, that the Common Premises is a result of the reform that has been taking place throughout the UN, to streamline its plans and actions.