Singapore – Since its founding in 1967, Asean has operated with little formality, with minimal institutions and with great flexibility. Such characteristics, by and large, have served the 10-member organisation well. Now, nearly 40 years later, Asean is finally ready to draft a charter. Why only now?
Asean needs a charter if the organisation wishes to become an Asean Economic Community, an enhanced form of regional integration that is seen as vital in helping Asean countries to cope with fiercer economic competition around the world, said Mr Rudolfo C Severino in a commentary published in The Straits Times.
Mr Severino, a former Asean secretary-general, noted that the region is also confronted by rising threats to security, health and the environment.
"Asean thus has to become a regional organisation capable of acting more decisively and more expeditiously than before. For this, Asean needs a charter like the Organisation of the America States, the African Union and other regional associations," said Mr Severino, who is now a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies in Singapore.
The benefits afforded by a charter include:
- Giving Asean a legal personality so that it could act more confidently on behalf of the region as a whole. The charter would allow Asean to proclaim its vision of the region's economic future, either as a customs union or a common market.
- Enhancing the authority and independence of the Asean secretary-general and the capacity of the Asean secretariat so that they are able to speak and act for the association.
- Streamlining Asean's organisational structure by outlining in greater detail the association's decision-making processes, such as which decisions need unanimity and which ones require what kind of majority vote.
- Embodying the values that Asean members hold in common, such as rule of law, open societies, government based on popular consent and participation, non-discrimination and free and peaceful elections. Mr Severino noted that many of these norms are in the charters of other regional associations.
"Unlike in their case, however, Asean's stated commitments to those norms are not codified; they are scattered in separate documents over the years."
A charter would codify these commitments and "would allow member states to take action on non-compliance. They would project an image of Asean as a region with standards."
However, Mr Severino acknowledged that the efficacy of the charter would "be only as good as the political will exerted by the member states in its observance".
A group of "eminent persons", one from each member country, will meet Asean leaders in Kuala Lumpur this month to explore ideas for the charter. The group is expected to submit its recommendations at the next Asean summit in 2006.
* Why Asean should have a charter (The Straits Times, Dec 5)