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Patrick Manning: A civil society means allowing people to govern themselves

If we are to realise the full benefits of good governance, we must act on the principle that governments must govern, not in their own interest but first and foremost in the interest of the people. Additionally, it must be recognised that if we are to realise the maximum potential of our democracies, we ought to act on the principle that in the best interest of the people, the people must themselves have their say.

With the communal administration of care, there are many services that can best be provided through the involvement of people's organisations. It is a fact that some undertakings by these institutions are executed in a manner far more effective and far reaching than others undertaken by government agencies.

There is a time-honoured truism which states that a people make a nation. But how do we recognise a great people? How do we define a great nation? I humbly suggest that if you show me a nation where the people themselves demonstrate great care for the least fortunate amongst them, I will surely show you a great people and a great nation in the making. I therefore submit to you that in its caring for the people and its capacity to mobilise the citizenry towards constructive national endeavour, civil society has the potential to make nations great.

It would seem therefore, that every government in our Hemisphere has a responsibility to promote the spread and effective functioning of civil society organisations in their country. The challenge for governments, however, has always been how to cater for the myriad views and interests of the various groups within our societies. This of course, involves determining what is to be done and how best to do it.

But this is where institutions like this Civil Society Forum come in. It is my hope that the open dialogue and information sharing that will be facilitated by this Forum will help to bring greater clarity to our understanding of the role and function of civil society organisations in our countries. It is my further hope that as a result of your deliberations and overall process of engagement, this Summit will help to advance the relationship between civil society and the state in every country of our Hemisphere.

Taken from a speech by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to the Civil Society Forum at the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad