Governments in West Africa have been urged to be fully committed to their responsibilities by ensuring that decisions taken at summits were fully implemented.
They should also ensure that sub-regional protocols are implemented and enforces at the national level and that the necessary institutional mechanisms are put in place, Mr Joe Baidoe-Ansah, Minister for Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and PSI said yesterday at the opening of the first ECOWAS Business Forum in Accra.
He said it was only when Governments did their part and created the right environment that the private sector could be properly situated to contribute its quota to the integration process and be a veritable engine of growth.
Mr Baidoe-Ansah said private sector participation in regional activities stood to produce benefits such as job creation, increased market size, savings mobilisation and externalities such as the diffusion of management knowledge, expertise and technology.
'Hitherto, decision-making on integration-related issues had been a government-to-government affair without any role for the private sector. 'The resources needed to finance crucial regional projects had also previously been provided entirely by Governments and this can be blamed for the slow pace of our integration processes,' he said.
The forum with participants, including key private sector leaders and institutions, relevant government agencies, representatives of national and regional business chambers and similar bodies operating in the region is under the theme; 'Harnessing Private Sector Energies for the Challenges of Integration.'
The three-day forum organised by the ECOWAS Commission in collaboration with the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry is aimed at contributing to ongoing efforts at mobilising the private sector for regional development and competitiveness through integration.
Mr Baidoe-Ansah said integration was a long and tedious process, which required political will, commitment, sacrifice, financial resources and most importantly, the participation of all stakeholders, especially the private sector.
All stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring that the bottlenecks in achieving integration were removed or at least reduced, he said. He appealed to Government's in the sub-region to create the enabling environment for the private sector to take its rightful place in the integration agenda.
He advocated a deeper integration process, through which West Africa could achieve sustained and robust economic growth with the ultimate aim of alleviating poverty.
Mr Wilson A. Krofa, President, Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, expressed the belief that the private sector operators in ECOWAS stood to benefit greatly, if they worked together in an integrated, expanded market as opposed to doing business in their individual small countries with low per capital incomes.
The politicians, he noted, have done their best by instituting various protocols under the ECOWAS Treaty, designed to facilitate free movement of goods and services and people. 'The private sector, which is the beneficiary of these protocols needs to get involved in the implementation, so that any bottlenecks impeding the effective implementation of the protocols can be brought to the attention of the Governments in the sub-region.'
Mr Krofa, who is also the chairman of the planning committee for the forum advocated the formation of strong regional business associations to facilitate communication and exchange of information and networking across countries in the sub-region.
Through such co-operation, he noted wealth would be created and shared among the countries in West Africa.
Mr Jeffery Cochrane, Chief, Office of Trade and Investment, USAID/West Africa urged the private sector to form an organisation, which would be funded by members, through which they could communicate with government more effectively.
Governments, he said should also be prepared to meet with that organisation on a regular basis for consultation, adding that, 'Government must not control the meeting in any way.'