Parliaments: working with Civil Society towards and beyond 2015.
Speech at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference
Houses of Parliament of the UK
The Millennium Declaration, from which the MDGs are partly derived, speaks inspiringly about the world we want, and the collective responsibility to bring this world about:
...."We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want"
" we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs"
Whilst few contest the inspirational words of the Millennium Declaration, the same cannot be said about the MDGs. In fact the MDGs are a bit like an orphaned child – a child of the world/family/community who belongs to everyone and at yet to no one. No one thinks that the MDGs are bad things – tackling extreme poverty together and giving children and mothers of the poorest families some hope and even some dignity – but equally, no one seems to think they are the best things to do for development, much in the same way that no one likes to see the orphaned child groveling and dusty in the dirt, starving, etc and yet it is hard to put a finger on what the universally accepted minimum standard of care is for the orphaned child.
The debate about acceptability and ownership of the MDGs has a bearing on what happens on the ground concretely to improve the lives of poor women and children and how the international solidarity and responsibility are expressed in action. It also provides the lessons for what succeeds the MDGs post 2015.
Implementing the MDGs in Africa: The role of Parliaments and Civil Society
When the MDGs arrived, many African countries were deep into the implementation of PRSPs – to get debt relief and new loans and aid from the IFIs and bilateral donors. Many countries had also began tentative steps into their democratic transitions. Parliaments were young, with limited capacity to engage policies and still learning the craft of consulting their constituencies. CSOs were largely focused on service delivery at localized levels, contracted to them when the state was down-sized. Few had the capacity to help shape or monitor policies. Even the research institutions were debilitated after over decade of neglect. Data was poor making target setting and monitoring difficult.
However the PRSPs did one good thing: they required as a condition that governments consult their citizens. This provided legitimacy to NGOs in particular, a sense of entitlement to participate and resources to convene consultation and to bring Robert Chamber's PRA tools to live. But sadly, PRSP Guidelines, initially largely ignored parliaments and it took lobbying and protests by parliaments to be included. This was a missed opportunity because we could have killed 2 birds with one stone: collect citizen views to shape PRSPs as well as strengthen the relationship between parliamentarians and their constituents. Unfortunately parliamentarians were playing catch-up in a crowded field. Besides, the guidelines did not require Parliaments to approve the final plans. Instead, this power was lodged in Washington further undermining parliaments.
The arrival of the MDGs did not change matters much except in a few countries. Indeed, many countries received them with some trepidation – yet another set of conditions, imposed this time via the UN. Because the World Bank was involved in creating them they did not resist them on the ground. Instead, governments were guided to treat them as planning targets – they became integrated, often awkwardly into Medium-term budgets and as intermediate goals for ambitious long-term visions 20xxx.
This treatment of the MDGs as planning targets, took away their normative value from the local discourse. Parliaments didn't really have to deal with them until NGOs (GCAP coalition in particular and the UNMC), got to them and encouraged them to set up Caucuses. These Caucuses are unfortunately poorly supported – the Orphan syndrome. Being imposed from the top and treated as statistical exercises, also means that ordinary people don't know much about them, in spite of the valiant efforts of GCAP and UNMC through the Stand UP annual Campaigns. Their name makes communicating them difficult and even when one succeeds; they do not convey a sense of entitlement which is essential for citizen demand and their translation into domestic politics.
But that said where Caucuses and MDG Select Committees are effective, they make a huge amount of difference. They demand accountability from government (Kenya); clarity of budget allocation to the MDG sectors and performance audits (Ghana, Nigeria) etc. In Africa, a network of Parliamentarians for the MDGs has been active, hosted by the National assembly of Nigeria. These caucuses and networks are mostly inspired and supported by CSOs and they work in close solidarity.
Approaching 2015 and Beyond
The MDGs may be falling out of favour among some constitutions and are no more sexy in donor discourses especially at country levels. But they are embraced by governments and integrated into planning targets, for good or bad. Governments take the reporting on progress seriously and MDGs moments provide opportunities for civil society to hold the government to account on poverty and equity issues. These efforts need to be maintained. But they will be more effective when parliamentary oversight is strengthen and the MDGs are devolved to local/constituency levels. The latter is particularly important to address the disparities we observe in MDGs achievements. To do so we need to invest in decentralised and disaggregated data and bringing parliamentarians to become excited about addressing poverty and social problems of their constituents. This of course also requires investment.
In terms of the future – the post-2015 discussion – the current international environment opens up 2 possibilities: a successor International development agreement which like the MDGs focus on the poorest countries or a Global development Agreement which focus on shared global development and social problems – inequalities, disaffection and exclusion; environmental threats to life; threats to basic rights and universal provisioning of services – etc albeit within the framework of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities.
The experts have started to outline various successor options which we can discuss. But what we must avoid is another orphaned global compact. To do so a number of principles are crucial
1. Any international agreement or compact must be based on the aggregation, of some sort, of aspirations derived from consultations at the national and regional levels involving citizens and parliaments.
2. Avoid detailing the "how". This must be left to national circumstances and politics.
3. Must not be understood as a template for planning.
4. Firmly rooted in global norms, conventions and agreement – in particular Human rights conventions and protocols.
5. Strongly link the poverty and sustainable development agendas
6. Recognise the centrality of domestic politics – governance – to achieving the norms and targets
7. Retain a measure of quantifiable target setting to give bite and guide accountability
8. Define clear targets and channels of accountability which should have similar level of clarity and means of verification among poor and rich countries alike in terms of obligations
9. Be based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities
10. Consistent with the Millennium Declaration
A strong partnership between civil society and parliaments will be crucial to guide the conversations at the different levels to ensure that a new compact has clear owners whilst advancing our common vision of the world we want.
Necessities at national level
A new compact is necessary, not least because 2015 will only see a partial reduction of poverty and the goals, but I think of at least four reason why a new compact is necessary and possible:
1. A changed world full of promise as well as new perils. The world we live in today has many distinct differences from the world of 2000 when the MDGs came into being. In 2000, low income countries outside of south-east Asia were emerging from two decades of economic stagnation and even decline. It was also emerging from a financial crisis but a crisis that was limited to middle income developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Russia. The matured economies of the West, were on average doing much better from the benefits of globalization and were therefore in a more generous, or even guilty, mood. In 2000 the pre-eminent global governance machinery was the G7. They were the biggest economies and the biggest powers and their collective word was law. The world of 2011 is a different one. The matured economies of the West are in crisis – economically and socially. Low income countries are on a growth trajectory and economic (and to less extent) political power is shifting. The pre-eminent global governance body is the G20. These shifts have implication not only for how development and poverty reduction goals are financed but very nature of the compact.
2. Shared social crisis: Joblessness, especially among the youth is a problem common to all societies (with a few exceptions). This is the case in rich and poor countries alike, in economies that growing and those that are stagnant; in middle income, industrialized or low income countries. This is legacy of financial globalisation that most countries share. The so-called Arab Spring; the march for jobs in Maputo; the Occupy Wall Street movement and the recent riots in the UK share common causes – a feeling of disaffection by young people and generalized threat to social welfare and social protection. Whilst this presents challenges it also represents an opportunity for collective leadership. This may be an opportunity for a truly global compact which transcends north-side divides. .
3. Financial crisis and collapse of the neoliberal model: In 2000, the dominant development paradigm was one of liberalization and globalization. Leaders were firmly rooted in the belief that liberalization and deregulation of trade and finance were the best routes to development for all. This certainty has been severely shaken, to say the least, following the financial crisis and the quark mire in which the world trade talks are in. This has implication for the level of ambition of a new compact but it is equally an opportunity for a genuine dialogue free from one sided preaching and in that sense can generate a valuable and truly shared global agenda for development.
4. Building upon a good momentum on MDGs: The MDGs may have had stuttering start but they are reasonably embraced and integrated into development planning. Many governments take the accountability for the achievement of the MDGs quite seriously and invest time, resources, data and other efforts in monitoring and reporting them. Reporting moments offer regular opportunities for civil society and income cases, parliaments to engage the Executive Branch of Government in discussions on the progress to reduce poverty. This also enabled the poverty agenda to not disappear in the wake of competing priorities. Fortunately, many countries, including the poorest can, can hold their heads high on the progress they are making. So can development partners. This means that unlike other compacts, a successor agreement will not be based on an atmosphere of acrimony and failure but one of relative success. This is important for ambition and partnership.
In the coming years we can build on opportunistic moments and conditions to launch conversations and consultation on what happens post-2015. Examples are:
1. Elections: In Africa there will be several elections in 2012 alone. Elections offer a unique opportunity to shape political agendas, secure commitments from politicians and to ride on the wave to reach people at the grassroots. This is an opportunity to catalyse a citizen's agenda on development including MDGs and to generate feedback on a successor framework.
2. Review of long-term visions: Some countries will be reviewing their long-term strategies (Vision 20XXs) and setting new mid-term strategies in the coming years. This will be opportunities to push for wider consultation on expectations and development priorities upon which the 2015 agenda can piggy back.
3. Active civil society: Civil society organization have taken the lead on the post-2015 conversations and are planning national level consultations. They will need resources to make the consultation broad-based enough to involve the voices of the poor. But it offers an opportunity also to build the bridges between the civil society process and the inter-governmental process when these do kick off. These processes must be designed consciously to give parliaments a leading or active role in these conversations.
4. Technology: Harnessing ICTs as tools to facilitate consultation and citizen-state conversation will be crucial to ensure broad outreach and proper channeling and processing of vies and ideas. Fortunately, initiatives such as Huduma and Ushahidi in Kenya are already blazing the trail.
We must be mindful to ensure that the post-2015 discussion do not undermine the push to achieve the MDGs in 2015. We have to confront the challenges currently facing the MDGs, not least the threat to the economies of the OECD countries impact on political will to deliver the Gleneagles aid commitments, the aid effectiveness agenda and need for policy flexibility to enable low income countries to respond adequately to the economic and financial crisis without affecting their prospects. It also means the key issues outlined in the Outcome Document of the 2010 High Level Summit on the MDGs, which include among others the need to focus on addressing inequalities and marginalization and the condition of the poorest people the need to see the MDGs as a step towards the universal provision of services and the need to focus on domestic resource mobilization including making tax systems effective and equitable as well as taking steps to curtail illicit capital flight, among other.
Thanks you for the opportunity to speak to you.
Regional Director, Africa, UN Millennium Campaign, Nairobi, Kenya
I am a Ghanaian development economist, who has been active in international development for over 20 years; as a researcher and lecturer, as an NGO activist and development professional in several parts of the world. Working with others, I co-founded several development organisations around the world, including the Third World Network, ISODEC and the Centre for Public Interest Law in Ghana. Heading the United Nations Millennium Campaign in Africa, till December 2014. I currently head Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), Ghana.