Millennium Development Goals
- Guyana's progress BUSINESS PAGE
By Christopher Ram
Stabroek News
October 13, 2002

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Guyana is aiming to be among the first wave of countries to publish a progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to which the world is committed. The MDGs were part of the United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by a resolution of close to two hundred member countries of the world body at the General Assembly at what was called the Millennium Summit in September 2000. The Declaration was quite wide-ranging addressing such issues as the core values and principles of the organisation; the pursuit of peace, security and disarmament to free the world's population from the scourge of war whether within or between states; development and poverty eradication aimed at freeing the world from abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty to which some one billion were still subjected; protecting the world's environment within the framework of the Rio Summit and the Kyoto Protocol; human rights, democracy and good governance to strengthen the rule of law, combat violence against women, strengthen democracy and protect the freedom of the press and the right of the citizen to access to information; and protecting the vulnerable including children; meeting the special needs of Africa with a view to bringing Africa into the mainstream of the world economy; and the strengthening of the United Nations.

Cynics might well ask whether President Bush and his team are aware of these commitments in the light of his relentless pursuit of war against real and perceived enemies, the Kyoto Protocol and the World Court. Many respected international NGO groups including ACTIONAID have raised doubts about the seriousness of the G8 countries to provide the resources necessary for the achievement of the MDGs. Earlier this year in Monterrey, Mexico the G8 countries acknowledged that those goals cannot be achieved without increased aid and ACTIONAID called on the leaders to take concrete and radical steps to improve the international environment for African countries in the areas of aid, trade and debt.

Bold step
The MDGs represent the boldest international step ever to recognize the right of everyone to a decent life. In essence the MDGs are global targets for poverty reduction, social development and environmental regeneration and comprise seven substantive goals underpinned by eighteen targets and forty-eight success indicators. These are supported by an eighth goal dealing with international partnerships that will facilitate the achievement of the principal goals. MDGs are not in themselves original in that they are based on several earlier declarations of the world body and other international groups and very particularly the International Development Targets set by the OECD in 1996.

In summary, the MDGs are designed to achieve the following by the year 2015: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. While one of the chief virtues of the MDGs is their specificity in that the targets are quantified, therein also lies one of their weaknesses for they assume the existence of reliable and credible statistics. Governments may not only be tempted to but since they are the national scorekeepers may actually fix the numbers to show achievement.

The scorecard
Like its predecessors, the MDGs are not a success, affected no doubt by the slowdown in the world economy, the events of September 11 in the US and the shift in world attention to the war on terrorism and now Iraq. Under his mandate to report periodically on the progress of the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan on October 1, 2002 warned that the world was falling short in meeting the objectives of the Declaration and outlined a series of steps that his organisation and its partners must take to accelerate progress. In what must be an understatement, the Secretary-General noted that the prospects for achievement were mixed and recommended annual reporting by countries to ensure that commitments are better known and that they can act as a "focus for global action"

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien put it more directly in a speech to a Conference in June 2002 when he said that "it should be clear that the continued marginalisation of Africa from the globalisation process, and the social exclusion of the vast majority of its people, present a serious impediment to the goal of global prosperity and economic stability." ACTIONAID has accepted that there have been some successes particularly in the reduction in child nutrition, rising primary school enrolment and improvement in maternal health care. Even this has to be considered against the findings published in the September 2002 Choices magazine published by the UNDP that "of seven MDG goals for which reasonably reliable targets exist, six are off track" The only target that is on track is the one for halving the proportion of people without access to safe water by 2015 and with current weather patterns, growth and shifts in population and environment degradation even this may be unsustainable. On the issue of poverty reduction, the data are unreliable while the slowdown in the international economy is likely to have a negative impact. Just by way of example, for Guyana to achieve its poverty reduction goal, economic growth has to be in the region of six percent annually which in the current situation is highly unlikely.

There has been little progress in combating the AIDS/HIV epidemic, child and maternal mortality and gender discrimination in primary enrolment. Given the central role and function of education in each of the goals and the fact that meeting the education enrolment target is not rocket science, the failure to meet this target is a major worry.

The global conditions mask some severe variations particularly in sub-Saharan Africa which constitute the world's poorest countries and where conditions are in fact worsening. Progress in Latin America has been slow and in South East Asia where a substantial portion of the world's population live, improvements have been uneven. Africa remains a major concern not only because the twenty-three poorest countries of the world are in that region or because of the extent of the underdevelopment and the external resources which are necessary to address the problems but also because of the continuing governance and political problems which have marred development in that continent.

Cote d'Ivoire is the latest in a long list of countries facing civil war and the creation of an ever growing pool of refugees, child soldiers, single mothers and persons facing starvation. Regional efforts to resolve these problems have so far produced only limited results while international efforts are often met with suspicion. It will not be easy.

Guyana has adopted all the goals although very little information has been shared with citizens and no public consultation held to win support. Understandably, the goals have been designed in a generic form and some countries have in fact modified them to suit their particular circumstances. Poland for example in its progress report has noted that in respect of Goal 2 relating to education, it has changed the goal from primary to tertiary education since it has long achieved universal primary education. Poland has also modified Goal 1 dealing with poverty and hunger since hunger is not an issue in that country.

While a number of the goals are indeed relevant to Guyana it would seem appropriate for these and perhaps more specifically the targets to be refined to suit our specific circumstances. For example, Guyana has for decades had universal primary education but the dropout rate has been climbing to an alarming extent while access to and enrolment in tertiary institutions are too low to support the country's necessary development objectives. Gains from the Economic Recovery Programme have slowed while all the evidence suggests that unemployment is on the rise mitigated only by the equally worrying phenomenon of the brain drain.

The Government also needs to clarify its real position on the Millennium Development Goals particularly in relation to several other policy papers to which it had committed substantial national resources. We cannot forget the National Development Strategy and the 20/20 Framework to which the late President Cheddi Jagan appeared totally committed but on which Mr. Jagdeo even as Finance Minister appears to have poured cold water.

More recently the Government published the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper which like the NDS was used mainly to garner international support and finance. Business Page takes no satisfaction in reminding readers that a long time ago, having observed Finance Minister Jagdeo's ambivalence on the NDS it had dubbed that document the Now Dead Strategy.

The MDGs require serious commitment of time and other resources with clear and strong leadership convinced about the link between economic and social policies and about the critical importance of consistency between them and economic growth and human development. They require the design and implementation of multi-sectoral and participatory social policies that are flexible, monitored and subject to necessary intervention.

So far only a small number of countries have published their progress reports and the timing and quality of the Guyana's report will be a major indicator of the country's commitment to the MDGs. Let us hope for the benefit of Guyana that the Government is not again found wanting. It is after all a very important matter and a significant commitment it has made to the world.