Press Releases

    NGO/548
         PI/1611
         10 September 2004

    DPI/NGO Conference Focuses on Overcoming Obstacles to Achieving Millennium Goals, Role of North/South Partnerships

    Obstacles Include Lack Of Political Will, Inadequate Financial Resources, Corruption

    NEW YORK, 9 September (UN Headquarters) -- Overcoming obstacles to achieving the global development targets set by world leaders at the Millennium Summit four years ago and the role of North/South partnerships in that endeavour were the focus of the fifty-seventh Annual DPI/NGO Conference today.

    The three-day Conference, entitled “Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action”, provides an opportunity for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assess the current status of the Goals, address the obstacles that threaten their realization, and share innovative approaches to partnerships. The eight Goals range from halving the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those suffering from hunger, to ensuring that all boys and girls complete primary school.

    This morning, participants highlighted the most serious obstacles for the United Nations, governments and civil society alike to achieving the Goals, including the lack of political will, inadequate financial resources and corruption.

    Highlighting the impact of corruption, Miklos Marschall, the Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia for Transparency International, emphasized that even small bribes could lead to colossal economic and social devastation. That was why corruption was called a crime against humanity. The ultimate victims were always the poor. Without systems of accountability, many development goals would not be achieved. Corruption had to be taken seriously and the traditional approach that corruption was part of business could no longer be tolerated.

    Emyr Jones Parry, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, stressed the need to mobilize resources for development, saying that aid volume was not the only issue, but also its efficiency and effectiveness. Political will and national ownership were also crucial. The responsibility of donors was to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That meant working together to ensure that donor funding went smoothly in terms of delivery, for which bureaucratic clogging and “red tape’ procedures had to stop.

    Moderating the session, entitled, “Strategies to Overcome MDG Obstacles”, was Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times. The other participants were Bineta Diop, Executive Director, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), Senegal, and Wu Qing, Director, Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, China.

    Guiding the afternoon discussion on “North/South Partnerships: Different Responsibilities and Opportunities” was Millennium Development Goal number eight, which emphasizes the role of the international community in addressing major global development concerns, such as trade barriers and agricultural subsidies of countries of the North, debt relief and the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States.

    Noting that agriculture was a way of life in developing countries, Sarala Gopalan, International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), called for a “level plowing field”. With open trade, prosperity would follow. Agriculture was an infinitesimal proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP) of developed countries, but for developing countries, it was as high as 90 per cent. Among other things, she called for a reduction of all non-tariff barriers in trade and a reduction of domestic support and export subsidies.

    Diana Rivington, Counsellor for Development, Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, said that to address trade barriers, Canada had extended duty-free and quota-free access for imports from some 48 countries. It was an active supporter of debt relief, which would enable developing country governments to devote precious resources for development. It had also been the first country to introduce legislation allowing the export of safe, effective, low-cost medications under patent in Canada to developing countries facing public health challenges. That was the kind of initiative that encapsulated the need for global partnerships to achieve the Goals.

    Ending poverty, she added, was too great a task for any single donor, government or community, and no organization had all the answers. It was only by working together that sustainable development could be achieved across the globe. A strong and effective civil society was an integral part of development, both as an advocate and an agent. The aim now was not only to achieve the Goals, but to keep them from “sliding off the international development agenda”. Now that the Canadian Government had put its policies on the table, it was up to civil society to “hold our feet to the fire”.

    Also participating in the afternoon discussion, moderated by Alicia Barcena, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), were Mercedes Canalda, Executive Director, Asociación Dominicana para el Desarollo de la Mujer (ADOPEM), Dominican Republic, and Barbara M. Kalima, Coordinator, African Forum and Network on Debt and Develpment, Zimbabwe.

    The Conference will resume tomorrow, 10 September, at 10 a.m.

    Background

    The fifty-seventh Annual DPI/NGO Conference, focusing on “Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action”, continued today with two panel discussions. The morning session will focus on Strategies to Overcome Obstacles to the Millennium Development Goals, and the afternoon session will focus on North/South Partnerships.

    Morning Panel Discussion

    NICHOLAS KRISTOF, Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times and Moderator of the session, said there was some confusion between the question of the Goals themselves and what they represented. One of the issues was how to overcome the resistance to achieving the Goals. The topic today was how to get broader attention for the Goals themselves and how to overcome the obstacles to achieving them. There had been tremendous progress in recent decades. One of the lessons to be learned from that progress was the need for security. For most of the last millennium, China, for example, was an economic failure, with nearly 800 years of stagnation. Then, it became one of the great success stories.

    Likewise, India was one of the economic failures of the twentieth century, he noted. But in the last 10 years, it had made tremendous progress. Africa, as a whole, remained a mess, but there were some tremendous success stories, such as Mozambique and Botswana. In addition to security, another factor was good governance. The success stories in Africa could be attributed to security and good governance. Economic policies were also a factor.

    He saw two kinds of strategies, he said. The first involved large organizations. The United Nations was emblematic of that approach. The other approach emphasized local efforts and local non-governmental organization s (NGOs). He was a strong believer in the second approach. He also felt there was too much effort on conferences as opposed to specific efforts in specific places. As for why more people were not paying attention to the Goals, he felt part of it was the sort of awkwardness of the Goals themselves. One of the inherent problems in getting publicity for the Goals was that they did not fit easily on a bumper sticker. It might be better to focus attention on specific Goals, such as improving literacy and reducing poverty, as opposed to all of them together.

    BINETA DIOP, Executive Director, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), Senegal, said that the African continent had been at the forefront of the “MDGs”, yet there were only few participants here from Africa. Four years ago, 53 African States had agreed to forge a unique partnership between the private sector and civil society in a commitment to achieve eight goals. Today, it had become clear that sub-Saharan Africa had not achieved any of those goals. Everyone should be reminded, however, of the challenges facing the continent. Africa had faced tremendous problems, starting first with slavery, followed by decolonization, the borders issue and the present conflicts. Africans had struggled with the impact, with the help of the international community.

    She said that a major obstacle was the existence of conflicts raging on the continent. The African leaders were organizing themselves, as evidenced in the home-grown, home-based New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), in an attempt to alleviate poverty. They had also transformed the Organization of African Unity into the African Union, with a new mechanism to stem conflict. One expressed aim was to promote investment in Africa. But, was there really hope in Africa? When one conflict was resolved, another one lay ahead on the horizon. Women, in particular, were suffering. In Rwanda, following the genocide, women’s groups undertook to support the orphans and rebuild society. Now, women comprised 50 per cent of the Rwandan Parliament.

    One women’s group, the Mano River Union Peace Network, which had representatives from the Mano River Union countries -– Liberia, Sierra Leone and New Guinea –- had come together when those countries were at war and put pressure on the leaders for peace. While the men were busy acquiring arms, the women were meeting with the leaders and urging them to stop the war. Now, there were five women commissioners and five men in the African Union. For the first time in African history, leaders from 52 member countries spent a whole day discussing gender issues, thanks to the efforts of civil society. The Union’s recent declaration expressed strong support for the Millennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS care, and the rehabilitation of child soldiers.

    Yet, she continued, if Goal number eight, which emphasized the role of the international community in addressing major global development concerns such as trade barriers, was not implemented, then genuine partnership between North and South, between government and society and the private sector would not succeed. On the war on terrorism, she wondered where the resources would come from. Would they be diverted to the war on terrorism before Darfur, Burundi and other conflicts were resolved? That was the challenge facing Africa today. She appealed for more attention to the human dimension of human security. People’s rights and economic well-being were the keys to building a safer world.

    MIKLOS MARSCHALL, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Transparency International, told a story from the vast collection of his organization. Country A, he said, was planning an ambitious agricultural development programme, an important component of which was the purchase of tractors to help small farmers. The scheme was based on a cost-sharing model, using international assistant money. A preferential loan would be established to provide farmers with affordable loans to help pay for the tractors. The national development bank of Country A would run the loan programme. Several thousand farmers took the loan, using their small land as collateral. The tractors, rather than being produced in Country A, were imported.

    Country B was in the midst of an economic crisis, he continued. It had large stocks of tractors, which had been produced without any hope to sell them. Therefore, why not import those tractors from Country B to Country A? The government officials of Country A did not care about the quality of the tractors. All they cared about was receiving their commission for the deal. So far, everyone got what they wanted. The farmers got their tractors and the government officials got their share of the deal. Also, the development bank in Country A got its margin, and Country B got rid of their stock of unused tractors.

    He said that a slight unexpected problem emerged –- geography. Country B was a flat land country and country A was a mountainous country. So the tractors produced for a flat land environment was unusable in mountainous Country A. It only took a couple of weeks for the farmers to realize that the tractors could not be used and the rest of the tractors remained in the port of Country A. The farmers who took out loans, using their small land as collateral, were now ruined and would lose everything, including their small land. Also, if they lost everything, they could not remain in their village and would move to the already overpopulated urban areas to try to make a living. Hence, instead of creating modest prosperity, the outcome of the project was a complete disaster, producing new debts and requiring relocation.

    The moral of the story, he said, was that even small bribes could lead to colossal economic and social devastation. That was why corruption was called a crime against humanity. The ultimate victims were always the poor. He emphasized that out of the eight Goals, number eight was extremely important. Without systems of accountability, many other development goals would not be achieved. Good governance and democracy were very important and made the difference. Corruption had to be taken very seriously and the traditional approach that corruption was part of business could no longer be tolerated.

    EMYR JONES PARRY, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, reviewed the challenges facing donor countries, such as his own. The first challenge was getting delivery right, even in the toughest places. Delivery must be sped up and the “deliverers” must not shy away from obstacles. New and better approaches were needed to link development with global security. Without security, there could be no enduring development, and without sustainable development, security would not prosper; the two went together.

    He stressed the need to mobilize resources for development to pay the bill. Donor countries must live up to the promises those made at Monterrey and elsewhere. The volume of aid was not the only issue, but also its efficiency and effectiveness. Also political will and national ownership needed to be built. The Millennium Development Goals could not be delivered through a one-size-fits-all approach. Governments had to shape their national plans to meet the requirements they determined, and the donor and international system had to work to make that happen. The Goals were a breakthrough in setting the agenda for that powerful global partnership for development. The United Kingdom was committed to that, and now its aid policies were built around the Millennium Goals.

    At the Millennium Summit, he recalled, world leaders had agreed to build a world in which everyone had a secure and decent livelihood, long and healthy life, equal opportunities for men and women, and a chance for everyone to develop skills and expertise, protect themselves from killer disease and enjoy a safe, clean and sustainable environment. The bad news was that, on current trends, the goals would not be met, and the world had lost the best chance in years to try to rid itself from the scourge of poverty. The Millennium Development Goals were real, measurable changes for the better, and he knew they could be achieved. Mozambique had cut poverty from 70 per cent to 55 per cent and had doubled the number of children in school. In Uganda, the prevalence of HIV infection had dropped, and in Thailand, new infections rates had gone from 140,000 per year in the early 1990s to around 20,000 now. Those breakthroughs had taken concerted action by national governments with effective international support.

    He said that donors’ responsibility was to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That meant working together to ensure that donor funding went smoothly in terms of delivery, for which bureaucratic clogging and “red tape” procedures had to stop. His country was trying to ensure that delivery worked directly through national budgets in support of coherent national plans for poverty reduction. The United Kingdom would continue to deliver in countries where governments had set up systems to absorb aid in that way and could account for how that aid was spent. Mozambique had been helped by a consortium of 12 key countries in providing general budgetary support to back the Government’s own poverty reduction plan. But, in Africa as whole, more than 75 per cent of donor support was still provided through Project Aid, which required hundreds or even thousands of separate audit reports by governments, taking up scarce resources.

    At the same time, he said, the United Nations system must cope with the totality of the threats today, and the scale could not be underestimated. The World Bank had estimated that some 46 States might be classified as weak or failing, which meant that one third of a billion people were living on less than $1 per day. Meeting that challenge required a global vision. Development without security was not possible, and security without development would not last long. A global vision must link development, security, diplomacy and so forth.

    In terms of resources, he said that current levels of development assistance should double. His country would increase that aid from $6.8 billion to $9.5 billion per year, which, from 1997 to 2007, was a doubling in real terms. If that commitment was maintained, and it was his Government’s intention to do so, the United Kingdom would get to the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) by 2013. Ninety per cent of aid from the United Kingdom went to the world’s poorest countries, another amount went to tackle HIV/AIDS, and a large share of the rest was to be spent on health and education. Most of the aid was funnelled through multilateral channels like the United Nations, and all aid was untied. Given the scale of the commitments, the international community had to find imaginative ways of doubling the resources. His country’s Finance Minister had proposed the creation of an international finance facility, which could quickly produce an additional $50 billion per year. If anyone had a better idea, he was open to it. Either way, it was crucial to tap into the resources and release them.

    WU QING, Director, Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, China, shared the challenges and successes of women in China in reaching the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals were ambitious, and their attainment would require serious and concerted efforts. China had the largest female population of any country, many of whom could not read or write. That was a formidable obstacle to achieving the Goals, which would improve their lives. In 1993, three women had begun a magazine on rural women. That year, China had prepared for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The magazine had grown and led to the establishment of her NGO. The magazine now had 60,000 readers and was the main communication vehicle for the NGO.

    That group of three women had grown to 42 women and men, she said. It also had led to the establishment of the Migrant Women’s Club in 1996 to empower migrant women who came to Beijing for employment, as well as a legal aid fund in 2002. Her organization’s mission was to advance women’s human rights, and to find ways to assist women in education, employment and other social services. Women should not be constrained by stereotypes or cultural traditions. In the final analysis, the most important goal was to empower women so that their needs were reflected in laws and policies. She wanted China to be a country ruled by law and not by man. She was the first deputy in China to use the Constitution to protect citizens’ rights.

    Among the challenges were long-standing traditions and funding, she said. In traditional Chinese culture, there had never been supervision, democracy and the rule of law. That required a major change in thinking and acting. It might take centuries to change the mindset of people after 2,400 years of feudalism, but her organization was working hard to change it.

    She was confident of achieving gender equality in China, but the lack of funding had always been a problem. Many foundations were supporting her organization, but sustainable development was vital to an NGO. Through capacity-building workshops, the NGO had learned to fund itself. If a seed was strong and healthy, it would send its roots deeper into the soil and would have a strong stem in order to stand straight and to produce good fruit.

    Discussion

    Next, in the question-and-answer session, Ms. DIOP of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) focused on the relationship between civil society and government. African NGOs and civil society were pushing for a review of governance, especially in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, the people had won a court case on the issue of HIV/AIDS. That had shown that civil society could challenge the status quo. In the African Union, there was a new understanding that seizure of power by military means would not yield the new leader a seat in the Union. That had all been done thanks to the pressure by civil society, which was mobilizing more and more.

    Mr. MARSCHALL, replying to another question, said that the history of transparency internationally had been about bluntness, especially in cases of corruption. One World Bank director had been fed up with corruption, and so he went back to Germany and started Transparency International, which was an NGO. The voice of civil society, of independent watchdogs, was absolutely crucial in holding governments accountable. Over the years, the pillars of integrity had been established, providing a kind of institutional road map to combat corruption, although there was no way to eradicate it. Transparency International published an annual ranking of countries based on their level of corruption. That “naming and shaming” was helpful. Most important was to create more visibility and continue to “name and shame”. Of course, governments who scored poorly would say that the system was trash and unscientific. There had been a sea change of culture, as the level of tolerance for corruption had dropped dramatically.

    A questioner asked whether it was hypocritical for the United Nations to be promoting the Millennium Development Goals, when in Darfur, Sudan, it had done very little about one of the worst humanitarian crises in history, where every one of the goals was experiencing tremendous regression.

    Mr. JONES PARRY (United Kingdom) replied that that issue was about overcoming the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States. The price of non-interference was often the tolerance of inequitable and contaminated leadership. In Afghanistan, everyone had said they had no direct interest in that country, so the world paid the price dramatically. Now, the pendulum was moving towards a far more responsive international society, which said, “if we did not go to Afghanistan, Afghanistan would come to us”. Failing States had to be addressed; the international community had to accept its obligation to the people of those States and forecast the impact of a failed State on others.

    He noted that the African Union had done something that no other regional organization had been prepared to do, namely, to evolve an arrangement which said that if a situation in one country was a sufficient threat to a neighbour, then, by “consensus minus one” the Union would intervene in that country. That was an amazing step forward in terms of Africa’s maturation in coping with its own problems. The international community’s obligation was to support the Union in that endeavour.

    Concerning his detailed review of Security Council involvement in the situation in the Sudan, he said that the Sudanese Government had not wanted its country on the Council’s agenda, and by convention, that meant that the Council would not discuss it. Then, Darfur unfolded, and Council members insisted on putting the issue on the agenda. That had stirred much resentment, and not just by Sudanese, but by others fearing the precedent of putting a country on the agenda against its wishes. Nevertheless, the Council persevered and issued a presidential statement, followed by two resolutions.

    He had taken strong issue with the comment that the United Nations had done nothing with regard to the situation in Darfur. Last spring, it was projected that some 700,000 to 800,000 people would die in Darfur with the onset of the rainy seas. No one knew the exact figures, but he guessed that the upper limit was less than 40,000 deaths, and that was because the United Nations and other organizations had done much more than had been done in previous decades. The Secretary-General had visited Darfur and then told the African Union that it had to act. The Union and its President had been exceedingly responsible. A resolution would be discussed this afternoon in the Council, which maintained pressure on the Sudanese Government and the rebels. That text would also support the active role of the African Union there.

    So, he had rejected the implication that nothing had been done in Darfur. In August, the World Food Programme (WFP) had announced that 940,000 people had been fed. That was the kind of activity the United Nations was overseeing today. So, if the questioner wanted a logical explanation of what the Organization was doing, that was it. It was holding the Sudanese Government to account. That might come to sanctions, but he hoped not. The political problem in Darfur should be tackled; the atrocities must be stopped; and a commission should be set up to make clear that there would be no impunity. In the end, the United Nations would seek to ensure that the Sudan, as a whole, was a better place. It was essential to tackle the “Darfurs, the Liberias, the Sierra Leones”, but, at the same time, everyone had to learn to “chew gum and walk”. Regarding the Millennium Development Goals, there was no choice as to “either, or”; the international community had to take on as many as possible.

    Responding to questions on trafficking in women in China, Ms. WU said that trafficking was a problem in China and related to the disproportionate ratio of male babies to female babies. There were now 100 girls to every 119 baby boys. In some areas, it was difficult for men to find wives. In the coming years, because of the disproportion of male and female babies, 60 to 80 million men would not be able to find wives.

    Regarding debt relief, Mr. JONES PARRY said his Government was working with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) and had written off 100 per cent of their debt. It was also working to get fellow countries to do the same. The need for more debt relief was obvious. The HIPC Debt Initiative had so far released $1.7 billion for social development.

    Turning to military spending, Ms. DIOP said it was necessary to build partnerships on that issue. In Africa, for example, she heard that President Taylor was linked to Al-Qaida, buying arms using revenue from diamonds from Sierra Leone. The issue was who was selling those arms. The international community had to do something to tackle the issue. It was necessary to revitalize the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Moratorium on Small Arms, and possibly extend it to other regions. Civil society was at the forefront of monitoring the issue, but the United Nations needed to get more involved.

    Asked about AIDS in China, Ms. WU said that several years ago, the Chinese Government had refused to recognize AIDS as an issue. The main victims had been those who were donating blood, many of whom were getting contaminated due to sharing of needles at blood donation centres.

    Regarding greater publicity for the Millennium Goals, Mr. KRISTOF said that getting coverage was pretty much “a lost cause”. The media should devote resources to specific problems such as infant or maternal mortality, rather than the larger theme of the Goals. Since 9/11, there was a greater acceptance of the fact that what happened abroad impacted what happened in the United States. In fact, the evangelical community in the United States had become more engaged in international affairs. The Christian Right had been important, for example, in focusing attention on the situation in the Sudan.

    On what could be done to tackle corruption, Mr. MARSCHALL said that, in many countries, the police were corrupt due to low salaries. Therefore, public administration reform was necessary. It was necessary to increase police salaries, as well as introduce training in areas such as ethics. A current World Bank survey stated that it took less corruption today in Eastern and Central Europe to do business than five years ago. What was needed were good governance, an elected parliament, an elected judiciary and professional law enforcement. It would take years, but results could be attained. There was no simple way to change the situation. Just raising the salaries of civil servants would not help unless other measures were also introduced.

    Asked how NGOs could thrive under authoritarian regimes, Ms. DIOP said that in regions where the conflict of one country affected others, civil society struggled to build alliances with neighbouring countries to overcome the obstacles and be heard. Many NGOs struggled in cases of fledgling or failing democracies. In West Africa, for example, the NGOs were still networking. A conference like this one made a difference, and not so much because of what was being said in the room, but what was being shared in the corridors. There should be many more such conferences, hopefully in Africa.

    Several questions concerned the mood in the donor countries, particularly whether it would be possible to increase aid levels. To those, Mr. JONES PARRY said that, as a general principle, he had found it quite difficult to defend all the policies of his own Government, let alone try to defend those of others. The British Government’s record in the past had not been good enough, and it was trying to improve. In terms of whether the average dinnertime discussions focused on the Millennium Development Goals, in the United Kingdom, there was not a huge lobby to spend more on development assistance or offer more trade concessions. Issues, such as defending the production of cotton and sugar in the United States when other countries were desperate to sell to developed markets, should be examined, but that converged with employment and other aspects.

    He had not known whether the level of political will generally was sufficient to tackle the sort of discussion that had emerged in the past two hours. The idea that reducing military spending would allow for greater allocation for development was too simplistic. Yet, it was vital that defence and security expenditures be transparent and affordable in developed countries; abuse of expenditures was wholly unacceptable. It also could not be disputed that security was basic to development. The people in this room were catalysts to try to change the balance of political will through pressure applied appropriately to governments. People who understood the issues and cared about them were best placed to try to help.

    Tony Blair had learned a lesson in his seven years, he noted. There was a man who had not been militaristic, yet he had had the United Kingdom embark on at least six military endeavours. When he, Mr. Jones Parry, had arrived 13 months ago at the United Nations, not one African leader had failed to thank him for British intervention in their conflict.

    Ms. WU, replying to a question about the impact of conferences to a peasant in a remote province, said there should be a greater participation of women and NGOs. Non-governmental organizations knew the needs and demands of people at grass roots. The meetings were an important forum for people, particularly women, to come together and talk about the issues and to translate ideas into action.

    Afternoon Panel Discussion

    ALICIA BARCENA, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and Moderator of the panel “North/South Partnerships: Different Responsibilities and Opportunities”, said that civil society had to get its act together to really monitor what was going on in the North and South. She drew attention to the regional approaches, which were important since each region had its own specificities. For example, Latin America and the Caribbean had different ethnic groups that were marginalized more than the poor. In the 1990s, there had been too much emphasis on macroeconomic issues in her region. After a decade of trying, the region had macroeconomic stability and low inflation rates. But it also had very slow and unstable economic growth, as well as high unemployment -– nearly 11 per cent. That economic model was not working for the people or for growth.

    She noted that women were more affected by unemployment than men. Also, income for women was less than income for men. The only area in which progress had been made in her region was primary education. There were more women in primary education than men. But when they entered the labour market, the situation was uneven. In the 1990s, her region had 500,000 people with HIV/AIDS. Now the number of those being infected was four times that number. She highlighted several indicators that civil society should follow. The first was public expenditure, such as how much government was investing for social expenditure. Another factor in the Latin American region was migration. Why were the countries of the region opening their borders to capital but closing their doors to labour?

    She wanted to stress three points regarding North/South partnerships. The first was the need to correct asymmetries. One of the most important things that the Millennium Development Goals did was to recognize asymmetries. However, the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO) wanted to put everyone on the same level-playing field. Once the subsidies were corrected, then progress would be made. Secondly, a balance was needed between public and private interests. Public policy should be understood as a form of collective action. Thirdly, there was a rights agenda –- the right to development and the right to be different. What was needed was diversity. There was no single model for development. It was necessary to build a global citizenship around the Millennium Goals. What was needed was differentiated responsibilities among different groups of civil society. Lastly, she praised Sweden, which was the only one of the developed countries which was reporting on the Goals.

    SARALA GOPALAN, International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), picking up the reference to a level-playing field, said she had been fighting for the last decade for a “level plowing field”. Agriculture was a way of life in the developing countries. But, when governments were poor, they were unable to provide the necessary resources and technological advances. With the growing divide between the developed and developing worlds, she wondered whether the goals set for 2015 would be achieved at all. The first casualty would be the goal to eliminate hunger. With open trade, prosperity would follow. Then, if gross domestic product (GDP) was distributed in a rights-based, equitable manner, it might be possible to tackle poverty and hunger.

    Reminding participants that there were still 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 per day, she said that closing the gap between developed and developing countries would be possible only if resources were reorganized and the developing countries’ capacity to specialize in agriculture was recognized. Today, food security was threatened, despite world surpluses in food production. If people were poor, they could not buy food. At the same time, aid killed their incentive to produce. So, rather than give a grain, give them the tool with which they could grow that grain. That would eliminate poverty and hungry for all time. Meanwhile, many were telling their children that farming was unwise, “uneconomic”. So, families were quitting farms.

    Still, in countries like India, 60 per cent of the population depended on agriculture for their livelihoods, and, in other countries, as much as 90 per cent depended solely on agriculture, she said. By definition, all people in agriculture were rural. They were also very poor and without any infrastructure. To render prosperous, the 70 per cent of the world’s population that lived in developing countries was a “massive” task. In the developed countries, 1 to 3 per cent were in agriculture. In the developing countries, 70 per cent depended on agriculture, so one big drought wiped them out. During droughts, the newspapers carried story after story about farmers who had committed suicide. They had borrowed money to produce their crops, and now they had no way to pay their debt.

    She said that agriculture was an infinitesimal proportion of the GDP of developed countries, but for developing countries, it was as high as 90 per cent. For the big industrial countries, agriculture represented only 2 per cent of their exports, but, for the developing countries, those exports represented up to 90 per cent of their exports. So, she called for a reduction of all non-tariff barriers in trade and a reduction of domestic support and export subsidies. She highlighted a recent study of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicating that, in more than 17 developing countries, food had become expensive and the farmers had lost the farms. Thus, food security had been threatened, while world trade in grain, for example, had been cornered by major monopolies.

    BARBARA M. KALIMA, Coordinator, African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, Zimbabwe, said that the challenge for both Northern and Southern NGOs was concentrating on core issues, such as the poor. Today, there were relationships between the North and the North, the South and the South and the North and the South. Goal number eight made two assumptions. The first was the desire to develop new forms of partnerships. The second was that the current forms of partnerships had failed. It was necessary to review the current partnerships inherent in the global arena, and the relationships between Southern NGOs and their governments, as well as between Northern NGOs and their governments.

    She said that Southern governments were recognizing the key role played by NGOs in development. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had come up with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which provided something on which civil society could interact with their governments. There was suspicion by governments in the South of civil society groups, which were seen as instruments being used to advance foreign interests.

    The prospects for Africa would depend on the ability of African governments to be able to integrate at the regional level before integrating at the international level. Turning to debt, she noted that the people calling the shots were the donors, which largely constituted the creditors. The United Nations needed to find ways for creditors to share the blame for failed policies. It was also necessary to find a way for donors to be flexible to allow NGOs to do work related to their local realities. In some countries, legislation on civil society activities was very strict. The Millennium Development Goals must be made a component of a broader national development process. Saying that the private sector had isolated itself, she called on civil society to hold the private sector accountable.

    DIANA RIVINGTON, Counsellor for Development, Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, said that, in Canada, the voluntary sector was an essential part of the social, political and economic fabric of the country. Recently, an initiative had been launched to strengthen the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector. That had resulted in the development of an accord of principles to guide that relationship in the twenty-first century. The commitment was to a more open, consistent and collaborative relationship, and that was all written down. The accord also recognized the importance of dialogue, debate and advocacy in the relationship between civil society and government.

    Yet, she went on, Canadian NGO involvement with developing countries had preceded the elaboration of that initiative by decades. That relationship had long extended beyond Canada’s own geographic borders. Canada had always understood and valued a vibrant civil society. Civil society had contributed to supporting the Cardoso panel, and she welcomed the attention given to civil society in the report, particularly the emphasis on strengthening civil society’s voices from the South within the United Nations. Since 2000, Canada had worked hard to realign its official development assistance (ODA) with the eight Goals, concentrating on areas where it could make a difference, such as gender equality, HIV/AIDS management, basic education, governance, and in achieving Goal eight on building partnerships at all levels.

    Reviewing Canada’s goal-based initiatives, she recalled that, in 2002, at Monterrey, her country had made a commitment to increase ODA by at least 8 per cent each year, with the aim of doubling Canadian aid by 2010. Half of those new funds were allocated for Africa. To address trade barriers, Canada had extended duty-free and quota-free access for imports from some 48 countries. It was an active supporter of debt relief, which would enable developing country governments to devote precious resources for development. Canada had also been the first country in the world to introduce legislation allowing the export of safe, effective, low-cost medications under patent in Canada to developing countries facing public health challenges.

    She said that that was the kind of initiative that encapsulated the need for global partnerships to achieve the Goals. Ending poverty was too great a task for any single donor, government or community, and no organization had all the answers. It was only by working together that sustainable development could be achieved across the globe. A strong and effective civil society was an integral part of development, both as an advocate and an agent. The aim now was not only to achieve the Goals, but to keep them from “sliding off the international development agenda”. She highlighted the critical role of civil society in the Kimberley process which sought to prevent so-called conflict diamonds from fuelling conflict, especially in African nations such as Angola. Civil society had also been instrumental in evolving the Ottawa Landmines Convention. In both cases -– conflict diamond mines and landmines –- partnership with civil society had produced positive results.

    The Canadian Government had put its policies on the table, she said. Now, it was up to civil society to “hold our feet to the fire”. The Government should help ensure that Canadian civil society was meeting the demands of its partners. Finally, achieving the Millennium Goals meant responding to the needs and priorities of developing countries as defined by those countries, themselves, scaling up efforts, and enhancing coordination with all development partners.

    MERCEDES CANALDA, Executive Director, Asociación Dominicana para el Desarollo de la Mujer (ADOPEM), Dominican Republic, said that it was important to have a good policy for providing financial services to the population. In Latin America, seven out of 10 businesses were informal, and eight out of 10 businesses were microbusinesses. In the Dominican Republic, three out of 10 Dominicans were working in microbusiness. In Latin America, there were 10 million potential clients for microbusiness.

    Microfinance involved small operations and began by giving small loans, starting from even $10, she said. It was not the amount of money given, but the benefits to the population provided by the businesses. Those small microbusinesses used very traditional technology, and 75 per cent of them operated from their homes. Twenty years ago, women in the Dominican Republic could not get a loan unless a husband or another man signed for it. Now, 80 per cent of those taking microcredit loans were women. Microfinance was not a gift but a tool so people could have access to other mechanisms to improve the quality of their lives.

    Questions and Answers

    In the question-and-answer session, Ms. GOPALAN said that the private sector only looked for profit and not for the public good, in response to a question on how to break the monopoly of corporations. The entire philosophy of free trade was fair and competitive trade, where everyone had access to resources and capacities. Today, 64 per cent of world trade was held by developed countries, while developing countries had only 36 per cent. Developing countries needed to produce more, and create more income for their people.

    Responding to another question, she said that governments would not win votes if they did not listen to the people, as was seen in India. That was why the sugar and cotton lobbies in the United States were holding the rest of the world hostage because of the upcoming election.

    Ms. KALIMA said that the discussion was shifting from debt cancellation to how to prevent another debt crisis and ensure that resources for debt servicing were actually returned. In her organization, African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, Zimbabwe, a process had begun of engaging parliamentarians to use their constitutional rights to veto loans. That had already happened in Uganda, where parliamentarians had vetoed approximately seven loans, which they thought would not benefit the people. A coalition in Nigeria had begun a process of instituting a debt commission, which would work closely with the Government to ensure that all loans were scrutinized closely by it and also by civil society. Those were among the concrete initiatives that NGOs were enacting on the ground to ensure that their countries did not fall back into debt.

    In terms of what the NGOs from the North and South could do to promote the Goals campaign, she said the key was to share information. The NGOs in the South did not have as much access to the policy makers or to government jobs, so it was important that the NGOs from the North shared that. Also important was that the colleagues in the North confront their governments, not on the basis that Africa was poor, but on the basis of principle and the commitments to which those governments had already agreed.

    Asked about land tenure and taxation policies aimed at promoting and supporting regional economic self-reliance, she noted that, in Zimbabwe, the Government had tried to give land back to the people to enable them to produce enough food for themselves, as well as for export. That policy was vital; it was not enough just to produce what would be consumed, but to be able to export it, as well. Most farmers in Zimbabwe had actually gone to neighbouring countries. Some were claiming a so-called “bumper harvest”, whereby those farmers would be exporting maize and some crops back to Zimbabwe. She did not know how true that was, however. Overall, land policy anywhere must be owned by the people, and pricing could not be left to the market alone. Government had to take a lead. There were disparities -- most African countries, for example, were experiencing acute food shortages, yet there was a lot of food in the rural areas. Crops were rotting because roads were not good enough, or in cases where the roads were good, investors were going in and exploiting the desperate farmers.

    With respect to the private sector’s role in “delivering” on the Goals, she said the World Bank and the IMF had played a critical role. Among the challenges, however, was that in open-market economies, tax rebates to foreign investors, such as in Zambia, were undermining local crop production of eggs and cabbage. The private sector should act responsibly. The conditions to which they subjected the locals were really deplorable. Governments must ensure that the private sector abided by ethical and humane standards.

    On how the Millennium Goals had been integrated into the Canadian Government’s agenda, Ms. RIVINGTON said that the Canadian International Development Agency had taken the Goals and reorganized them into “key results areas” related to areas such as development and human resources management. The Agency then provided a report to Parliament on where things stood and what still needed to be done. It counted on civil society organizations to translate the Goals at the local level. Canada had increased its international development assistance by 36 per cent in a four-year period.

    Responding to a question on what percentage of loans were repaid, Ms. CANALDA said that the rate of repayment of microfinance loans depended on the country and the programme and the method. It had been shown that microcredit organizations and specialized banks had a better yield than regular commercial banks. As for whether women were better payers than men, she stated that loans and microfinance taken out by women proved better than men. Women had better commitment than men, and the rate of recovery was about 98 or 99 per cent. Microfinance was not a gift but a tool. Most microenterprises developed out of the need to generate additional income.

    When each panellist was asked to highlight one point that had emerged from the discussion this afternoon, JOAN KIRBY, Conference Chairperson, said it was the point about how there could be no sustainable development without security.

    Ms. GAPALAN emphasized the key role of governance, and added that the panel had done very well in demystifying the Millennium Development Goals.

    Ms. KALIMA said that, at the end of the day, it should be ensured that the Goals were not the overarching development plan for a country, but part of a broader vision for the country. The Goals would not be achieved by the NGOs, or the United Nations, or the private sector, alone, but by the concerted efforts of all of them.

    Ms. RIVINGTON said that the one step that Canada could take was to support its country partners in their efforts to meet the Goals. The process of development should be locally driven and country-owned, and governments should engage as a partner in support of that process, but not drive it. Governments had the responsibility to support the dynamism of the vision out there.

    Ms. CANALDA said she had just learned that a commission had been formed in her country, the Dominican Republic, for implementation of the Goals, but its success depended on the participation of all Dominicans. Each had a responsibility to design a plan and socialize it, and work together as a team to achieve the Goals.

    In closing remarks, Ms. BARCENA said that Goals represented an agenda that must become the centrepiece of all national agendas and lay at the heart of all economic and political policies. An actor-oriented approach was needed, with women and young people as the two main actors at the forefront of implementation. There was an historic responsibility now either to move humanity forward or fail as a civilization.

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