Development Rhetoric sans Much Substance


Credit: UN
Credit: UN

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW YORK (IDN) - Rhetoric rather than substance characterizes the outcome document of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit. Insights and some forward-looking manifested in the speeches of world leaders for reinvigorating development partnership so as to achieve the desired results by 2015 was conspicuous by its absence, according to analysts.

Some of the solutions put on the table, such as the resounding call for the adoption of a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) led by France and repeated by Belgium were welcome. Indeed the FTT gained considerable political ground in New York with a declaration calling for the adoption of a FTT jointly issued by France, Belgium, Japan and Spain which they invited all countries to sign.

"The failure of the outcome document to include a mention of FTT is therefore a missed chance. The document limits itself to encouraging the exploration of new innovative mechanisms and strengthening existing ones on a voluntary basis," says CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies working together for global justice.

On the whole, "inconsistency and incoherence, the lack of attention to systemic causes of poverty and injustice leave the document shallow and its commitments unconvincing," says Brussels-based CIDSE.

"Whilst the document is strong on the need for national ownership and the primary responsibility of developing countries for achievement of the MDG goals, there is a stark lack of recognition of the role played by international and developed country policies (trade, agriculture, finance, development, inadequate regulatory regimes) on the ability of developing countries to do so," it adds.

Developed country governments have in fact sought to further distance themselves from this responsibility by including language which places the responsibility on developing countries to evaluate the trade-off between national policy space and international agreements, as if there were a level international playing field.

Furthermore, says CIDSE, the multiple crises and their impact on progress towards the MDGs are referred to, but nowhere is it acknowledged how or where these crises originated and the fact that they are impacting most severely on those who had no hand in creating them.

"Language on the urgency of the climate crisis has been watered down compared to earlier drafts, and care has been taken to avoid acknowledgement of the historic responsibility for climate change and the consequent responsibility of developed countries to take the lead in combating climate change," notes CIDSE.


Subsequently: "Recommitting to the achievement of the MDGs rings hollow without urgent, ambitious and equitable international action on climate change, and therefore failure to reiterate commitment to achieving a legally binding new agreement under the UN is alarming, and a further slight to those already suffering the impacts."

A human rights-based approach is essential to bring about systemic and sustainable change. The outcome document refers to the importance of human rights to achieving the MDGs. "But this remains superficial unless they are used in the analysis of hunger, poverty, and inequality, and in identifying policy and process solutions."

Instead, says CIDSE, the world's governments have chosen the political expedient option of naming 'quick fixes', for instance on the treatment of sovereign debt crises, on innovative mechanisms to raise finance for development and a short term injection of funds for agriculture which do not disturb the status quo.

"Yet, without a fundamental rethink of the structures and relationships that are in place at all levels, which . . . constitutes the essence of Goal 8, sustainable development will never be realized," says CIDSE.


Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, goes a step further and attacks the 'supposedly democratic packaging' of the goals. Stripping away the language of development, he suggests that the MDGs mask the pursuit of other goals which have nothing to do with social progress.

In an analysis carried by 'Pambazuka News', Samir Amin says: each of the eight goals is certainly commendable. Who would disapprove of reducing poverty or improving health? "Nevertheless, their definition is often extremely vague. Moreover, debates concerning the conditions required to reach the goals are often dispensed with. It is assumed without question that liberalism is perfectly compatible with the achievement of the goals."

Commenting goal eight: develop a global partnership for development, 80-year old Egyptian economist Amin says: "The writers straightaway establish an equivalence between this 'partnership' and the principles of liberalism by declaring that the objective is to establish an open, multilateral commercial and financial system. The partnership thus becomes synonymous with submission to the demands of the imperialist powers. Progress in access to the market is measured by the share of exports in the GDP. An increase in this ratio is thus synonymous with progress regardless of the social price."

He adds: "To carry out this 'liberal partnership' would require, in the end, nothing more than the fight against poverty (the only 'social' goal allowed). To this is added, like hair in soup, 'good governance', a phrase favoured by the U.S. establishment that is never defined and is taken up uncritically by the Europeans and the institutions of the global system."

Amin is of the view that neither the MDGs nor NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa's development) will make it possible to attenuate the seriousness of the problems and curb the resulting processes of political and social involution. The legitimacy of governments has disappeared, he argues.

"Thus conditions are ripe for the emergence of other social hegemonies that make possible a revival of development conceived as it should be: the combination of social progress, democratic advancement, and the affirmation of national independence within a negotiated multi-polar globalisation. The possibility of these new social hegemonies is already visible on the horizon. I bet that at the end of 2015, no one will propose a balance sheet of the achievements of the MDGs or NEPAD, which will have been long forgotten," Amin predicts.


CIDSE comments the post-2015 development agenda differently: "To honour the commitment to achieve the MDGs by 2015 harnessing the political energy and resources remains the priority of the day. Yet with just five years ago for this commitment to expire, the question remains: what next?"

The outcome document restricts itself to calling for further reflection on this issue in the UN Secretary General's annual MDG reporting. In view of this, CIDSE finds it disappointing that the Summit missed the opportunity to harness the momentum for governmental accountability set in motion by the MDGs for greater commitments beyond 2015.

It hopes that the last evaluation of progress in 2013 along with the Development Cooperation Forum and ECOSOC (UN's Economic and Social Council) ministerial that have been allocated responsibility for reflecting on a post-2015 framework will provide for a timely, transparent, multi-stakeholder process that translates into an accountable and coherent framework of commitments.

For CIDSE a post-2015 development agenda cannot merely be a second iteration of the MDG framework, limited as it is. Commitments should be framed to take account of the entire body of UN conventions and the values and principles articulated within them. Positive developments in international human rights law which have taken place since the MDGs were agreed such as the agreement on an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights need to be reflected.

Furthermore, according to CIDSE, recent discussions to reverse and compensate the development impact of Climate Change would have to be integrated. Additionally, the global partnership for development and the systemic approach to development -- an important achievement of the UN's Financing for Development process would have to be a cornerstone. (IDN-InDepthNews/02.10.2010)

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