|LDC Conference in Istanbul: Progress or Disappointment?|
Civil society groups have expressed disappointment at the outcome of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) recently held in Istanbul. The plan of action fails to deliver on commitments to provide adequate aid, reform unjust trade rules, and remove the burden of debt.
18th May 2011
13th May 2011 - Claire Ngozo, Inter Press Studies
Civil society groups have vowed to mobilise citizens of the world’s poorest nations to take to the streets, rejecting the Istanbul Programme of Action agreed today by the Fourth U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries.
"The plan of action has no teeth and appears to have left the people living in the least developed countries in a worse position than before," said Arjun Karki, the spokesperson for the civil society forum at the conference, known as LDC-IV. "We are appalled and disillusioned," he said.
More than 800 million people live in the 48 countries are classified as least developed; 33 of these are found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Programme of Action for the decade 2011 to 2020 declares that the ownership and primary responsibility for development lies with the least developed countries themselves. LDCs are called on to incorporate the Programme of Action into their national development strategies, plans and programmes and identifying the domestic authorities responsible for overseeing implementation and multi- stakeholder engagement by parliamentarians and the private sector.
Their development partners have pledged to a renewed and strengthened global partnership.
"This partnership also includes the United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods institutions, other multilateral institutions and regional development banks, within their respective mandates," the declaration reads.
Civil society says the Istanbul Programme fails to live up to the mandate agreed ahead of conference, which was to formulate and adopt renewed terms for the relationship between LDCs and their development partners, and to mobilise additional international support and action in support of the LDCs.
"It is difficult to find real commitments and quantifiable targets that would help the lives of people in the LDCs [in the document]," Karki told a press conference. "The programme lacks specific commitments to action as well as any mechanisms to hold governments to account. It is devoid of political will.
"The development partners have got away without committing themselves to delivering long-standing commitments to provide support for LDCs and remove obstacles to development," he said. "Our vision, hopes and expectations for the conference were very high but the results the governments have produced have made a mockery of these."
The conference also failed to make progress on mobilising finances for climate change adaptation, according to Lidy Nacpil, international coordinator for Jubilee South – Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.
"There’s no mention of commitments from developed nations to undertake emission cuts in the Istanbul Programme of Action," said Nacpil.
Nor are there new pledges to improve the level of official development assistance from the Rich World to the poorest countries of the South, according to Thida Khus, the executive director of Silaka, a Cambodian NGO promoting gender equality, who deems the conference a failure.
"The failure of LDC-IV should mostly be blamed on the developed world for failing to commit additional finances for the LDCs," she said. "The governments in LDCs should also bear the blame for failing to lobby for their people."
She also worried that the Istanbul Plan of Action is even worse than the Brussels Plan of Action on civil society involvement as it does not give them enough room to contribute to development endeavours.
"We represent people at the grassroots level, but the role of the civil society on the international level is not included in the plan," said Khus.
At the beginning of the conference, civil society had expressed the need for a paradigm shift including the immediate and unconditional cancellation of debts owed by LDCs and a review of the mandate and operations of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
They also wanted to see agricultural reform policies that would favour smallholder farmers, as well as measures to regulate genetically-modified seeds, land grabs and large- scale biofuel production, and speculation affecting the price of staple foods.
"It’s very disappointing that they did not take into consideration our demands - which are people’s demands. In the Istanbul Plan of Action, the northern elite has diluted its role towards equitable and collective international consciousness," Dr Ihsan Karaman, chair of the organisation which hosted the civil society forum, Doctors Worldwide.
May 2011 - Susan George, Transnational Institute
When the last UN “Least Developed Countries” [LDCs] Conference took place a decade ago, the “Washington Consensus” reigned. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were its principle architects; they developed its rules and components.
The main ones can be quickly listed: Private is always better than public, so privatise public services and prevent the government from doing anything the private sector can conceivably do in its place. Integrate the country into the global economy, no matter what that country’s level of development may be. Enforce “free”, that is, unrestricted and deregulated trade. Welcome foreign investment in every sector, by any company, even if that company is vastly more powerful than the country’s own. Make sure the work force is “flexible” and grateful for any job that comes along, thus forestalling demands from labour for better wages and working conditions.
Above all, recognise that the market knows best. It cannot be wrong and for that reason it must not be regulated from outside but allowed to get on with organising the economy and society for their own good. The Consensus is similar in many respects to religious doctrine.
For some thirty years, the Bank/Fund have liberally dispensed this advice to all the indebted countries in the southern hemisphere, including the LDCs. The weaker the country, the less it can argue or resist. Each one receives an obligatory “structural adjustment” programme, a one-size-fits-all programme requiring that they “export their way out of debt”. Each country must earn hard currency through exports, usually raw materials and cash crops, in order to repay its loans. Free access to services—health care or education, for example—must be abolished and “cost recovery”, i.e. fees, imposed.
Such programmes might be fine except for one detail: they don’t work, if by “working” one means that people become economically better off, inequalities both within and between countries are reduced, dire poverty and hunger are greatly diminished or eliminated; opportunities for “decent work” multiply and change that can honestly be called “development” takes place.
Washington Consensus policies induce no such results. Indeed, the only successful former “third world” societies, from South Korea to China, that have emerged from underdevelopment made the transition using policies exactly opposite to those insisted upon by neoliberal Bank/Fund economists. They interfered with markets as a matter of course, using subsidies, wage and price controls, high tariff barriers, massive public investment in education and so on.
In contrast, the LDCs have, at best, remained where they were a decade ago. More often their situation has become worse and their number has doubled to 48. The Millennium Development Goals will not be met by the 2015 deadline; on present trends we would need 100 years to reduce hunger by half. Nor have these countries “grown out of debt” as the Consensus promised they would. The LDCs as a group have not emerged from crippling debt: they are still paying their creditors, public and private, $11.400 every minute in debt service.
We know what these countries need and the Istanbul Conference should serve to hammer this message home. Like everyone else on earth, LDC citizens need nourishing food and clean water, a dwelling, education for their children; health, including reproductive health care and a decent physical environment. They desperately need debt cancellation as well. The World Bank now stresses the role of conflict in “fragile states” which perpetuates their underdevelopment. It fails to note, however, the clear statistical correlation between conflict and high levels of debt. Some of the fragile, like Somalia, have gone over the brink.
We also know, on the whole, how to provide what people need, or rather how to help people provide these things for themselves. For example, a great many programmes, some now in place over large areas in Africa, have proved that yields of food crops can be doubled or tripled using scientifically improved but entirely organic, labour-intensive agricultural methods. Earthen architecture is coming back into its own. Far from being “primitive”, earthen buildings are durable, adapted to local environmental conditions and often beautiful as well. Inexpensive water harvesting, purification and conservation methods exist.
As soon as a part of the debt was cancelled in Tanzania and the government let the people decide what to do with the savings, one region saw girls’ school enrolment shoot up by two-thirds, simply by eliminating school fees. Statistical evidence also shows that an extra three years of schooling for a girl equals one less baby when she reaches maturity. And so on.
But all these solutions to peoples’ most basic problems have one huge drawback: they are low-cost and they don’t make any money for corporations, banks and expensive consultants. They are “solidarity-based” rather than “market-based” and on those grounds they are unacceptable by Washington Consensus standards.
We know too, alas, that sometimes people need honest governments most of all. The NGO Global Financial Integrity (which employs ex-IMF staff) estimates the wealth leaving the southern hemisphere as a whole at almost a trillion dollars yearly. Two University of Massachusetts economists have measured transfers from public to private accounts in 48 sub-Saharan African countries over a thirty year period. They place them at over $720 billion, noting that up to 60 percent of a given loan often fled the country in the same year that it arrived. The people must continue to sacrifice so that the interest on those debts is paid as if the loans had actually been invested.
Are the Bank and the Fund, so vigilant in overseeing their Washington Consensus adjustment programmes, unaware of these thefts? Did they know they were occurring but do nothing? In the first case, it seems fair to say, they proved incompetent; in the second, guilty of complicity.
13th May 2011 - Social Watch
1.We, representatives of civil society organisations, who have met here in Istanbul on 7-13 May 2011 at the Civil Society Forum of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the LDCs, have very much appreciated the opportunities throughout this process to express our views on the challenges to LDCs and the development of the Istanbul Programme of Action and the Istanbul Political Declaration.
2.However, it is with deep disappointment that, at the conclusion of this process, it is clear our voices have not been heard and reflected in the conference outcomes. The negotiations started with analyses of the failings of the Brussels Programme of Action, also reflected in UNCTAD’s LDC report 2010. These showed that development partners failed to deliver their commitments to provide adequate aid, reform unjust trade rules, remove the burden of debt and build the capacity of LDCs.
3.More importantly, various analyses also pointed to flaws and shortcomings of the model of development promoted by dominant players in the international community. Export-led growth has been inequitable and unsustainable, resulting in LDC commodity dependency, de-industrialization, environmental damage and socio-economic marginalization. These failures and the flawed paradigm have contributed to the growth in LDCs from 24 to 48, and graduation of only three LDCs over the last three decades. More than half the women and men in LDCs still live in abject poverty. There is widespread violation of human rights. Social justice and peace have remained a dream.
4.From the beginning we stated clearly that this is unacceptable. The development paradigm must be changed. Our calls echoed proposals for a New International Support Architecture, and gone further in calling for a more fundamental transformation of the relations between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, men and women, the elites and those without resources, the dominant and the marginalised. We have urged for this conference to mark a turning point towards a more just, more equitable and more sustainable world. We are deeply disappointed that the Istanbul Programme of Action has failed to meet these challenges.
5.We strongly believe that it is important to base development on LDCs’ strengths and not on their weaknesses. Countries may be categorized as ‘poor’ according to UN criteria, but they are rich in many important aspects – in community cohesion, in natural resources and being able to live in harmony with our natural world, in diverse cultures and in human dignity. And especially in the growing numbers of young women and men who have huge potential and hopes for a better future. In many ways, our societies are the most developed countries, not the least developed.
6.But the LDCs are economically disadvantaged, exploited and marginalised. As part of the preparation for this conference, civil society engaged in an extensive process of listening to the concerns of the people in the LDCs through local, national and regional consultations in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. These highlighted the greater burdens that the marginalized and vulnerable peoples of LDCs have had to face in the last decade, with new crises of food, water and energy, the impacts of the financial crisis, and the intensification of the climate crisis. There is deep fear over an uncertain future even as there is determination to survive.
7.The conference has failed to meet our expectations and the UN General Assembly mandate. The UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/63/227 calls on governments “to mobilize additional international support measures and action in favour of the least developed countries, and, in this regard, to formulate and adopt a renewed partnership between the least developed countries and their development partners”. This has not happened. Civil society is frustrated that, having caused massive costs in the LDCs through financial and food speculation, unjust trade rules, illegitimate loans with onerous conditionality, and ecological damage, including climate change, the developed countries have not even committed to provide more aid to LDCs. Even worse, many donors are either reducing their aid or diverting it to pay for climate change damage, despite their commitments in UNFCCC negotiations to provide new and additional funding for climate finance. Current levels of aid are dwarfed by the mounting costs of the damage done to LDC economies and their people.
8.We recognise the strong efforts of LDC governments and the Turkish government to develop tangible commitments in the Programme of Action, but the UNGA resolution’s call for a renewed partnership has been undermined by the developed countries systematically having removed any targets, timetables and delivery mechanisms that may have been used to hold them to account. They have refused to accept commitments beyond those already agreed in other forums like the Millennium Summit, WTO and climate change negotiations. And they have used these negotiations to try to drive divisions between developing countries by calling for some developing countries to accept the same obligations as developed countries. South-south cooperation will be crucially important for the future of LDCs, but developing countries need to contribute according to their common aims but differentiated responsibilities. Support for LDCs from the south should complement but not substitute for the agreed obligations of developed countries.
9.We welcome the attention paid to enhancing productive capacity in the Programme of Action. This is crucial to create jobs for the growing numbers of young people through inclusive policies that capture more value from resources, diversify the economy and build on the strengths of LDCs. We also welcome the recognition that governments need to lead the development process, not donors or the private sector, and we welcome the establishment of a technology bank.
10.But the approach adopted in the Programme of Action relies heavily on economic liberalisation repackaged in new ways. Market-led approaches have been replaced by private sector-led approaches. The Programme of Action calls for the removal of impediments to the private sector, without recognition that governments need to regulate to protect workers, consumers, the environment and local communities. Civil society accepts that the private sector can play a useful role, but our experience is of companies that have unsustainably exploited minerals, fish and forests; land grabs that have stolen the resources and livelihoods of local people; biofuel plantations that have destroyed forests and agricultural lands; food dumping that has destroyed farmers’ livelihoods; and projects that leave local people with no water and a polluted environment. Intellectuals meeting here have reminded us that the LDCs must not remain the MECs – the most exploited countries.
11.In a number of areas, the Programme of Action calls for public finance to be given to the private sector in the forms of guarantees, investment promotion schemes and incentives. But these subsidies hand over public money to the private sector in the hope that the market will deliver public benefits. International experience with public private partnerships demonstrates the need to avoid the public sector paying for the costs while the companies reap the profits. Funds needed to overcome poverty and injustice, including education, health care, water and sanitation, gender equity, social inclusion and community development are being diverted to subsidise companies. There is grossly insufficient funding now to meet the needs of the resource poor, without more being diverted from donors and governments to companies. Expropriation of the public purse is unacceptable.
12.We are calling for the Istanbul consensus to constitute a clear rejection of the Washington consensus. Government policy should be based on participative national development strategies that focus on each country’s vision and core strengths. We must build jobs and opportunities for the sustainable use of our oil, our mineral wealth, our land, our forests, our fish and other natural resources, protecting the rights of traditional owners and users of the resources, adding value and insisting on fair prices. Diversification of our economies will require government leadership to build a strong domestic economy, with particular emphasis on creating opportunities for cooperatives and social enterprises, small and medium companies and women-led organisations. The rights of vulnerable and marginalised people must be put at the centre of economic decision-making, with stronger mechanisms for transparency, integrity and accountability.
13.In particular, LDCs should pursue an environmentally sustainable and equitable growth strategy that is labour intensive, that provides decent work opportunities to a wider range of people especially the large numbers of young women and men, coupled with opportunities to gain new skills and improve their livelihoods. LDC governments should uphold and guarantee core labour rights, including freedom of association, and prepare national plans for the implementation of the ILO Global Jobs Pact with the meaningful participation of social partners and representative civil society organisations.
14.Export-led growth was an important component of LDCs’ development strategies in the Brussels Programme of Action, but LDCs still account for only around 1% of world exports. A decade ago, there were expectations that trade reform would be possible as part of a Doha Development Agenda. But ‘development’ has been erased from the agenda, and negotiations are stuck because of the unwillingness of developed countries to agree to reform the major trade distortions in the system, notably due to inequitable rules on agriculture. Civil society is calling for an end to unjust trade agreements and for LDCs to resist efforts by developed countries to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements. Special and Differential Treatment and policy flexibility for LDCs need to be made operational according to a given country’s stage of development (rather than limiting it by time) within the WTO and regional and bilateral agreements, so that LDCs can adopt development strategies that reflect their specific needs and opportunities.
15.We call for the promotion of economically viable, socially acceptable and ecologically sustainable farming practices so that food sovereignty of LDC people is strengthened. Agricultural research that builds on seed diversity and socio-cultural farming practices needs to be supported and new and additional financial resources must be mobilised to support adaptation and strengthened resilience to climate change-related impacts. Agrarian reform policies must support the needs, strengths and rights of smallholder farmers, particularly women, and support them to organise into producer associations or cooperatives and to add value to their indigenous production systems.
16.We urge governments of LDCs to promote and implement women’s rights and gender equality, and to guarantee in their development strategies the enjoyment by women of their rights, as stated in domestic laws and international and regionally-agreed standards. Governments must ensure the effective participation of women in the formulation of policies and decisions, implementation, monitoring, follow-up and evaluation of strategies aimed at the realization of the Istanbul Programme of Action.
17.All countries need to respect the human rights of migrants, migrant workers, their children and their other dependants. The right to “movement with dignity” must be ensured. An effective regulatory mechanism must be set up to prevent sexual exploitation and forced labour, particularly for women and children who are highly vulnerable to these depravations. Countries must provide access to basic services and amenities and ensure effective social security systems for migrant workers. International efforts to combat ongoing incidences of human trafficking must be stepped up with provisions of severe penalties for people who engage in the trafficking of human beings.
18.Public investment in human development must not be sidelined in implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action. Education is crucial for citizens of LDCs to be able to participate fully in economic, social and political life. But formal education levels remain low in most LDCs. Although many LDCs are making progress towards the MDG targets for primary education, this has not translated into opportunities for continuing education at the secondary and tertiary level. This is essential if young women and men are to have the skills to participate as citizens and as skilled contributors to LDC economies.
19.Similarly, the need to strengthen health systems and infrastructure and to ensure functional health systems at all levels is critical to achieving the health related goals of the MDGs. Governments need to allocate sufficient resources to provide the infrastructure, salaries, human resources and training for education, and increase public health expenditure.
20.We call for governments and donors to give a new priority to water and sanitation for all by 2020, and to the global Sanitation and Water for All partnership as a global platform to deliver national commitments on sanitation and water. The urban poor are particularly neglected. Service delivery plans must meet the growing needs for water and sanitation in cities and towns. The problem is not one of water scarcity but of political will. Government needs to develop mechanisms for social protection to be available to all citizens, greater accountability for the delivery of all essential services and the adoption of a rights-based approach. Civil society rejects the privatisation of essential services under the guise of public private partnerships or otherwise.
21.We call for immediate and unconditional cancellation of all debts of LDCs and a moratorium on debt payments by LDC governments pending debt cancellation. An international process with counterpart national processes should be established, aimed at a rigorous study of illegitimate debt, including case studies, in order to come up with policies that lead to full and unconditional debt cancellation and changes in lending and borrowing policies and practices. Immediate changes must be pursued in the practices of lending and borrowing to move towards sovereign, democratic and responsible financing.
22.Industrialised countries must commit to deep, drastic, unconditional cuts in carbon and GHG emissions through domestic measures, to be expressed in international, legally binding agreements within the Climate Convention that contain targets based on science and equity. The pursuit of false solutions must cease. They also need to commit to obligatory, predictable, condition-free, additional, non-debt creating public finance to cover the full costs of adaptation in countries of the South, as well as the costs of shifting to sustainable systems – to be part of international legally binding agreements within the Climate Convention. Action is urgent to avoid catastrophic climate change. The Istanbul target to reduce the numbers of LDCs needs to occur because they graduate not because they burn or drown due the impacts of climate change.
23.We call for more and better ODA which must be directed towards development effectiveness rather than the dominant aid effectiveness approach. ODA must respect sovereignty and support people-owned policies and programmes, rather being undermined by conditionality. Adequate and predictable sources of finance are needed, such as from a Financial Transactions Tax levied on the transactions of the major banks and financial institutions.
24.Civil society must be given a stronger role as a partner in development. Real ownership by LDCs of their development strategies requires not only ownership by governments but by society as a whole. States need to have the political space to decide on their own development, and strategies need to be discussed democratically, approved and monitored. In that regard, the primary accountability of governments should be to their own societies and parliaments, not to donors, investors or international agencies like the World Bank, IMF or WTO. Civil society should play a key role in supporting public participation and should be included as a core partner in all decision making processes. And governments should create space for civil society to have an independent voice.
25.An effective follow-up strategy to the UN-LDC IV Conference needs to be created, implemented and monitored. We call for regular reviews of progress to renew commitments and generate political will. The mechanisms should not only rely on UN processes but include civil society, the private sector and other actors. There must be opportunities for objective assessments of progress, including the submission of reports by civil society, and mechanisms to hold governments, including both LDCs and development partners, to account for their role in fulfilling the aims of the Istanbul Declaration.
26.The participants in the Civil Society Forum have raised their voices and expressed their hopes for the future. They have expressed the need for immediate and effective follow-up to ensure results and delivery on the commitments made in the Istanbul Programme of Action. The remarkable amount of active participation on the part of Civil Society, and their commitment to continue working together for various issues long after the conference, demonstrates their interest and ability to influence change.
27.We will continue our work over the forthcoming decade. We will educate and raise awareness about the crucial challenges facing LDCs and the need for people-centred approaches to development. We will support and mobilise local communities and other citizens to challenge unjust and unsustainable policies and practices. We will play our part in ending the injustice of poverty and suffering. We will continue to work collaboratively with those who share our aims.
28.We conclude by expressing our thanks for the great contributions from our fellow participants here in Istanbul; the Civil Society Steering Committee; Cheick Sidi Diarra, the Secretary-General of this conference and the staff of UNHRLLS; Doctors Worldwide, host of the Civil Society Forum; the Government of Turkey and the people of this lovely city of Istanbul; and the Chair and members of the LDC Global Coordination Bureau
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