Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Claudio Schuftan PHM, Viet Nam
7-01-2013

III. Qs on themes and content of a new framework:

12. To what extent can we capitalize on MDGs achievements and failures in developing our post-2015 development agenda?

To a great extent and to begin with, the agenda can not again be drawn top-down --a challenge that I still see unresolved. Opening up the consultation to development workers worldwide reading this is only a variance of a top-down model.  We not only can, but must capitalize on both the positive and negative lessons learned from the MDGs. Which lessons? Ask the recipients of MDG ‘benefits’! This calls for governments and local civil society the world over to jointly open, in the next year, a wide dialogue on post-2015 options. Seed funding is needed if we are serious about this.

13. What is the legacy agenda of the existing MDGs that will be inherited in the next framework? Which elements should be revised in the light of lessons learned, such as the importance of girls’ education and gender equality?

Positive points notwithstanding, the legacy of MDGs shortcomings, as I see them, is that they had donor over-influence; had a technical over-emphasis; paid no attention to acting on the underlying social and economic inequalities; they lacked a systematic long-term financial commitment; had a predominant focus on health and education; and overlooked the entire participation and political economy contexts. Furthermore, they did not quantify the obligations of the rich countries (this assumed that poverty is a problem of poor people only); actions to be taken in the rich countries must simply be part of the next framework.

Poverty was defined in the MDGs as a state in which people have to live in the equivalent of less than $US 1 a day (but inflation is likely to make the one dollar in 2000 worth around 60 cents by 2015); and China, Cuba, and Vietnam (where, by the way, I live, so I am in a position to know), have long focused on structural development concerns, but have not labeled them as ‘Millennium Development Goals’, i.e., not wanting to play the MDGs game.

These are all shortcomings we do not want to carry over to the next framework. Beware: the elements to be revised, such as the ones insinuated in the question, are not for us reading this questionnaire to decide! Additions and revisions are to come from consultations with claim holders and duty bearers down below in many little places giving this process the flexibility needed in terms of the participative selection of contents and the timing of their participative introduction.

14. Which issues were missing from the MDGs and should now be included? How to address inequality, jobs, infrastructure, financial stability, and planetary boundaries?

It is not for us to decide these issues. They must come from dialoguing with claim holders and duty bearers at national and sub-national level importantly including women and youth organizations, trade unions, social movements, parliamentarians, local civil society organizations, organizations of migrants (who cannot be ostracized as non-citizens!)…

Inequalities are a result of power imbalances so, obviously, the organization of a counter-power is the answer for the next period; rights holders have to become de-facto claimants through processes of empowerment and social mobilization.

Employment issues must be discussed directly with trade unions for inputs.

Nobody knows better the shortcomings in infrastructure than their daily users (and/or those who need it and do not have it); we have to reach out to get their inputs.

Financial instability is a trademark of the cycles of boom and bust of capitalism and, as we now know better, is caused by the reckless behavior of greedy megabanks and financial institutions and individuals. Global and national regulation --including people’s audits-- must keep them at bay making sure taxpayers never again bail them out for the disasters they bring about. A Tobin-type tax is an issue whose time has (belatedly) come. People’s audits also must be introduced to look into the issues of odious foreign debt in poor countries.

For planetary boundaries, we should fall back on work done by UNEP and in Rio; but what is needed for the new framework is to set aside funding to educate the public at large, all over the world, about these boundaries so as to make this an additional  topic of their empowerment and mobilization.

All the above notwithstanding, remember the most crucial element missing in the MDGs was a conceptual framework of the causes of underdevelopment (or maldevelopment) alluded-to earlier.

15. How should a new framework incorporate the institutional building blocks of sustained prosperity, such as freedom, justice, peace and effective government?

I wish I understand what ‘institutional building blocks’ are. So I am a bit at a loss here. But anyway, first of all, the concept of sustained prosperity must be de-linked from the concept of economic growth with the latter having to be seriously questioned.

Freedom, justice and peace are all embedded in the human rights framework which will have to, once and for all, be the guiding framework for post-2015 development agenda. [It is a real pity (or a scandal? ) we are facing having to wait another 24 months for this to become true!].

As for effective government, I have always said that elected officers are as good as the people who elected them; electors deserve those they elect(ed). The problem is that (the often anachronistic and formal) representative democracy is made use of every 4, 6 or 8 years. “You made a bad choice? You are stuck till the next election”. Under these circumstances, nothing short of making the accountability/watch dog function a function of civil society (with commensurate funding) will be good enough in the new framework. Actually, the ultimate purpose of social mobilization is the application of local direct democracy to remedy the serious shortcomings of representative democracy.

16. How should a new framework reflect the particular challenges of the poor living in conflict and post-conflict situations?

I assume that by ‘the poor’ actually the question means ‘poor people’ (or people living in poverty). I hope I make my point…

If we are talking about ‘particular challenges’, can we expect the new framework to have general recommendations here? Is this a contradiction? Would global recommendations have any chance to work?

I strongly feel this is, par-excellence, a topic for South-South cooperation (with commensurate funding). Countries living in conflict and/or post-conflict can give better advice to others on what to do/not to do. The international community’s help should come in the implementation of the recommendations coming from such S-S cooperation --the help firmly based on the principles of their extra-territorial human rights obligations now recognized by ECOSOC.

17. How can we universalize goals and targets while being consistent with national priorities and targets?

The first question I have here is: Must we again universalize goals and targets? And then: Does the MDGs experience tell us universalization of national level targets was a good thing so as to follow it now? I have said that I personally prefer the setting of benchmarks over the setting of goals and targets (whatever the difference is between these two).

National priorities have to be based on a progressive realization of human rights long-term plan with annual benchmarks. The priorities must be disaggregated to the district/municipality level so as to first concentrate actions on the x% of the most marginalized ones. (Vietnam has done so with a hundred thirty some districts). [This applies equally to giving priority to marginalized groups in society; I do not need to name them here since they are well known]. This all is what the human rights based approach calls for! So, nothing new here. In this case, we are talking about a human rights principle that is not subject to progressive realization, but calls for immediate implementation, namely the principle of non-discrimination.

The only way another set of universal goals is going to get us further in the next phase is to mandate those goals be achieved in each district/municipality and not as a national average.

18. How will a new framework encourage partnerships and coordination between and within countries at all stages of development, and with non-state actors such as business, civil society and foundations?

If the framework should encourage partnerships and which partnerships is the first question to be asked here. We need to know which partnerships the question refers to. Partnerships with whom?
‘Partnerships’ between countries have a very sorry historical past in the realm of neo-colonialism. Partnerships in traditional ODA do not have much to show for either in terms of each partner wielding equal weight in decision-making (this includes partnerships with often non-transparent/non-democratic mega philanthropies and foundations).
South-South partnerships are an upcoming potentially promising avenue the new framework should definitely refer to, explore and foster.
A special worrisome ‘animal’ here are public-private-partnerships that have been plagued by devastating conflicts of interest and by claims of white-washing the conscience of participating TNCs. Quite a bit has been written about this and I will not go into more details. (I call your attention to seminal work done on this by IBFAN and by Judith Richter).
[It would be desirable the new framework calls for greater transparency of mega philanthropies with an opening-up of their internal decision making processes].
The new framework simply has to put in place mechanisms through which governments together with representatives of civil society have a controlling stake in all partnerships. Governments and civil society organizations have learned (and suffered) by now and are now up-to-the-job, from now on, to take this mandated role.   
At global level, PPPs are also a big worry at the UN in general (Global Compact) and in UN agencies. The People’s Health Movement has been active in denouncing this state of affairs in WHO calling for concrete and definitive measures to be taken. The question also calls for  coordination between countries and within countries. The latter, I understand well. But does ‘between countries’ refer to foreign aid? If yes, I have made my point. If not, this coordination will have to be further explained.
 
19. How specific should the Panel be with recommendations on means of implementation, including development assistance, finance, technology, capacity building, trade and other actions?

I would say the Panel should not be specific on such means, but perhaps propose a range of options. It is for the participatory country and sub-country level to work on them and gain full ownership of the ones finally selected. There should be a specific time period and funding set aside for this.
As regards development assistance, foreign aid has to be made to abide by the human rights framework and by the principles of extra-territorial obligations.
The transfer of technology is a key additional issue. At grassroots level, the technology has to be appropriate, as decided by its direct future users. Otherwise, we have witnessed how TNCs transfer second hand technology to developing countries --technology they have replaced by a more advanced one in rich countries. This perpetuates underdevelopment and must, therefore, be countered.
Capacity building: my experience is in health. I have seen the proliferation of aid-funded vertical programs, be they for TB/HIV/malaria or for family planning… They all duplicate in big part the training offered with the same service provider at the point of delivery being called out for yet another training. Add to this that often different donors repeat the very same training due to a total lack of coordination. The service provider attends mostly for the sitting allowance provided and returns home not applying what has been learned. I call this disease ‘workshopitis’. The remedy? In health, we need roving multidisciplinary provincial teams that go facility by facility, stay 2-3 days in each, observe how services are provided, correct deficiencies, add new knowledge, leave a list of to-dos and return in three or six months to check on changes only to make yet a new round of recommendations, and so on.
Trade is also a big problem. Rich countries have stayed away from using WTO as a vehicle for their international trade deals and have opted for bilateral free trade agreements where they can better use their muscle to extricate more favorable conditions. The negative human rights consequences of most of these FTAs are nothing short of appalling. The rich in the poor countries may benefit, but not poor people. The new framework cannot possibly ignore this fact at the risk of coming up with a ‘robbing Peter to pay (rich) Paul’  agenda of development. [Not coincidentally, this also applies to poor countries servicing their odious foreign debt].  
 
20. How can accountability mechanisms be strengthened? What kind of monitoring process should be established? How can transparency and more inclusive global governance be used to facilitate achievement of the development agenda?

The answer is: Through civil society organizations specifically funded to act as watch dogs.
The monitoring should be based on annual benchmarks so as to check if on processes set in motion to assure the progressive realization of human rights are on course. (This presupposes each country prepares a long-term progressive realization plan of action with a, say, ten years horizon. The new framework must explicit this).
If a more inclusive global governance is to be understood as participatory governance, then the issues pertaining to governance transparency are included in the watch dog function.
What this question does not touch-upon is the issue of providing accessible redress mechanisms. The obligation of States is to take steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress any abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication. States must ensure that those affected by business-related abuses or other human rights abuses have access to a prompt, accessible and effective remedy including, where necessary, recourse to judicial redress and non-judicial accountability and grievance mechanisms. The new framework must address this issue.
It is well known that CSOs are active in many countries in preparing shadow reports for the UN Human Rights Council. The framework must explicitly encourage CSOs to participate. Once the Council engages in the universal periodic review of the human rights issues of each country it issues recommendations which, unfortunately, are not binding. Mentioning this fact, may help the new framework creating greater consciousness about this shortcoming which could result in some corrective action on this in the future.
 
21. How can a new framework tackle the challenge of coherence among the organizations, processes, and mechanisms that address issues that are global in scope?
[I saw the concept of ‘poverty of ambition’ being used in these post 2015 discussions; I think it fits nicely here].
Since Paris has, for all practical purposes failed, I think the in-country coordination of donors and local organizations should be made mandatory for multilateral and bilateral agencies and for non-governmental donors both on general aid and aid by sector. Central in the coordination process will be addressing the global issues that the new framework will suggest be prioritized worldwide with the specific mandate to adopt/adapt them to the local realities and priorities. Coordination meetings are to be chaired by two government representatives ideally from the ministries of planning and finance and must have a representative participation of CSOs. More human and financial resources have to be specifically allocated by donors for such a coordination function.
Underlying the actual willingness and commitment of all involved agencies to work in a coherent manner will, in many cases, call for a profound exercise of revisioning and remissioning of what they do based on an honest question: Are we part of the problem or of the solution? The new framework can no longer condone silo mentality, vertical programs, each donor for himself in development work. Service delivery work is not enough; technical capacity building work is not enough; advocacy work is barely enough. Remissioning is about these institutions funding and engaging in empowerment an social mobilization work in the countries they work in.
Globally, it would be highly desirable that the new framework proposes ways to be worked out for the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also to be involved in coherence, in processes and in mechanisms issues.
Furthermore, it seems indispensable that in the post-2015 period the UN special rapporteurs be allocated adequate budgets to allow them to have proper small staffing and more travel funds to do their (excellent) work.
 
22. How can we judge the affordability and feasibility of proposed goals, given current constraints?
Affordability is strictly a country by country matter. Being a cautious optimist, I think the current constraints will be overcome. Therefore, to be prominently kept in mind are the provisions of the extraterritorial obligations of rich countries. This means that countries showing well justified shortcomings to embark in the progressive realization of human rights will go to donor agencies for help. Given that the progressive realization is based on yearly progress marked by benchmarks --and countries will have ad-hoc plans-- donors will be able to commit resources long-term, in tranches, based on the budgeted official progressive realization plan of each country. Coupling this with CSOs participation on accountability issues gives us some hope for (cautious) optimism on feasibility.
Affordability/feasibility issues can be and have been addressed successfully in several instances through participatory budgeting initiatives. These ought to have an important place in the post-2015 recommendations.