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The path to a global compact for eradicating poverty

Av John Y. Jones | Søndag 21. november 2004

Presentation by John Y. Jones, IGNIS, at the IGNIS-Confernce "Whose Governance? Obstacles to the MDGs" at Mastemyr (Oslo) 20-21 September 2004
(for ytterligere informasjon, se FNs tusenårsmål - en historie om fusk og svik, RORG-Samarbeidet 24.09.04)

“The origins of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lie in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by all 189 UN Member States (147 of them represented by their head of State or government) on 8 September 2000. The Declaration embodies many commitments for improving the lot of humanity in the new century. Subsequently the UN Secretariat drew up a list of eight MDGs, each of them accompanied by specific targets and indicators. Goal 8 is to “develop a global partnership for development. As of November 2002, there are seven targets listed under Goal 8, and 17 indicators to measure progress towards them.”

This plain, uncontroversial introduction to the MDGs is written by Martin Khor of Third World Network.

I will concentrate my hour here by talking about the time before the launch of the MDG; try to identify some crucial actors and their likely motivation for action, and look at in what way this has formed the UN development goals that were presented in September 2000.

The poverty eradication and development agenda is about one of the globe’s biggest industries directly or indirectly through opening doors far beyond the sums of development aid itself. We all know that there are enormous contracts, profits and investments at stake when the world discusses poverty. The plans for action that comes out of development negotiations and international conferences can also shut doors, threaten profits, jobs, security, be it perceived by individuals, transnational companies, nation states or UN-bodies.

When the largest development conference, ever, gathered heads of state in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1995, for the so-called Social Summit (WSSD), global civil society had had access to, and influence in, the negotiations, in a way that was unprecedented. And the conference brought together positions and language from 28 major UN summits that took place in the 90ties. Norwegian NGOs were part of the inter-departmental delegation. Secretary General Butros Butros Ghali said that this was the decade of NGOs and had introduced new hope to the world organisation. He did not realise how right he was, and how wrong. From the Bergen conference on preparation for Rio, in 1990, till the WSSD+5 conference, the decade had experienced the force of – what Alejandro (and New York Times) yesterday referred to as the second superpower. This emerging superpower showed growing strength during the decade of the 90ties. It had to be brought down. Because it moved power out of the dark rooms of negotiations that cannot stand light, and into the forums and the agoras of civil society.

And the tool to bring down the NGOs, was – and this is my firm belief – the creation of the MDGs.

For what is the core nature of deception? If not to hide the incredible under the cloak of the credible. In our case: To pursue profit and greed under the cover of poverty reduction.

Because: not everybody rejoiced at the emerging power and influence of the NGOs. Powerful organisations like OECD, WB, and the IMF actually had to lobby NGOs! Some of them were even attacked by people’s groups and denied meetings by boycott actions. In Copenhagen the only institution to be directly demonstrated against and boycotted was the World Bank. The battle between the World Bank’s “Sustained growth”-concept  vs NGOs “sustainable development” agenda came together in a very real battle, or as we say in Norwegian “bærekraftig vekst” ble erstattet med “bare kraftig vekst”

Another institution to suffer from the NGO success was the OECD: Three years later the high prestige Multilateral Agreement on Investment was still kept secret and heads of OECD countries had anticipated a smooth ride through the EU bureaucracy when NGO-campaigns turned the EU parliament against the MAI-treatment by 98%. The MAI failed and the OECD-countries who had acted in concert to open up the world to investment and capital flows, were shocked. MAI was the ultimate Washington Consensus tool. Creating human rights for capital!!

Two years later, in June 2000, NGOs and government, labour unions, women’s groups, aids-organisations, environmental activists (etc) gathered to sum up the 28 UN summit processes in Geneva to renew their engagement for Social development from Copenhagen. They were going to set the world on track for a global action plan.

The night before these broad talks and negotiations started, a document was presented on glossy and colourful pages. It pretended to already have had the job done for the more than 1000 people gather. It was called “A better world for all”. And it was signed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund,  and the OECD. No surprise, people laughed, just “sustained growth” language, Washington consensus issues in a new package. The document was immediately renamed “Bretton Woods for All”. But then the shock came: Kofi Annan had also put his name under the text an dragged the UN into a new partnership with the BW-

The anger that this coup d’etat created can best be captured through an official letter that the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Konrad Reiser, wrote to Annan literally accusing him of betraying the poor nations of the world, and calling the document

“... a propaganda exercise for international finance institutions whose policies are widely held to be at the root of many of the most grave social problems facing the poor all over the world and especially those in the poor nations. We and many other non-governmental organizations have consistently supported the United Nations and encouraged you in efforts to address the injustices embodied in these institutions. By identifying yourself with the goals and the vision promoted by this report in your address to the General Assembly on 26 June, you have cast doubt upon the will of the United Nations to reaffirm the Copenhagen commitments and translate them into effective strategies for the eradication of poverty and further significant progress towards the goals of a people-centred approach to social development."

The document in quotation, “A Better World for All”, which Reiser refers to is almost word-by-word the 7 first MDG goals. And I would claim that there is nothing in the tone, substance and language of the 8th goal that would change Reiser’s description of the MDGs as actually serving the rich countries and betraying the poor. All the issues, the approaches and the language echoes the World Bank’s text-input to the Social Summit and other summits: The 8th goal is step by step what the multilateral institution would like to see a text look like: Anyone who has learnt to decipher the development jargon will immediately see:

That this is produced in the offices of the IMF, WB and OECD. They would have been thrown out of the deliberations of any one of the 28 summit processes. The only way these texts and these strategies could become that of the global development community was by deceit, coup and by the UN general secretary selling out those who had trusted in him. It is extremely sad that this strategy succeeded.

For today there could be no denying that the agenda of Copenhagen is buried, and the Bretton Woods language has prevailed in its purest form.

The necessary question for NGOs to answer, as I see it, is for us to find out if it is possible to re-write the MDG texts, so that it leads us back to the path that people’s organisations were walking in June 2000. Much harm has been done: Look at the list:

  1. Fundamental analysis of the root causes of poverty, unemployment, exclusion and the regeneration of local resources and local capaital has been replaced by a superficial focus on money, Northern transfer of aid and investments, as key to development.
  2. What it means to involve the local, broader civil society in meaningful cooperation, has been lost to a focus on creating optimal conditions for Northern, private capital, investment and profit seeking.
  3. The MDGs pay lip service to the need to "empower poor people" while it actually belittles them. While it speaks of the importance of "inclusive democracy" it undermines it. The introduction of the concept of "pro-poor growth" places the responsibility of coming out of poverty on the backs of the poor, particularly in the South, as the NGO response to the Better World for All puts it.
  4. Even when in its 8th goal announces a particular responsibility for the North, a closer examination reveals that it uses the term “partnership” as leverage for opening the South for The North’s investments, engagement and control.

The MDG medicine seems to be:

    1. export-led growth and further opening up of the markets of developing countries

    2. no respect for workers’ rights, full ILO-conventions

    3. disregard for wealth distribution, just taxation, stopping of tax-heaven or genuine environmental sustainability, curbing of energy consumption or general consumption in the rich countries

    4. sustain macro-economic policies that are advocated into a framework of poverty eradication

    5. Whilst the PRSP pretends an attempt to foster social development, macro-economic conditions by the IFIs for loans and debt relief have not changed

    6. the PRSP be an opportunity for donors to impose additional conditionality on national governments

It is long time since civil-society accepted this as starting point for discussing viable poverty reduction strategies. It is indeed a sad state of affairs.

  1. And finally, my biggest fear: read the MDGs carefully. With the trick of backdating the reference point for goal achievement to 1990 and substituting the term “proportion” for  “number of “ poor, the goals will be reached nominally by 2015, while the number of poor in our target countries (Africa and Latin America) will have INCREASED, AND, we will have seen a tearing to pieces of what was left of solidarity society through enhanced privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation, AND OECD, IMF and The World Bank will victoriously proclame: The medicine works, we did it. And Norway will rejoice.

So my thesis is that the MDGs were introduced to derail the development agenda that saw a strengthened people centred future in the 1990ties. If this had only been an empty conspiracy idea, I would have been a happier man. Thank you.

Redaktør: Arnfinn Nygaard
Sist oppdatert: 12. januar
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