Time to put equality at the forefront of development. Photo: Fibonacci Blue, under a CC License.
Privileged. That’s how I consider myself, having been selected as one of a very few members of civil society who got to have their say before a so-called High Level Panel in London last week.
The United Nations set up the meeting to create a new action plan for tackling global poverty, which will come into force once the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.
But I am looking at 2015 from the sad perspective of my country, the Philippines. There, the MDGs on poverty reduction, universal access to education, lower maternal mortality rates and the spread of HIV/AIDS will not be met by 2015.
Of course, we tried. My organization, Social Watch Philippines, treated the MDGs as a minimum level of development and lobbied legislators in Congress, and later the government itself, on the achievement of the Goals.
We had some victories, including bigger budgets for educating out-of-school young people, organic farming, climate change training for farmers and for the proper sterilization of medical equipment in public hospitals.
But during the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, these were mostly ‘paper’ wins. The bigger budgets promised were there in black and white as part of the General Appropriations Act – but the President never released the money.
From 2010, the new Aquino government was more receptive to our demands and took a bottom-up approach when deciding how local and national government money should be spent. There were more opportunities for the country to catch up with the MDGs’ 2015 deadline.
We then started working at local government level, with the aim of making local government budgets more people-driven and sensitive to the MDGs. We targeted farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, market vendors, youth and women’s groups, senior citizens and tricycle drivers. We educated them about how local government spending is decided and taught them to read and analyse budget and audit reports.
To our surprise, we found that people were not just interested in how their taxes will be spent – they also realized how poorly-funded some of the basic social services were and they were willing to help boost local revenues. For instance, they encouraged relatives in the capital Manila and other cities to pay their community taxes in their home towns rather than in urban areas, knowing that these urban areas have big local revenues to begin with.
This got some results. For instance in a small town in the Visayas, a new classroom was built with the extra taxes that people helped their local government to raise.
But it’s not just money that’s required for achieving the MDGs. Another reason why we are so behind with them is the Philippines’ warped development. Yes, there is economic growth, but it has been accompanied by greater inequality, unemployment, underemployment and environmental degradation.
So our central message to the High Level Panel is: post-2015 things must not be business as usual. People must be put before profits, corporate social responsibility should not be an afterthought and global partnerships are the way forward. We need fairer trade, aid, real investments rather than short-term capital flows and climate financing rather than debt repayments.
These principles should have been central to the MDGs themselves. Now, in planning for 2015 and beyond, we have the chance finally to make them a reality.