Concept suits decision-makers, not marginalised population.
ISLAMABAD: Any development agenda should be based on a transparent participatory process to ensure the commitment of stakeholders from all spheres as in the absence of such a bottom-up participatory approach, even the most wonderful policy blueprints might end up on the backburners of establishment.
This is true in the case of famous ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG) which were formulated by a handful of senior bureaucrats at the United Nations in consultation with international agencies.
This top-down approach seriously dented the credibility of the development framework since its incipience, but nevertheless many developing countries accepted it half-heartedly in order to ensure external financial aid packages. This common perception of MDGs, as a ‘donor’ agenda, speaks volumes about a lack of ownership from member states – hampering ‘real’ economic and social progress.
With no regards to a country’s capacity for change or the resources available, MDGs dictated stringent targets such as reducing poverty by half.
For developed countries that have a relatively small population below poverty line, it is quite a realistic goal — but for poor countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, cutting poverty by a half is an uphill task. In fact, even the definition of poverty line in absolute dollars is questionable.
A monthly household income of $150 may define borderline poverty in countries like the US but many families in rural parts of Pakistan can easily manage their household budgets within this amount.
It is no wonder that the development vision ‘imported’ from UN headquarters with ‘one size fits all’ approach failed in trickling down to the grassroots level in most developing countries like Pakistan and India.
Another important failure of the framework is that it could not help member states in making a strong economic case and they had to rely mainly on aid.
The MDGs have resulted in a dichotomy of aid-giving donor countries and aid-receiving developing countries.
This has created a behavioural lock-in — the politically unstable and least income countries have little incentive to eradicate poverty as they start depending on the constant inflow of millions of aid dollars to reduce operational budget deficits.
Over the years, the donor-recipient model has failed to boost labour productivities, causing a drastic rise in income inequalities ever since the Millennium Declaration.
The whole concept of MDG was inspired by the Results-Based Management model that suited decision-makers speaking the language of elites, but was ill-suited to the needs of poor and marginalised population.
It also assumed a simplistic view of every problem, using a reductionist approach and overlooked its true dynamic nature. The framework also ignored inherent synergies in many goals and rather promoted a ‘silo structure’ – lobbying around some specific sectors for securing grants.
For instance, it has been observed that investments in women education often help in reducing child mortality rate as well. So an alternate holistic development framework could have exploited such synergies, instead of tackling each goal independently.
At present, Pakistan is on track to achieve the target on only 10 out of 34 indicators of the millennium goals. Only upper Punjab has made some considerable progress while Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has done some work related to forest cover and wild life conservation.
No target has been achieved in the interior Sindh and Balochistan. The only national success story is regarding the management of tuberculosis whose annual incidence rate has reduced to 180 per 100,000 people. Pakistan is somewhat on track in achieving targets related to environmental sustainability — thanks to the large number of automobiles powered by CNG.
Ironically, some of the key factors hampering the pursuit of development in Pakistan are related to peace and security, human rights, injustice and corruption; which does not fall under the purview of Millennium Goals. A part of the problem is that the MDG framework has never challenged powerful corporations, governments and parties who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The writer is a Cambridge graduate and working as a management consultant
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2015.
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