Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals


February 15, 2019

Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals

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In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems are far-reaching. A quality education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

https://www.project-syndicate.oryO8cnaCfxvpRj6xZQWIVfABNo8v98hSxJ6_Tzc6M

 

NEW YORK – Throughout my life, I have seen the power of education. I have witnessed how quality education for all can support the creation of dynamic economies and help to sustain peace, prosperity, and stability. I have also observed how education instills in individuals, no matter their circumstances, a strong sense of self, as well as confidence in their place in the world and their future prospects.

We know that each additional year of schooling raises average annual GDP growth by 0.37%, while increasing an individual’s earnings by up to 10%. If every girl worldwide received 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings for women could double, reaching $30 trillion. And if all girls and boys completed secondary education, an estimated 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. According to a 2018 World Bank report, universal secondary education could even eliminate child marriage.

In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems extend even further. Education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, created in 2000 to guide global development over the subsequent 15 years, gave new impetus to efforts to ensure education for all. From 2000 to 2015, primary-school enrolment in the developing world rose from 83% to 91%, reducing the number of out-of-school primary-school-age children from 100 million to 57 million. Moreover, from 1990 to 2015, the global literacy rate among people aged 15 to 24 increased from 83% to 91%, with the gap between men and women declining substantially.

But much remains to be done. Globally, at least 263 million children were out of school in 2016. This includes half of all children with disabilities in developing countries. Furthermore, half of all children of preschool-age – the most crucial years for their cognitive development – are not enrolled in early-childhood education.

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The situation deteriorates further in conflict zones, where girls are almost two and a half times as likely to be out of school as their peers in stable countries. And this does not cover the estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower-secondary-school age – 58% of that age group – who are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.

To help close these gaps, the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, also emphasizes education. SDG4 commits the world to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – essentially to harness the power of education to unlock every person’s potential. Despite the scale of the challenge and the diverse barriers that can restrict and disrupt learning, we know what an effective strategy would entail.

First, to be a true force for change, education itself must be transformed in response to the realities of accelerating globalization, climate change and labor market shifts. While advanced technologies – such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and blockchain – raise new challenges, they may be able to play a role in improving educational outcomes. Digital skills must be part of any curriculum, and new alliances with the tech sector – which can provide valuable insights into these topics – should be actively pursued.

Second, an inclusive and lifelong approach, focused on reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, is essential. As UNICEF’s Innocenti Report Card 15 shows, this does not mean sacrificing high standards. In fact, as the report points out, children of all backgrounds tend to do better when they are in a more socially integrated school environment. Such an inclusive approach will require sharing best practices and investing in what is proven to work. Meanwhile, development partners must provide long-term support that emphasizes capacity-building and institutions, and balances humanitarian, economic, and security imperatives.

For education systems and services to be truly inclusive, however, they must also leave no one behind, such as refugees. UNESCO’s latest Global Monitoring Report estimates that refugees have missed 1.5 billion school days since 2016. While eight of the top ten hosting countries, including several low- and middle-income countries, have shouldered considerable costs despite the strain on education systems to ensure that refugees attend school alongside nationals, most countries either exclude refugees from national education systems or assign them to separate facilities. This entrenches disadvantage and hampers social integration. The two landmark global compacts on migration and refugees adopted by UN member states last December point the way toward addressing this challenge.

Achieving the needed educational transformation will require far more financing than is currently on offer. As it stands, the global annual funding gap for education amounts to nearly $40 billion. Closing this gap will require not just increased domestic financing, but also a renewed commitment from international donors.

Everyone has the right to an education. Upholding this right – and achieving SDG4 – will require well-designed strategies, coupled with a prolonged commitment to implementation and effective cooperation among all relevant stakeholders. The UN and its agencies will continue to support such actions, as we strive to ensure that no one is left behind.

 

 

Cambodia- China Strategic Partnership–Is everything about China bad?


January 23, 2019

Cambodia- China Strategic PartnershipIs everything about China bad?

by Doung Bosba

ttps://www.khmertimeskh.com

 

Cambodian ruling elites are China-educated

Wrong. None of the current Cambodian ministers are China-educated. In fact, most of them are Western educated. Their offspring are also mostly or wholly Western educated.

The number of alumni speaks for itself. The Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodia (FUSAAC) has more than 1,000 members. Australian Alumni Association of Cambodia has over 700 members and Japan Alumni of Cambodia registered more than 1,000 past recipients of Japanese scholarships. As of now, the fact that around 1,000 Cambodian students studied in China does not mean that they are controlling the whole educational aspect of Cambodia.

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According to data entitled “Global Flow of Tertiary-level Students” of Unesco in 2017, Thailand was the top destination with 1,031 Cambodian students, followed by Australia (908), United States (560), Vietnam (432), France (431) and Japan (397). China was not even on the list.

Cambodia is benefiting from trade with China

Wrong. Cambodia has never relied on trade with China. Trade with China has always been a deficit for Cambodia. The trade volume between Cambodia and China was valued at $5.8 billion in 2017 and Cambodia’s exports to China has not even reached $1 billion, making the trade deficit for Cambodia larger than 80 percent vis-à-vis China.

While in 2018 China agreed to increase Cambodia’s rice import quota to 300,000 tonnes, a deal was struck in 2014 that China would annually buy one million tonnes of Thai rice for five years.

Vietnam who is China’s strategic rival is actually one of the leading trading partners in Southeast Asia. In 2017, Vietnam-China bilateral trade stood at $93.69 billion.

There is a Khmer saying that goes, “you get angry with the cow but you hit the cart.” In this case, when the EU is displeased with China’s influence in Cambodia, and assumes that Cambodia is too much reliant on China, they instead decide to kill Cambodian jobs by introducing measures aimed at cutting down EU–Cambodia trade.

Cambodian ports are being controlled and militarised by China

 

 

 

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Sihanoukville

Wrong. Some foreign pundits even mix up between two coastal provinces of Cambodia, namely Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces.

If this myth is aimed at Sihanoukville port, which is the only deep-water seaport in Cambodia, it is grossly wrong because technically speaking Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is almost under Japanese control. Japan has provided support to Sihanoukville Port for a long time. Starting with the 1999 Sihanoukville Port Urgent Rehabilitation Project, which was the first Japanese loan to Cambodia, JICA has provided continuous support for infrastructure and operations capacity building at the port through loans, grant aid and technical cooperation.

Japanese investors also hold the biggest percentage of shares in the Port’s public offering. More than 60 percent of the shares in the IPO were bought up by two Japanese institutional investors, one of them being the Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA. National investors now control 35.57 percent of the issued shares after the IPO, while foreign investors hold 64.43 percent – the largest of which was JICA.

As for another sea port at Koh Kong Province, it is being developed by China’s Tianjin Union Development Group (UDG) as part of its $3.8 billion Dara Sakor Beachside Resort project.

Asia Times and the Southern China Morning Post have been publishing articles insinuating militarisation of the port. As the saying goes, “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth.” Is it really true? Firstly, logically speaking, if it is a military port, it has to be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Defence. This means that, to become a militarised port, Cambodia needs to nationalise that private investment, which is definitely not a smart move for any pro-investment country. Secondly, if it is a deep sea port, it is generally an acceptable practice to receive military ships, which are not permanently based, on account of friendship promotion or even business service provision.

Take for instance, the operation of Logistics Group Western Pacific (COMLOG WESTPAC) and Navy Region Center Singapore (NRCS) in Singapore. According to a Naval Today article published on August 9, 2012, “While no US base exists in Singapore, the US Navy presence here dates back several decades and the Navy leases facilities from the Singaporean government. Today, the US military community in Singapore includes active duty, civilian personnel and family members, distributed among 15 commands.

“COMLOG WESTPAC was established at the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), Sembawang Terminal, in July 1992…. Established in 2007, NRCS provides administrative support to nine Navy, Army, Air Force and Joint commands in Singapore. It also manages 165 family and bachelor housing units and dozens of command, administrative and warehouse facilities.

“Additionally, COMLOG WESTPAC is 7th Fleet’s Theater Security Cooperation agent for Southeast Asia, promoting military-to-military relations and coordinating exercises such as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training.”

If the Asia Times and the South China Morning Post are anticipating that Cambodia is planning to provide such support to China like what Singapore is doing for the US, in terms of capacity, manpower and logistics, they are wrong. Cambodia is no way comparable to Singapore and still has a very long way to go. Since the colonial era, Cambodia has never been a major seaport. Most importantly, as an integral part of its foreign policy, Cambodia has never aspired to host a foreign military base regardless of foreign twisted perception.

Cambodia is providing privilege to Chinese investors

Wrong. Investment in Cambodia is not nationally labeled. The case in point is the comparison between two special economic zones with a similar name, Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) and Sihanoukville Port Special Economic Zone (SPSEZ).

SSEZ has been jointly developed by Chinese and Cambodian enterprises. Established in 2008, SSEZ boasts more than 100 predominantly Chinese enterprises, making it the biggest and most active SEZ in the country both in terms of size and occupancy. More than 16,000 people are employed in the industrial park. SSEZ is trying to attract 300 enterprises and grow to a total of 70,000 to 80,000 workers within the next five years.

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The Imposing Japan- built Neak Loeung bridge in Kandal- Prey Veng province

On the contrary, SPSEZ which is being developed by the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port Authority of Cambodia is just hosting three companies since the start of operations in 2012. The $33 million loan for building the SPSEZ came from Japan. The government is relying on Japanese expertise which in turn has set high ethical and environmental standards for investors. The harsh reality is that there is little interest among Japanese investors.

Book Review: The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society


 

January 12, 2018

 

 

By: Cyril Pereira

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

 

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective un-wisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

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Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E. O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

Beyond GDP


 

December 6, 2018

 

Beyond GDP

ttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/new-metrics-of-wellbeing-not-just-gdp-by-joseph-e-stiglitz-2018-12

What we measure affects what we do. If we focus only on material wellbeing – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.

 

INCHEON – Just under ten years ago, the International Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress issued its report,  Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up.The title summed it up: GDP is not a good measure of well-being. What we measure affects what we do, and if we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If we focus only on material well-being – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.

We were more than pleased with the reception of our report, which spurred an international movement of academics, civil society, and governments to construct and employ metrics that reflected a broader conception of wellbeing. The OECD has constructed a Better Life Index, containing a range of metrics that better reflect what constitutes and leads to wellbeing. It also supported a successor to the Commission, the High Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Last week, at the OECD’s sixth World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge, and Policy in Incheon, South Korea, the Group issued its report, Beyond GDP: Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance.

The new report highlights several topics, like trust and insecurity, which had been only briefly addressed by Mismeasuring Our Lives, and explores several others, like inequality and sustainability, more deeply. And it explains how inadequate metrics have led to deficient policies in many areas. Better indicators would have revealed the highly negative and possibly long-lasting effects of the deep post-2008 downturn on productivity and wellbeing, in which case policymakers might not have been so enamored of austerity, which lowered fiscal deficits, but reduced national wealth, properly measured, even more.

Political outcomes in the United States and many other countries in recent years have reflected the state of insecurity in which many ordinary citizens live, and to which GDP pays scant attention. A range of policies focused narrowly on GDP and fiscal prudence has fueled this insecurity. Consider the effects of pension “reforms” that force individuals to bear more risk, or of labor-market “reforms” that, in the name of boosting “flexibility,” weaken workers’ bargaining position by giving employers more freedom to fire them, leading in turn to lower wages and more insecurity. Better metrics would, at the minimum, weigh these costs against the benefits, possibly compelling policymakers to accompany such changes with others that enhance security and equality.

Spurred on by Scotland, a small group of countries has now formed the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. The hope is that governments putting wellbeing at the center of their agenda will redirect their budgets accordingly. For example, a New Zealand government focused on well-being would direct more of its attention and resources to childhood poverty.

Better metrics would also become an important diagnostic tool, helping countries both identify problems before matters spiral out of control and select the right tools to address them. Had the US, for example, focused more on health, rather than just on GDP, the decline in life expectancy among those without a college education, and especially among those in America’s deindustrialized regions, would have been apparent years ago.

Likewise, metrics of equality of opportunity have only recently exposed the hypocrisy of America’s claim to be a land of opportunity: Yes, anyone can get ahead, so long as they are born of rich, white parents. The data reveal that the US is riddled with so-called inequality traps: Those born at the bottom are likely to remain there. If we are to eliminate these inequality traps, we first have to know that they exist, and then ascertain what creates and sustains them.

A little more than a quarter-century ago, US President Bill Clinton ran on a platform of “putting people first.” It is remarkable how difficult it is to do that, even in a democracy. Corporate and other special interests always seek to ensure that their interests come first. The massive US tax cut enacted by the Trump administration at this time last year is an example, par excellence. Ordinary people – the dwindling but still vast middle class – must bear a tax increase, and millions will lose health insurance, in order to finance a tax cut for billionaires and corporations.

If we want to put people first, we have to know what matters to them, what improves their wellbeing, and how we can supply more of whatever that is. The Beyond GDP measurement agenda will continue to play a critical role in helping us achieve these crucial goals.

 

Anwar as Port Dickson MP


September 20, 2018

 Anwar  as Port Dickson MP

Opinion  |

COMMENT | If Anwar Ibrahim does make the cut, invariably, as the Member of Parliament of Port Dickson, perhaps something akin to a healthy rivalry with Langkawi island MP Dr Mahathir Mohammad will be immediately triggered.

Key government events should be held in Langkawi, either to brainstorm on the revival of Malaysia, or, the various ministries. Such events are bound to catch on in Port Dickson, too, which is just a short distance away from Putrajaya.

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Indeed, high-end hotels, over the last 15 years, have also sprung up on Langkawi island (pic above), including the globally renowned Four Seasons. From time to time, it is not rare to see Indian families touring in huge numbers in Langkawi, too, often booking all their suites and rooms at one go.

Although Langkawi has also catered to the tourists of Scandinavia and Germany, who can often be seen basking in the sun, no discernible (foreign) presence has been seen at Port Dickson’s beaches as yet.

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Port Dickson Chalets

This is where Port Dickson has to stand out. Making its seas and shorelines pristine would make Port Dickson an ideal destination for families and international group tours beyond what has generally been provided to Malaysians.

If Anwar Ibrahim does somehow attract more Chinese to the beach town, the facilities in Port Dickson would have to be significantly scaled up – without which, the residents of Port Dickson would be looking at immense traffic bottlenecks and congestion.

Such negative externalities of tourism cannot be ruled completely. Polluted air, crowded bazaars, shortage of proper food and medical facilities, too, can all be a turn off to well-heeled Malaysian tourists.

In fact, without an iconic landmark, Port Dickson would be at a disadvantage, compared to Langkawi island. Langkawi, for example, hosts one of the longest cable cars in Southeast Asia that allows thousands of tourists to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the whole island.

Port Dickson, being flatter, is only known for its small-town feel and delicious local food. Perhaps a high tower should be built that would permit Port Dickson visitors to peer into the Straits of Malacca, and the thousands of ships that pass through it. It would seem that such a service should be introduced, in order to allow Malaysians to take a peek into what goes on in one of the busiest straits in the world.

The depths of the quays in Port Dickson should be constantly dredged and deepened, to allow bigger ships and vessels to berth, ideally ships that can ferry passengers across to Sumatera, Indonesia, which is just across the shores of Malaysia.

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To be sure, friendly ecological themes have to be worked into the grand schemes for all arrangements. Otherwise, a tourism scheme that is merely heavy on sheer human traffic alone is bound to create many side effects, beyond overcrowding, noise pollution, and inadequate waste disposal.

Either way, it is first time in the history of Malaysia that a reigning Prime Minister is an MP of a touristy constituency, indeed a tax-free zone to boot, which is Langkawi island. Should Anwar win the Port Dickson seat, the eighth prime minister of Malaysia would have to transform Port Dickson into a major township.

Port Klang was previously known as Port Swettenham, in recognition of the tenure of Resident Frank Swettenham in the 19th century. Over the years, Port Klang has morphed into a seafood attraction and high-density port.

No one knows if Port Dickson can become the hub of “bunkering,” a business that caters to refueling the ships and vessels that traverse through the Straits of Malacca.

If it does, this is an economic sector that is worth no less than US$1 billion a year. At least that is the current size of the bunkering business in Singapore, an idea that was ironically coined by Dr Mahathir previously.

It would help if Anwar Ibrahim could come up with such an industry-relevant solution, beyond merely looking to boost tourist numbers in Port Dickson.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Paradox of Globalization: Development Cooperation at Risk


August 22,  2018

The Paradox of Globalization: Development Cooperation at Risk

by Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/globalization-enhanced-development-cooperation/

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Protracted economic stagnation in rich countries continues to threaten the development prospects of poorer countries. Globalization and economic liberalization over the last few decades have integrated developing countries into the world economy, but now that very integration is becoming a threat as developing countries are shackled by the knock-on effects of the rich world’s troubles.
Trade interdependence at risk
As a consequence of increased global integration, growth in developing countries relies more than ever on access to international markets. That access is needed, not only to export products, but also to import food and other requirements. Interdependence nowadays, however asymmetric, is a two-way street, but with very different traffic flows.
Unfortunately, the trade effects of the crisis have been compounded by their impact on development cooperation efforts, which have been floundering lately. In 1969, OECD countries committed to devote 0.7% of their Gross National Income in official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. But the total in 2017 reached only $146.6 billion, or 0.31% of aggregate gross national income – less than half of what was promised.
In 2000, UN member states adopted the Millennium Development Goals to provide benchmarks for tackling world poverty, revised a decade and a half later with the successor Sustainable Development Goals. But all serious audits since show major shortfalls in international efforts to achieve the goals, a sober reminder of the need to step up efforts and meet longstanding international commitments, especially in the current global financial crisis.
Aid less forthcoming
Individual countries’ promises of aid to the least developed countries (LDCs) have fared no better, while the G-7 countries have failed to fulfill their pledges of debt forgiveness and aid for poorer countries that they have made at various summits over the decades.
At the turn of the century, development aid seemed to rise as a priority for richer countries. But, having declined precipitously following the Cold War’s end almost three decades ago, ODA flows only picked up after the 9/11 or September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Monterrey Consensus, the outcome of the 2002 first ever UN conference on Financing for Development, is now the major reference for international development financing.
But, perhaps more than ever before, much bilateral ODA remains ‘tied’, or used for donor government projects, rendering the prospects of national budgetary support more remote than ever. Tied aid requires the recipient country to spend the aid received in the donor country, often on overpriced goods and services or unnecessary technical assistance. Increasingly, ODA is being used to promote private corporate interests from the donor country itself through ostensible ‘public-private partnerships’ and other similar arrangements.
Not surprisingly, even International Monetary Fund staff have become increasingly critical of ODA, citing failure to contribute to economic growth. However, UN research shows that if blatantly politically-driven aid is excluded from consideration, the evidence points to a robust positive relationship. Despite recent efforts to enhance aid effectiveness, progress has been modest at best, not least because average project financing has fallen by more than two-thirds!
Debt
Debt is another side of the development dilemma. In the last decade, the joint IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative and its extension, the supplementary Multilateral Debt Relief initiative, made some progress on debt sustainability. But debt relief is still not treated as additional to ODA. The result is ‘double counting’ as what is first counted as a concessional loan is then booked again as a debt write-off.
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At the 2001 LDCs summit in Brussels, developed countries committed to providing 100% duty-free and quota-free (DFQF) access for LDC exports. But actual access is only available for 80% of products, and anything short of full DFQF allows importing countries to exclude the very products that LDCs can successfully export.
Unfortunately, many of the poorest countries have been unable to cope with unsustainable debt burdens following the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Meanwhile, there has been little progress towards an equitable and effective sovereign-debt workout framework despite the debilitating Argentine, Greek and other crises.
Technology gap
In addition to facing export obstacles, declining aid inflows, and unsustainable debt, the poorest countries remain far behind developed countries technologically. Affordable and equitable access to existing and new technologies is crucial for human progress and sustainable development in many areas, including food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The decline of public-sector research and agricultural-extension efforts, stronger intellectual-property claims and greater reliance on privately owned technologies have ominous implications, especially for the poor. The same is true for affordable access to essential medicines, on which progress remains modest.
An international survey in recent years found that such medicines were available in less than half of poor countries’ public facilities and less than two-thirds of private facilities. Meanwhile, median prices were almost thrice international reference prices in the public sector, and over six times as much in the private sector!
Thus, with the recent protracted stagnation in many rich countries, fiscal austerity measures, growing protectionism and other recent developments have made things worse for international development cooperation.
Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.