Civil society groups challenge High Level Panel to abandon business as usual

Manila, 6 May 2013

 With the report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Agenda to be delivered to the UN in May, civil society groups are gravely concerned that the Panel’s report will not deliver the bold, visionary and transformative recommendations needed for a new paradigm of sustainable development.

In its communiqués to-date, issued after a series of meetings in New York, London, Monrovia and Bali, the HLP has repeatedly reinforced its belief in an “ambitious”, “transformative”, “people-centered” development agenda. However, civil society groups fear that such sentiments will be undercut by an HLP final report that will re-enshrine another generation of private sector-led, neoliberal development.

This concern is based on both the neoliberal influence evident in the make-up of the HLP itself, the lack of meaningful and transparent engagement with civil society groups, and the privileged and often undisclosed access granted to the private sector, for example through membership of government delegations.

A people-centered process to Post-2015?

Civil society has engaged in the HLP process because it hopes to help co-determine a truly transformative, people-centered new paradigm of sustainable development.  Instead, direct civil society input to the HLP has been limited to stakeholder outreach days when civil society representatives speaking on behalf of billions of people from diverse constituencies make brief, often three-minute, interventions in “townhall” meetings, followed by round tables often attended only by advisors to High-Level Panel members.

A series of consultations carried out across the world during the HLP process has been championed by the UN as an “unprecedented UN-led global conversation”. However, serious questions remain as to how global this conversation has been, and civil society is left guessing which of the many recommendations made in these consultations will find their way to the HLP report.

For many Southern CSOs, attendance at consultation and HLP meetings, and their corresponding CSO forums, has been restricted due to a lack of funding and difficulties in obtaining visas – leaving larger, Northern NGOs as the main representatives of the Southern poor. The CSO consultations processes have been largely dominated by Northern development NGOs and the platforms that they steer.

Online means for both attending and inputting to consultations may seem more accessible to a much larger population.  But the digital divide remains an insurmountable barrier for many grassroots groups, especially from the Global South

In addition to this, the CSO process for engagement with the HLP through its parallel forums and stakeholder outreach days has been inconsistent. For example, CSOs in Liberia reported a smooth process for the Monrovia CSO forum and stakeholder outreach day in which the African Working Group of CSOs worked cohesively with ready access to the Liberian government. However, the process in Bali was less successful. After the establishment of an Asian CSO Working Group to facilitate both the Global CSO Forum and the HLP’s stakeholder outreach day, Asian Working Group members were effectively sidelined from decision-making by the Indonesian government, which instead insisted on its own template for stakeholder “consultations” that it had already set in the December 2012.  This prevented a genuinely democratic, inclusive and effective CSO-led process of engagement with the HLP in Bali.

Indeed participants at the Bali HLP consultations were greeted with a large banner announcing “Global Partnership: A marriage of profit and sustainability”, revealing the emphasis on partnerships with business, not with civil society.

Civil society demands

The Campaign for Peoples Goals for Sustainable Development reiterates its call to the HLP to address the structural causes of inequality, poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation, and promote a paradigm of sustainability based on the principles of human rights, equality, self-determination, social, gender and ecological justice, and culturally sensitive approaches to development that value diversity.

Grassroots groups and social movements will be looking for recommendations in the HLP report that support a decisive redistribution of ownership, access and control over productive resources so that no one is denied the basis for living in dignity and freedom. Likewise they demand the democratization of state and social institutions so that communities and citizens, rather than markets can democratically set social goals and priorities. They demand a reorientation of production and consumption to meet people’s needs and human potentials within environmental limits rather than maximizing short-term profits. They underscore the need to promote a deeper respect and understanding of the symbiosis of people and the natural world instead of the valorization and commercialization of nature as mere resources and sinks.

Civil society expects the HLP to reverse previous trends in development policy: moving away from rolling back the state and prioritizing the private sector to ensuring that the state plays a central role in promoting development and is accountable to the people; abandoning the still expanding practice of Northern governments subsidizing corporations domiciled in their country, and envisaging public finance as a means for catalyzing private investment; ensuring development is no longer top-down and led by Northern governments and the vested interests that co-opt them, but becomes bottom-up and led by the Southern people who must be the chief architects and beneficiaries of sustainable development.

What next?

After all the consultations conducted by the HLP, they should now at least report back to civil society on the key recommendations that they have picked up from all these meetings and listen to feedback from civil society.  It is unacceptable at this late stage that CSOs are left in the dark as to the contents of the HLP report.

In the event that the HLP report reflects the priorities and perspectives of business above those of people directly affected by poverty and inequality, it risks losing the support of civil society. Moreover, it threatens the future of people and the planet.

Crucially the interests of private profit cannot supersede the rights of the people, especially those at the grassroots. They are the ones who must set and for whom sustainable development policy and practice must work – those who should be the most “eminent” people in the construction of a new development agenda.

If the character of development expressed by the HLP report is one of “business as usual”, the mistakes of the MDG process will not be learned from. The subsequent repetition of 30 years of failed development policy and practice will not be supported by civil society.

For more information, contact:

Paul Quintos, pquintos@iboninternational.org, +63 9175 490 412 (international)