14 April 2008


14 April 2008
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Parliaments can translate democratic governance into gains for the poor,

Says Deputy Secretary-General to cape town meeting


Following are Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Cape Town, 13 April:

Allow me at the outset to thank the Government and the people of South Africa for your warm welcome.  Let me thank also the organizers of this meeting for making our stay comfortable.  I appreciate this opportunity to address this august Assembly on the critical involvement of parliaments in pushing back the frontiers of poverty and ensuring accountability in achieving the Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000.

Now that we have passed the midpoint to the 2015 target date for reaching these bold objectives, it’s time to look hard at what we’ve accomplished so far.

The results are mixed.  There has been progress, to be sure, but many countries remain off track.

Still, we can point to a number of lifesaving achievements.  Compared to the year 2000, 3 million more children now survive annually, 2 million more people are receiving treatment for AIDS, and millions more children are in school.  That’s speaking globally.

There has also been impressive progress in individual countries and regions on certain goals.   Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are just a few of the countries where public school enrolment is on the rise.  And Senegal is making major strides toward meeting the water and sanitation MDGs.  On health, Malawi has drastically reduced child mortality rates.  And across South Asia child survival rates have been raised through the implementation of massive vaccination campaigns.  In addition, countries around the world are demonstrating how the HIV epidemic can be contained.

We have also seen impressive progress in malaria control thanks to free bednets for families in Niger, Togo and Zambia.  And one of the most striking advances is the 91 per cent reduction in deaths caused by measles across Africa, as well as the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus in Viet Nam with the support of UNICEF and WHO.

Quick and significant progress is obviously possible.  Many countries are proving this.  And we know the ingredients for success.  Strong government leadership.  Good policies that support private investment.  And sound strategies for scaling up public investments.  The international community must back these favourable conditions with financial and technical assistance.

The time to do this is now.  There are millions of people trapped in extreme poverty, vulnerable to disease, prone to suffer the worst effects of climate change, and dying from preventable causes.  They need our urgent help.

This is especially true across large parts of Africa and in the least developed countries.  But even some of the fast-growing economies in South Asia face serious challenges in improving nutrition and reaching certain other Goals.  And this challenge is not getting any better.  Last week the World Bank has noted that rocketing food prices are causing acute problems of hunger in poor countries and have put back the fight against poverty by seven years!  This is tragic.  Obviously we cannot push back the frontiers of poverty without rigorous and concerted national and international action.  This is the time to act.

Our ambitious vision for a better world is still within reach, but we need all States to follow through on their commitments.  Developing countries, yes, but especially those which are already more developed.

To scale up efforts towards the implementation of the MDGs, the Secretary-General has launched two important initiatives.  First, he has established the MDG Africa Steering Group, which gathers an unprecedented group of Principals of the leading institutions dedicated to Africa’s development including the African Union Commission, the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the Africa Development Bank, the OECD, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund supported by United Nations Development Programme.  This group has recently endorsed a set of concrete measures aiming to advance the MDGs in Africa and supported the mobilization of financial resources to address the impact of food price increase affecting a number of countries in Africa.

Secondly, Secretary-General Ban, working together with the President of the General Assembly, has decided to convene world leaders at an MDG high-level event on 25 September in New York to raise global awareness and keep the momentum in support of the achievement of the Goals.

Parliaments are key to this process.  To achieve the MDGs, we need political will to manifest in legislation and budget allocations.  In developed countries in the North, parliaments should contribute to government efforts to honour their commitment to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross national income to official development assistance, whose latest figures are in steep decrease.

In the developing countries of the South, parliaments should not only be preoccupied by domestic issues.  They must seek to relate the local with what is taking place at the regional, as well as the global, level.  They must press to ensure that their governments mobilize resources, set strategies and adopt policies geared toward reaching the MDGs.  And they should participate in formulating poverty reduction strategies and monitoring efforts to carry them out.

The United Nations Millennium Campaign is working to develop a more systematic strategy for reaching out to parliamentarians to help ensure accountability for achieving the MDGs.  We are counting on you to make sure that the MDGs are included in parliamentary debates.  This will take on growing importance in the coming years.

And of course, the MDGs are linked to another issue that affects all of us:  climate change -- which has been identified as the defining challenge of our time.   As the latest Human Development Report notes, 40 per cent of the world’s population live in poverty and are unable to meet their daily basic needs.  And these 2.6 billion people are at risk to face first-hand the impacts of dangerous climate change and human development reversals.

When Secretary-General Ban visited the IPU in Geneva last July, he made a special plea for the IPU to continue galvanizing political support for the cause of mitigating climate change.

The plea is increasingly becoming urgent.  Indeed, the reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn that, unless we act, there will be serious consequences for humanity and the planet we inhabit.  Rising sea levels, more frequent and less predictable floods and droughts, and famines are only some of the extreme weather events which we are already facing and which are expected to worsen.

Yet we have been making progress.  At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali last December, all countries agreed to formally launch negotiations to craft a new international climate change agreement by the end of 2009.  This agreement will have to map out emission limitation commitments; provide for essential action to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change; and mobilize the necessary financing and technological innovations to these.  At the most recent talks in Bangkok earlier this month, negotiators have agreed on the work programme to move forward.  Now we need to do just that.

Now is when the real work begins, and given the magnitude of the challenge ahead, actors from across the spectrum -- not just government negotiators -- need to be involved.  Governments at the national and local level need to work closely with intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, the media, civil society and individuals from around the world.  As we seek to galvanize public opinion, parliaments are uniquely poised to assist in this global alliance for action.

Another important dimension of your work is what parliamentarians can do to foster good governance, which is an essential requirement for achieving the MDGs.  More than that, good governance is a value in its own right.

It requires a thriving civil society and a transparent and accountable public administration.

Respect for human rights is also essential to reaching the MDGs.  This year we are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This timeless document has a great deal in common with the Millennium Declaration.

The Universal Declaration has an article devoted to protecting the right of all people to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services.  The MDGs on poverty, hunger, child mortality, maternal health and safe water can all contribute to realizing this right.

Another clause in the Universal Declaration protects the right to education, which is directly covered by MDG 2, on achieving universal primary education, and MDG 4, on promoting gender equality in education and empowering women.

The article on the need for a social and international order that helps realize all of the rights spelled out in the Universal Declaration is echoed in the final MDG -- number 8, on global partnership for development geared towards achieving this.

Human rights and good governance go hand in hand.  They both cherish the values of freedom, solidarity, tolerance and respect.  Without these, we cannot hope to advance human development and overcome poverty.

This is where you come in, again.  Parliaments can translate democratic governance into gains for the poor.  Their members must not only hold Governments accountable, but also broaden an understanding of the scope of issues that Governments and countries must come to grips with.

The IPU is an important partner of the United Nations in the historic effort to reach the MDGs.  We can be proud of our joint work in a range of areas, like the iKNOW Politics online network that connects women candidates and leaders worldwide with the advice they need to be effective in office.

I hope that this fruitful partnership will continue to flourish in the years to come. And I look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations in the coming days so we can find ways to further ensure that parliamentarians and the United Nations join forces in the service of humanity.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.