ECOSOC Ffd Forum – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

May 23, 2016 Economic and Social Council on Financing for Development Follow-up.

By Biplabi Shrestha, Senior Programme Officer, ARROW (@biplabis)

The inaugural Financing for Development (FfD) Forum was held from 18-20 April on the theme of “Financing for Sustainable Development: follow-up to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda”. The FfD Forum was mandated to address the follow up and review of the outcome of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the Means of Implementation (MoI) of Agenda 2030, both of which were adopted in 2015. The outcome of the FfD Forum will be fed into the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development taking place in July 2016.

The FfD forum began with presentations by heads of intergovernmental bodies as well as heads of institutions considered key for FfD. This was followed by interactive dialogues and a general segment consisting of roundtable discussions on all the action pillars of AAAA including:

1.     A global framework for FfD

2.     Domestic and international public resources

3.     Domestic and international private business and finance

4.     Debt and systemic issues

5.     Trade, science, technology, innovation and capacity building

6.     Data monitoring and follow-up

The intergovernmental sessions to negotiate the outcome document of the Forum took place parallel to the formal session. The forum was also informed by the 2016 report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on FfD.

Discussions, negotiations and debates on the draft outcome among the member states began more than a month before the forum along with strong inputs provided by other stakeholders including civil society. However the outcome of the 3-day forum was a deep disappointment, especially for the developing countries including the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), where achieving the goals of the SDGs, especially poverty eradication, is not possible without Official Development Assistance (ODA). It was a disappointment for civil society as well given that the outcome document does not address any substantive matter and is limited to just the logistics and process for the next forum. It is a missed opportunity, which could have addressed the issues that are most crucial for sustainable development.

The forum hence did not really move ahead with regards to advancing the 2030 agenda. On one hand it favored the arguments of the developed countries in every aspect and their unwillingness for a concrete substantive outcome document. On the other, the outcome document undermined the issues that were brought up by developing countries that are crucial for sustainable development

Why is the forum a missed opportunity?

“Not only it did not meet its potential usefulness, but it was a missed opportunity to move the implementation of FfD agreements forward. It fails to articulate clear mechanisms and steps for ensuring that concrete and decisive actions are taken towards realizing agreed aspirations.”[i]

The outcome document is limited to committing the implementation of AAAA, welcoming recommendations of interagency task force (IATG) for FFD and recognizing that SDGs as an integral part of global framework of the AAAA.  This should have been an opportunity to address issues that were not well reflected and left unaddressed, especially with regards to tax, debt, ODA and other systemic issues.

CSOs for FFD have expressed their dissatisfaction with the insufficient time that was given to envision and organise the forum and have criticized the failure to articulate clear mechanisms and actions that are crucial in order to realize agreed aspirations. According to third world network, “The stiff resistance from the developed countries have rendered the so called ‘inter-governmentally agreed’ outcome a meaningless document in terms of any clear content and without having outlined even a structure or a process for reviewing the FfD and the MOI for the 2030 Agenda.[ii]” In addition, the outcome document has also failed to reflect the contributions and deliberations that were made during the forum by different stakeholders including CSOs.

Why should we be concerned?

ARROW aligns with the analysis and recommendations made by CSOs for FFD. For an example, in order to prevent illicit financial flows and tax evasion, the CSOs are demanding for a fairer global tax system, which can be achieved through a creation of a global tax body. Prevention of illicit financial flows increases domestic resource mobilization including allocation of adequate resources to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all. It would also prevent a situation such as the Panama Papers, which according to the delegate from Panama at the Forum was, “not about a Panamanian problem, but a global one. More dangerously this inappropriate name fails to convey that financial misconduct is not the result of a single nation’s policies, but rather the consequence of an immoral global economy that is affecting the most vulnerable peoples of the world.” [iii]

In her presentation at the roundtable on Domestic and International Public Resources, CSO representative Savior Mwamba from Action Aid International highlighted that tax revenue and tax policy is crucial to developing countries’ ability to fulfill their human rights obligations including providing quality gender responsive public services such as health, education, water and sanitation.[iv]  Due to the current context leading to emerging refugee crises, developed countries have shifted the priorities of ODA. This will impact developing countries especially as many of them continue to rely on concessional finance to meet sustainable development needs including in health and education.

Prevention of illicit financial flows increases domestic resource mobilization including allocation of adequate resources to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all.

Similarly, private sector and Public Private Partnership (PPP) features prominently both in AAAA and all the discussions around FfD.  There is evidence, especially in the health sector, that privatization of the health sector and PPPs increase the gap between the poor and rich due to their profit-driven nature. Despite such realities, the shift of ODA priorities to finance PPPs will lead to debt crisis and drain public finances.[v]

Issues related to ODA have been contentious between the developed and the developing countries, with developed countries calling for emphasis on domestic resource mobilization. There is no substantive outcome around the ODA in the outcome document.

Another equally concerning factor is the unregulated function of private sectors and their voluntary commitments to sustainability. There should be a strong regulatory and accountability mechanisms in place for the private sector at all levels but most importantly in the health sector including for services for sexual and reproductive health which is fundamental to sustainable development. When the private sector is mandated with supporting public health care needs, it needs to uphold international quality of care standards and provide the full range of sexual and reproductive health services.[vi] Most importantly governments and international development actors should not shy away from their primary responsibility of peoples’ well being and overall development. The private sector should be welcomed only to complement public support, not to replace it.[vii]

Developed countries at the FfD Forum are more vocal than developing countries. At the Forum it was observed that there is an inadequate interest and resources allocated to address systemic issues such as gender inequality and SRHR though some developed countries have spoken in favor of gender equality and women’s empowerment. All the systemic issues related to tax, trade, and debt, if left unaddressed, will continue to be barrier in achieving gender equality and SRHR for all.  This will further be hampered by proliferating bilateral and regional free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA)[viii] which are legally binding but do not take into account human rights standards at any level.

Hence, as CSOs and advocates for SRHR, we should continue our efforts to follow up on the implementation of commitments to FfD at national, regional and international levels.

Moving forward

In order to ensure that the financing decisions at the international level are not harmful at country level, member states as well as CSOs, especially from developing countries, should be more engaging in the Ffd review and follow up processes at all levels. The CSOs of different social and economic sectors at the national level should be part of review and monitoring of the implementation of Addis Ababa Action Agenda  (AAAA) as well as other outcome documents of the FfD such as Doha and Monterrey conferences, in addition to the 2030 agenda. The outcome of this forum is further proof that there is urgency that “by next year, this forum needs to able to contribute meaningfully to the review of FfD and Means of Implementation deliverables. Being the key structural policy dimensions in the UN’s new development paradigm, these two areas are the Achilles heel of Agenda 2030.[ix]”

Here are some initial steps that are recommended especially for CSOs who are new to this process.

– Become familiar with the AAAA that was adopted in 2015 and analyze it in the national context, using a human rights framework, in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. Also find out more about the outcomes of the FfD conferences in Doha and Monterrey upon which the AAAA is built on.

– In order to be able to understand and be part of the process, continue to seek and demand information in simpler and non- technical forms. These should be done at all levels.

– Understand different issues related to FfD such as tax, debt, trade, domestic resources, private finance, ODA, gender equality, women’s empowerment, capacity development, technology transfer, systemic issues, etc. and analyze them using a human rights framework. It is crucial to understand discussions around these issues to analyze how decisions on them directly and indirectly impact lives of people at different levels.

– Monitor commitments made by our governments at all the conferences on FfD in Addis Ababa, Doha and Monterrey. Analyze the commitments in light of sustainable development of people and environment.

– Understand the inter-linkages between FfD and 2030 agenda on sustainable development and how they complement each other.

– Identify individuals and groups from CSOs who work on different issues related to FFD and discuss ways to synergize in order to explore intersectionality in terms of both impacts and efforts to work together for the mitigation of negative impacts.

– Stay updated about the annual FFD forum including dates, theme, programmes, etc.

– Be part of the CSO group for FfD in order to understand the larger picture of issues that affect us all including sexual and reproductive health.

– Identify government representatives both from the country and the UN mission who are attending the forum. If from the country, the representatives are usually from the Ministry of finance or planning commission or equivalents.

– Stay updated on issues related to trade, especially those such as the TPPA and your country’s position on them, their impact on women’s health and rights in general and their SRHR in particular. Support the movements against trade that are harmful to women’s health and rights.

– CSOs can participate in the forum through CSOs for FFD in different ways that can be explored and discussed around the time of the event.

– Seek information from governments at the country level as well as from the UN missions with regards to their involvement at the forum such as reporting, making statements, etc. Prepare a shadow report if the government report is not fully or at all reflective of the realities on the ground.

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[i] CSO FfD Group’s statement in response to inaugural forum on FFD follow-up
[ii] Third World Network (TWN): First FfD review forum fails to deliver meaningful outcomes
[iv] Kohonen, M. Wrap-up on the UN FfF Forum: Where do we go now?
[v] Kohonen, M. Wrap-up on the UN FfF Forum: Where do we go now?
[viii] Wake Up and Smell the TPPA
[ix] Third World Network (TWN): First FfD review forum fails to deliver meaningful outcomes

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