The New Development Agenda: the Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, word leaders adopted the 2030 Development Agenda – centered on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new development agenda will guide and inform the development path of countries post-2015. The SDGs envision placing people and the planet on a sustainable path by 2030. Whilst expanding on the ambitions of the previous Millennium Development Goals, relating to poverty reduction, improving health and educational standards, promoting gender equality, etc., the new development agenda places stronger emphasis on environmental sustainability, inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and democratic governance. The overarching framework of the Agenda rests on economic progress, underlined by strong environmental safeguards, and held together by the glue of ‘peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development’.
The 2030 Agenda straddles across multiple sectors and presents a holistic development framework through 17 Development Goals and 169 Targets. The Goals embrace the multi-dimensionality of human well-being and seeks to ensure the well-being of both present and future generations. They require an unequivocal departure from conventional development planning based on sectoral and segregated approaches, towards cross-sectoral and integrated approaches to planning as a vital aspect of development.
Sri Lanka has been a part of the global consultation process leading to the formulation of the 2030 Development Agenda. President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015 expressed Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the SDGs and Targets by 2030.
Learning from Sri Lanka’s MDGs Experience
Looking back at Sri Lanka’s experience in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the remarkable progress made by the country as a whole is widely appreciated. Sri Lanka achieved seven out of the eight MDGs by the target date. If we look at MDG Goal 1, Sri Lanka achieved the target of halving poverty seven years before the end point of 2015. The incidence of poverty at the national level declined from 26.1% in 1990-1991 to 6.7% in 2012-2013, although there are variations in the progress rates among the urban, rural and estate sectors as well as across geographical districts.
Amidst these successes, one cannot fail to note the striking regional disparities in the actual poverty levels. For example, in 2012, while the Poverty Headcount Index (PHI) in Colombo district was as low as 1.4%, it was relatively high in Nuwara Eliya, Polonnaruwa and Badulla districts with a PHI of 6.6%, 6.7% and 12.3% respectively. The districts in the North and East as well as Moneragala district had the highest levels of poverty, with a PHI that varied between19% to 28%.
Looking at MDG Goal 1, Indicator 1.7, the proportion of employed people below the poverty line or the working poor, the rate declined from 31% in 1990-1991 to 7.5% in 2009-2010 and even further to 5.8% in 2012-2013 for the country as a whole. This is a significant reduction at the national level. Nevertheless, levels remain markedly different across districts. While the rate of working poor remained significantly low in the districts of Western Province with Colombo recording the lowest rate at 1.2% followed by Gampaha and Kalutara at 1.6% and 2% respectively, the rate was relatively high in Badulla at 11%, Mannar at 14%, Batticaloa at 16.5% and Moneragala at 17.6%. It was highest in Mullaitivu at 23.2%.
Similar trends were recorded with regard to other MDG Goals and indicators as well. While satisfactory progress has been made at the national level, regional disparities clearly indicate the need for continuous monitoring and the focused attention of regional planners and policy makers.
The Importance of Localization
During the Global Consultations leading to the formulation of the 2030 Agenda, it came to light that a reason for uneven realization of MDGs among and within countries was due to the top down nature of their implementation. MDG implementation has been dictated by national governments when many of the component services essential to meeting the MDG targets, such as water provision, sanitation, primary healthcare, etc., are either services shared between the national and local governments or indeed the responsibility of sub-national/local governments.[ii] Review of MDGs demonstrated the need for a process of localization of the post-2015 Development Agenda, and the stronger engagement of local stakeholders as a precondition for the successful realization of its objectives.
Localization is a part of a strategy of implementation; it is a process of defining, implementing and monitoring strategies at the local level for achieving global, national and sub-national development targets.
As revealed during the global consultations,
- Local governments play a crucial role in linking key stakeholders in territorial development.
- At the local level, there are distinctive local cultures, traditional institutions and authority which provide a rich resource base from which development policies can draw knowledge, legitimacy and enhanced effectiveness.
- Importantly, in addition to many of the key services essential to meeting the proposed SDGs delivered at the local level, local authorities are in the best position to ensure that the needs of the local communities are understood and met and that development interventions ‘leaves no one behind’.
If one looks at SDG 4 which aims to enable everyone to study, learn and fulfill their potential, the important role to be played by local governments in achieving these targets becomes clearer.
- Education, particularly at primary level, is a direct responsibility of local governments in many countries, including Sri Lanka;
- Local governments are well placed to identify and tackle the barriers to school attendance in communities;
- Local governments can integrate technical and vocational training programmes into local economic development strategies, making sure training is valuable to labour market opportunities and needs in their locales;
- Local governments are particularly well placed to reach out to vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities and to ensure they have access to education and training that meets their needs.
Although Sri Lanka records a high net primary school enrolment ratio (above 95%) for both males and females in all the districts, the school attendance rates tend to decline significantly with age. School attendance of children between 15-17 years dropped to 80% and fell further to 60% for the 17-18 year age category with significant variations across the districts. Batticaloa district at 38% and Polonnaruwa district at 38.5% have the lowest percentage of 17-18 year olds in school. The highest percentage of children aged 17-18 attending school is in the districts of Kegalle and Kalutara at 75.7% and 72.3% respectively.
It has been submitted that the key reasons for high and skewed school drop-out rates was due to the uneven distribution of schools, regional disparities in school infrastructure facilities, and problems related to teacher deployment and training[viii]. The above mentioned reasons further emphasize that the intervention of sub-national authorities is vital in finding solutions to the context specific problems relating to school attendance.
The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda suggests a local, geographic approach to achievement of the Agenda. The Panel believes this can be done by disaggregating data by place, and giving local authorities a bigger role in setting priorities, executing plans, monitoring results, and engaging with local companies and communities. Geographically disaggregated data would allow sub-national inequalities to be identified and planning to be cognizant of different starting points and contexts, and for focused and effective allocation of resources to meet the development targets. It would also allow communities to participate in identifying solutions that are tailored to their needs, track progress at the local level, and hold their governments accountable.
Strengthening Local Capacities for Planning, Implementation and Monitoring of SDGs
While it is globally recognized that local governments have a unique role to play in planning, executing and monitoring of SDGs, in Sri Lanka, they are handicapped by,
- A lack of clearly defined devolved / decentralized authority;
- Diffused institutional and legal frameworks;
- Limited human and financial resources; and
- Weaknesses in data systems hindering effective target setting and monitoring.
To rectify these anomalies, sub-national governments should be capacitated with authority, resources and finances, as well as the institutional framework to define, deliver and monitor SDG targets and indicators, keeping in mind that subsidiarity and good governance at all levels are essential to implementing the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Sri Lanka is currently looking at the institutional architecture and modalities for implementing the SDGs. This and the ongoing constitutional reforms process provide good opportunities to explore options for localizing the SDGs, through strengthening sub-national bodies and capacities for greater control over planning, implementing and monitoring of SDGs.