By Prince Nwankwo, Owerri
Paper Presented By His Excellency Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Imo State – Nigerian Governor-Elect, At The 2019 Global Festival Of Action For Sustainable Development On 2nd – 4th May, 2019, At The World Conference Centre In Bonn, Germany.
“The Role of Parliamentarians in SDGs Monitoring”
I am very delighted and honoured to be invited to speak at this year’s Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development. This affords me an opportunity to share a few matters with you on the issue of advancing parliamentary participation in the implementation of the SDGs.
As a former presiding officer of parliament and now an elected Governor in the Executive branch, at the sub-national level, I participated actively in implementation of the MDGs in Nigeria, which has now dovetailed into the SDGs.
It is a universal characteristics of most parliament in the world to play the role of law-making, representation and oversight, as their basic functions.
2.The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), built on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), otherwise known as the Agenda 2030, represents the most practical and universal call to action to end global poverty, guarantee environmental sustainability, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
These Goals, including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities are all interconnected as success in one affects the others.
Let me stress that as politicians in developing countries, the goals are in tandem with our aspirations for the electorate, and dare I say in line with our national aspirations.
The SDGs are unique in that, they cover issues that affect us all. They reaffirm the global commitment to end poverty permanently everywhere.
They are ambitious in making sure no one is left behind. More importantly, they require us all to build a more sustainable, safer, more prosperous planet for all humanity.
It was Nelson Mandela, in his famous “Make Poverty History” speech who said, “Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times — times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation — that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.”….. “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.”
In Nigeria, at the level of the Executive branch, an office is specifically dedicated to monitoring and executing the mandate of the SDG’s. It is domiciled in the Office of the President, and headed by a Senior Special Assistant to the President.
This office monitors the implementation of the SDG goals in the country. At the Parliamentary level, there is a special Standing Committee in Nigeria’s House of Representatives that is specifically charged with responsibility for SDG matters.
Parliament has a huge role to play in resource allocation and budgeting. It has a responsibility to re-align budgetary funds to meet the SDG goals. In Nigeria, education, health, poverty eradication and infrastructure are critical sectors crying for more funding.
It is my considered view that it is not just enough to have a global agreement to end poverty and achieve the lofty goals and ideals enshrined in the SDG framework.
It is also very important that better resourced countries and institutions should step up their assistance and intervention to less developed and poorer countries of the world.
The number of out of school children in some African Countries must attract the attention of the more financially endowed countries and financial institutions.
That women and girls still die in their thousands during child birth is totally unacceptable and should shock the conscience of the world. That Malaria still kills millions of people in some countries of the world is a crying shame to humanity.
I can continue. Whereas these less resourced countries have primary responsibility to lift themselves out of these problems, they need more help. More urgent help, if the SDG’s would be attained by 2030 by a majority of the countries of the world.
Parliamentarians have a major role in liquidating poverty, hunger, illiteracy, decease and other social problems.
In Nigeria, the parliament enacted the Universal Basic Education Act, to ensure that no child is left behind by compulsorily making access to education possible, at the primary and secondary school level.
A recent legislation, National Healthcare Act, also tries to guarantee basic healthcare to the poorest Nigerians.
The parliament in Nigeria, has enacted so many other pro-poor legislations, and uses its appropriation power to tilt funding towards the needs of the poorest. But a lot of support are still required from the international community to make these initiatives successful.
As elected representatives of the people, parliamentarians have critical roles to play in driving forward people-oriented development that is reflective of and responsive to the needs of their constituents.
In recent decades, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of engaging parliamentarians in efforts to advance environmentally sensitive, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
Through their constitutional mandate, for example, in enacting legislation and overseeing government policies and programmes – including scrutinizing and approving the government budget and representing the views of their constituents-parliamentarians are valuable partners in ensuring the accountable, inclusive, participatory and transparent governance that is necessary to achieve sustainable development for all.
Recognizing the valuable contribution that parliamentarians can make to sustainable development is particularly critical as the world implements the Agenda 2030.
The pragmatic vision of the 2030 Agenda requires comprehensive political will, from the local through national to international levels. A parliamentary agenda for the monitoring of the SDGs should involve various strategies.
Following the adoption of the 17 goals, 169 targets and 232 indicators by the UN World body, each country parliament has a duty to domesticate the convention ratifying the adoption of this Agenda 2030 to suit its own local needs for implementation and effective monitoring.
Furthermore, they must play an essential role in integrating SDGs into corresponding laws or legal frameworks and ensuring the legislative implementation of SDGs.
Parliamentarians have a special interest in SDG 16, which is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.
Two targets from this goal are important to parliaments all over the world. Target 16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. Target 16.7: Ensure responsive inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels.
There are also other important targets, which are critical to the functioning of a democracy, particularly in developing counties. These include the Rule of law, access to information, Fundamental freedom and Justice. Parliaments still remain a very vigilant watchdog for the implementation and achievement of these goals and targets. Its role as a check on the Executive branch is of primary importance in sustaining democracy in most of our countries.
The duty of Parliamentarians in ensuring the implementation of the SDG programmes, policies and projects, will be through:
i. provision of multi-sectorial legal frameworks (including domestication of international conventions),
ii. establishment of institutions to drive them,
iii. Monitoring the implementation of the laws and operations of these institutions.
In doing these, the parliaments will use two of its major operative instrumentations, namely; budgeting and oversight. In budgeting, we must take into consideration the following:
i. Is there adequate funding for the various goals?
ii. Do the respective subheads meet SDG requirements?
iii. How do you address budgetary overlaps/constraints?
iv. How do you ensure that sectoral allocation of funds addresses the goals set out for that sector?
Parliaments are critical change agents, as they can translate the SDGs into laws, monitor the implementation through oversight activities and ensure the accountability of the government to the people.
They ensure that the national budgets reflect the SDGs. In Nigeria, at the period of implementation of the MDGs, a debt relief package was successfully executed between Nigeria and some of her creditors, the Paris Club worth about $18b USD and an overall reduction of Nigeria’s debt stock by $30b.
A major condition for the debt relief was the requirement that specific sums of money be dedicated in the national budgets yearly ($1b) to tackle poverty and pro-poor projects, and for social and economic wellbeing of Nigerians.
The debt relief gains are still featuring in the yearly Appropriation Acts in Nigeria, as specific financial resources are set aside every year to meet the SDGs. Parliament has been active in keeping to this programme as they were actively involved in the debt relief negotiations.
In exercise of its oversight functions, parliaments may engage in;
• Periodic site visits
• Data audit
• Public hearing/stakeholders engagement
• Dialogue with Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies
Monitoring SDG programs, policies and projects has its inherent peculiarities.
These are primarily as a result of the fact that the goals are spread out in various Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and so, require a lateral approach to monitoring them. Similarly, as parliamentarians represent different constituencies, the needs of their constituents may differ.
For instance, measures that may favour people in riverine areas may be at variance with the requirements of those from arid regions. You would therefore, require different approaches and emphasis to meet the needs of various areas.
In exercising its monitoring role, parliament should be actively involved in the report and review processes, such as the Voluntary National Review (VNR) processes of progress at national and sub-national levels.
Reports and recommendations from this exercise should usually be submitted to parliament. This can serve as benchmarks in the exercise of parliamentary oversight responsibilities.
In conclusion, I would say that the success of any nation in implementing the Agenda 2030 begins and ends with a committed and robust parliament whose responsibility starts with the domestication of the UN convention adopting the agenda,
making budgetary provisions for the relevant government agencies for implementation of SDGs programmes and also acting as a check to monitor the implementation of the programmes and projects for which funds were provided for.
Indeed no Nation can effectively achieve the SDGs by the year 2030 without the support and collaboration of the world’s oldest institution of government “the parliament”.
Finally, I recommend the words of Henry Ford to us all: “Coming together is a beginning; Staying together is progress; and working together is success”.
What we have started with the SDGs is a good beginning, which will lead to progress and will ultimately become successful.
It is only through parliamentary intervention, through legislative measures, that the success of the SDGs will be permanent and sustainable.