For Our Mutual Benefit: A Broadened Dialogue for Development Results

November 23, 2012

By Minh H. Pham

Today, as senior representatives of the Government and its development partners gather at the Round Table Implementation Meeting (RTIM) 2012, we will focus again on finding practical and effective ways of improving strategic development results in Lao PDR. Critically, the annual discussion will witness a key difference this year, with a significant broadening of participation.

This year’s RTIM, with the theme of “Partnerships for More Effective Development Results,” will see a number of representatives of national Non-Profit Associations (NPAs) taking part for the first time. This is an important step toward in fostering the engagement of all Lao people in the development debate. Since last year, when it started registering NPAs, the Government has approved around 100. In all, this brings an important new dimension in making strides toward more effective cooperation for sustainable development and an inclusive society.

Participation of civil society in public forums remains at an early stage in the country, and misunderstandings can occur. We commend the Government for this confidence- and trust-building initiative, which will lead to a frank but constructive and healthy dialogue. International non-Government organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, meanwhile, will continue their participation as already important and respected partners in development cooperation.

We also commend the Government for inviting H.E. Dr. Somkot Mangnomek, Governor of Xieng Khouang Province, to offer an on-the-ground view of implementation of the second year of the 7th National Socio Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) in Xieng Khouang. This likewise represents an important first for the RTIM with the implementation of the Samsang pilot on devolution of responsibilities to sub-national governments (“the Three Builds”), an exciting new item on our agenda. Development partners were happy last May to visit Xieng Khouang Province and to see for themselves some of the ways in which we can improve our collaboration in support of local-level development.

Such engagement of new partners should permeate throughout all the issues that we will discuss today, much in the same spirit as Lao PDR successfully promoted meaningful cooperation between continents at the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane earlier this month.

At today’s RTIM, we will assess progress in a few critical areas of national development that are relevant to the attainment of the core national goals of achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2020. The Government has already made a number of important achievements in sustaining sound macroeconomic management in a difficult global setting, and high levels of economic growth continue, associated with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

At the same time, significant challenges remain. Solid and steady progress has occurred with regard to a number of important MDG indicators, but four of the MDGs in Lao PDR remain off-track in some aspects. These indicators appear not to have moved enough in a positive direction, according to the latest data from the Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS) 2012. This is reflective of widening inequalities across the country, which must be urgently addressed.  Importantly, the overarching MDG1 on poverty and hunger is off-track with regard to food and nutrition security. Among other initiatives, this still requires a designated lead institution with the mandate and authority to coordinate inter-sectoral interventions and to monitor progress on these issues.

Also off-track are MDG2 on universal primary education, with regard to repetition and dropout rates, and to making progress with adult literacy. MDG5, on maternal mortality, shows that despite notable progress, these rates remain among the highest in the region at 357 per 100,000 live births. Lastly, MDG7, on environmental sustainability, faces considerable challenges in reversing the rates of biodiversity loss and forest cover.

Related to many of these issues is a topic that came up at last year’s RTIM as well, that of land management, especially in relation to the impact of FDI. We welcome that these issues are being reviewed, under the leadership of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MoNRE). Although a timeline has been set for adoption of a new land policy by the end of the year, we encourage the Government to take the necessary time to enrich this through full consultations. In turn, a quality land policy will then serve as the basis for development of a land-use strategy backed by a legal framework to ensure enforcement and compliance.

Land is particularly important because it represents a nexus of competing interests, for example, FDI versus livelihoods of rural communities. Because policymaking is about taking tough decisions, deciding how to balance these interests will require the full participation of all sides, reflecting concerns from a pro-poor perspective given the cultural, social and economic importance of land to people in rural areas.

Balanced development requires a genuine endeavour of all segments of society. Broadening participation in the dialogue between the Government, the development community and others will help all partners to commit to ambitious goals, in line with MDG8 on development cooperation. In turn, genuine partnerships can address the development needs of local people better, ensuring more effective development results – which is the goal of us all.

Minh H. Pham is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Lao PDR and the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme.

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