MDGs gone like the wind

Editorial, Normal

The National – Wednesday, June 15, 2011

FOR a short while last year, a spark glowed briefly in the hearts of a few organisations, churches and a handful of dedicated people.
Most especially, it was a spark that seemed to catch fire with the young people of a certain settlement in Port Moresby near the Jackson Airport. It is often referred to as the ATS settlement, taking its name from the Air Transport Squadron that is based on the north side of the runway.
But, alas, it seems to only have been a brief spark. Then, as suddenly as it glowed bright, it fizzled out.
Now, we do not see or hear of it any more.
Ask the United Nations. It will tell you of the millennium development goals but, especially, the Stand UP Take Action global campaign that reached PNG last year and now, for all intent and purpose, seems dead.
The purpose of this global movement was to remind elected leaders to keep promises that governments of the world made in 2000 to live up to the eight millennium development goals.
The MDGs are a set of eight goals designed to address some of the most critical challenges facing the world, namely poverty and hunger, access to primary education, gender equality, child and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and major diseases like malaria and tuberculosis and environmental sustainability.
World leaders, including Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, in 2000 committed to achieving these goals by 2015.
In making this promise, they pledged to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty”.
Poverty was used to define not only lack of adequate food and nutrition, but also lack of access to basic services and to opportunities for people to improve their lives.
While other countries made significant progress in the early years, for PNG, the MDGs lived mostly in the planning books of the government, but not in the minds and hearts of politicians, bureaucrats, and citizens until the UN began the MDGs campaign in September 2009. Little action was taken to realise the MDGs, resulting in PNG’s poor performance.
 This prolonged neglect is showing in the country’s prevailing, and in some areas, worsening social indicators.
When the MDGs campaign began, a criticism it often met was that the MDGs are foreign, or belong to the UN. Yet, the MDGs are not high flying, political and global aims, far removed from Papua New Guinea circumstances.  Every single one is very real to the majority of this country’s citizens who struggle and grapple with its reality daily. Addressing every single one is central and critical to improving PNG’s development status.
Last year marked 10 years since the great promise.
It is a long time, enough time to see good progress. It certainly was a time when there was more money flowing into the country than ever before. A total of K6 billion over and above budgeted figures was received between 2004 and 2007, necessitating many supplementary budgets a year.
But for PNG, the picture last year was little different to what it was when it first reviewed its progress in 2004. The 2004 review had concluded that overall progress had been slow and, in some areas, had stagnated or even deteriorated, particularly in health.
 An MDG technical working group, set up to assist the government in preparing its report, concluded that PNG would be “very unlikely” to achieve the global targets by 2015.
It described the goals as “very demanding”,  “unrealistic” and “unachievable” and tailored the global targets to match the national context and realities and make them “realistic” and achievable”.
These tailored targets were incorporated these into the medium-term development strategy and the
national poverty reduction strategy.
A review of those national targets in 2009, and published in February this year although not widely available, concluded that  PNG is still off track on all  the global targets, and is also off track on  the national targets, even though these were set as realistic  and achievable five years ago.
This is unacceptable.
PNG has no excuse for this dismal performance and all blame must be placed where it rightly belongs – with the executive government of PNG.
All the great plans talked about today will never amount to much until and unless the MDGs are implemented.
Despite these setbacks, awareness finally entered the political, bureaucratic as well as citizens’ consciousness last year or so we thought. 
For a time, through the MDGS Civil Society Coalition with strong partners like the Salvation Army, PNG Media Council, Transparency International, Hope Worldwide and PNG Red Cross raised the flag of the MDGs. 
Now, as with all things that start with great fanfare in PNG, it has fizzled out.
Again, a great opportunity has flown past PNG.