INTERVIEW-New UN anti-poverty goals to focus on governance

by Alistair Scrutton | Reuters
Monday, 27 May 2013 09:19 GMT

Sweden's Minister of Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson talks to internally displaced women at the Qansahaley settlement camp in Dollow town along the Somalia-Ethiopia border in this photo from August 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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Societies with better governance and respect for human rights have, in general, fewer problems with extreme poverty, says Swedish minister Gunilla Carlsson

   STOCKHOLM - A U.N. panel studying how to move on from the Millennium Development Goals on reducing poverty may focus more on controversial issues like good governance in a move that could irk environmentalists demanding primacy on battling global warming, a panel member said.

    Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden's minister for international development, said the new targets - designed for the 15 years after the millennium goals "expire" in 2015 - could also emphasise the role of the private sector in helping economic development as well as the rights to freedom of information.

    "People (in Europe) will probably accuse us of not dealing well enough with environmental issues," Carlsson told Reuters in an interview.

    "But if you go to Africa they would say that this (approach) did not deal with the root causes (of poverty) which is violence, lack of access and equity to resources. They will, of course, also talk about the affect of climate change. But that will be lower on their list."

    The panel, chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is due to release its report to the U.N. Secretary General this week.

    The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include eight objectives from reducing absolute poverty to achieving universal primary education. Critics say many of the goals have not been met.

    "Societies with better governance, well functioning institutions and with respect for human rights - they in general have less problems with extreme poverty," said Carlsson, one of 27 members of the U.N. panel.

    "I think this is why we dare to talk about the need for better governance. That includes the U.N. and Stockholm city," the minister added in her office overlooking the city's old centre.

    "If you don't start with governance, you will most likely not deal with the other big challenge that is climate change, or levels of ground water, or pollution of the oceans."

    Carlsson, a minister in Sweden’s centre-right government, has proved controversial in her seven years at the helm of the foreign aid budget, focusing on turning around what she says had been a wasteful aid programme to one that prioritises “value for money”. 

    Her statements carry weight not just because she is one of the U.N. panel members but also due to Sweden’s image as a poster child for effective foreign aid. The country spends around 1 percent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid – one of the highest proportions in the world.

    While the original MDG goals were based on developing counties, the new framework will be less rooted in the idea of "rich" and "poor" countries, the minister said.

    "It's not what it was in 2000 when some guys just wrote (the MDGs) down and it was passed," said Carlsson. "It's a much more serious process."

    "They were very valuable goals," she added. "But it was like a bad conscious agenda. We were having good times. The G8 suddenly found out there were new kids on the block and there were pockets of poverty and we had to do something about it."  

    The panel is aiming at a more universal development agenda, recognising the huge changes brought by globalisation since 2000. The proposed goals include dealing with the challenges of migration and globalisation, as well as the impact of violence on societies.

    "It's up to the U.N. what they want to do with it, but we have put the stakes high, and we are not avoiding the question of governance," Carlsson said.

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