Post-MDG agenda: Exclusive update by ex-Haitian PM

Garry Conille, former prime minister of Haiti. Photo by: U.S. State Department

For Garry Conille, the United Nations high-level panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 development agenda will “go down in history as one of the most consultative processes ever.”

The former prime minister of Haiti is currently a special advisor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who co-chairs the panel.

While civil society and aid groups greeted the outcome of the panel’s last meeting  held in Bali, Indonesia, on March 27  with mixed reactions, Conille believes it has been “an incredible process” so far. Conille is optimistic, he told Devex, that the panel will be both “ambitious and bold” in its final recommendations, which are due to be released in May.

Looking forward, he said that any post-2015 development agenda would need to include practical and measurable goals and ideally, global ones.

He also stressed the importance of the emerging economies and the private sector in achieving broad consensus beyond aid, asserting that “countries want to graduate from aid and part of achieving that is better trade.”

Here are some excerpts from our conversation with Conille, captured last week in Brussels.

Have you been encouraged by the progress made with the HLP process so far?

Well, the process is very much ongoing. I work as an advisor for President Johnson in her role as co-chair of the high-level panel. It’s been an incredible experience. My sense is that this will probably go down in history as one of the most consultative processes ever. You’ve had outreach all over the world  basically all the panel members have done their own outreach, produced incredible papers, high-level events, intense discussions with civil society and the private sector, we’ve listened to views from the poor. So the panel has been very active in getting opinions and ideas of what should be included in the consultative agenda  and in that sense, I think it’s been an incredible success.

Of course, it makes the process a little bit harder because the difference between this and the [Millennium Development Goals] where a group of technical people sat in a room and chose the indicators  is that you want to involve and ensure that everybody owns the process … The risk is overload, but I think there’s a commitment from the panel to be ambitious and bold as was required by the [U.N.] Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and at the end of the day, it wants to be able to explain those strategic choices. So overall, it’s been an incredible process.

Do you think that there have been any missed opportunities?

I think many would agree that timing was a major concern. The panel has had a few months to put this together and so they may not have had the levels of discussion that they would have wanted to have. But in that sense we have a very strong secretariat that has done very well in combining views and ideas and putting them together.

So despite the challenge of time constraint  and the commitment of the different co-chairs to make sure that they have ample concentration  I think we’ll still have a good product.

How can we ensure that targets remain concrete, rather than only giving broad overarching visions?

I don’t know how far they will go in defining targets. At the last meeting in Monrovia, before Bali, there was an agreement that they would at least propose some priorities or goals. But how far they will go in terms of targets  I think this is one of the things they will be discussing at the next panel meeting in May.

But they do have a set of values and criteria for the priorities and goals they will be composing  one of them is that these goals be very practical, measurable and that they will influence humanity and its globality over the next 15 years.

So they’ll also be time-sensitive?

They’ll have to be and yes, this is one of the criteria. Again, they’re still trying to figure out how detailed they’re going to be, knowing that this report is only one input into the process: You have the intergovernmental process, too, that will continue until 2015, for example. So this is just one report and other partners are continuing their discussions on what can and should be included. I’m very optimistic that the HLP will come out with a very good report. I think they’ve been very thorough and they’ve worked very, very hard to get a good document together.

What happens after May is still anybody’s guess.

We’ve seen the emergence of new donors since the formulation of the MDGs in 2000. What is the influence of the BRICS on this new framework?

They’re very involved in all the processes. Through the HLP, they have representatives who sit and discuss with all the other panellists. And this is what makes the HLP a unique platform where you have so many different views. And of course you have a lot of people trying to reach a consensus that makes sense.

From that interaction, by the way, comes the requirement for the goals to be universal. We move away from the MDG-type framework, which was really a North-South issue, to an agenda that makes sense for the world. So it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the process.

What about the role of the private sector? Is there a move from aid towards trade?

My sense is that the panel itself is still trying to agree on what all of this would mean. I can tell you what we’re hearing from the consultations: Definitely there’s a consensus from most of the people we’ve heard from that countries want to graduate from aid and part of achieving that is better trade. So certainly  and I don’t know in what shape or form  this idea will be reflected.

But there has also been an important recognition that there needs to be an early involvement of the private sector  and not just in terms of trade, but also foreign direct investment and the key role it plays in creating jobs, technology transfer: all things that we understand today as being key components of achieving any objectives.

We have to make sure that economic growth doesn’t become the only objective. So far, in all the documents and communiques I’ve seen from the panel, they all start by saying that economic growth is required, but [that it is] not sufficient. The issue of inequality has been very big in the different fora where they’ve had consultations with civil society, for example, so my sense is that these issues will figure very prominently in the final report  but we’ll have to wait and see.

So, I think it’s going to be essential, but the innovative part of this process is the very strong participation of the private sector: There are hundreds of private companies all over the world who have a stake in this process. For example, they’re responsible for production and will have to change their behaviors to ensure that we manage the issues of climate change.

They’re the number ones involved in this. And the changes involved in the global markets will also influence their behaviors. So it’s very important that they’re involved  and they are involved  but we’ll have to wait over the next few weeks to see how this will all come out in an intelligent and coherent way in the final report.

With this broad consensus, is there a danger of producing a list of lowest common denominators and joining a race to the bottom?   

That’s certainly a risk throughout the process and the need to reach compromise requires us to have an all-inclusive document. That is a risk that I think everyone is concerned with.

But my hope is that the panel will be brave and bold and decide on a set of priorities  and then of course the political process will have to use it as it sees fit. But this is certainly a risk and one that all of us will have to work around.

I think one way to do that is that, after this process, all of the stakeholders will have to spend as much time on explaining their choices as they did on consultations to achieve their decisions. I think it’s a case of explaining to people why certain choices were made  it will go a long way towards getting people to accept these choices.

Will there be a “two-speed” agreement, or is the universal character of the post-2015 agenda essential to its success?

The panel is still struggling with this and figuring it out. My sense is that in the next few weeks they will do so. My own view is that this agenda has to make sense for all of us  every single person, country, organization, stakeholder  and there are ways to ensure that. As [former German] President [Horst] Köhler, who sits on the panel, often says, “We’re all in the same boat.” A two-speed effort would not bring the unity that’s necessary for us to face these challenges together, find a stake or interest and then contribute to its overall success.   

Can attention then perhaps turn back to “completing the job” and ensuring the success and the legacy of the current MDGs?

Everyone we’ve spoken to and all the panelists have said that we need to redouble efforts. We still have [around] 1,000 days left to get as close to achieving them as possible, and I think everyone’s committed to that. But there is also the realization that fragile states in particular will have difficulty in meeting at least some of the goals, even if they make progress in others. So that’s something we have to contend with and then see how we transition to the new agenda while keeping the unfinished agenda very much alive.

What are the chances of us avoiding another agenda-finding process in 13 to 15 years?

It will depend on so many factors. But the good thing  the positive thing  is that I’m seeing so much commitment, so much good will from so many different stakeholders. This gives us hope that we’re in a much more dynamic process. If we can make sure that we achieve the issue of ownership, then everybody feels concerned.

We need to understand that success can only happen if all of us contribute  I think we have a good chance of making really good progress. Now remember, even in the last 13 years, we have made a significant dent in poverty and the other MDGs because of this ownership. So now we need to build on that and my sense is that the different entities involved in this process are trying to do so.

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About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.