SDGs - a path to move forward

Shamsul Alam   | Published: October 31, 2018 21:04:46

It has been three years since the global leaders agreed upon and adopted "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" on September 25, 2015. The agenda is built on the declared principle of people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnership, and a catchy motto "leave no one behind". Bangladesh government integrated the agenda into the national plan and policies.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) period and the end of sixth five year plan coincided, meaning that seventh five year plan and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implementation started at the same time. Hence, it was easier to integrate SDGs into the seventh plan. In fact, Bangladesh can be called an early starter of having the policy enabling framework. The highest political commitment from the government is undoubtedly there and driven tremendously by the success of the MDG period. Out of 21 MDG targets, 18 were attained. The Prime Minister received numerous accolades upon the achievement of reducing poverty and hunger, attaining gender parity and reducing child mortality although there were grey areas that need attention now even in SDGs period.

As SDGs are complex and all encompassing, they are theoretically ideal but in practical sense, many of the targets and indicators are hard to reflect into action. For example, out of 232 indicators, as of October 15, 2018, there are still 57 indicators categorised as tier III which means definitions for these indicators do not have established methodology. With inspiration from MDG period, the government has the aspiration of being one of the top performers in SDG period as well. Along with this determination on policy level, Bangladesh has accomplished some primary tasks necessary to reach SDGs. These are, integration into national plan, mapping of ministries by targets, data gap analysis for data revolution, SDG financing strategy and needs assessment, developing a Monitoring & Evaluation Framework, formulation of SDG Action Plan for five years. These are done at national level. However, they are not enough to get results of SDGs because targets need to be translated into action. Actions at local level play a significant part at implementing the targets and policy agenda. That is why General Economics Division (GED) proposed a localisation framework at Upazila level. Another localisation model is also being developed by Natore District Administration, which is called Natore Model of SDG localisation linking district and upazila with the advice of GED. If this model can be replicated with action plan in all districts of the country, the next step will be to review the progress of the plan and scale up resource mobilisation. And this can implementation. For this, action plan and administrative data at local level are needed. A milestone target for each five year plan such as 2020, 2025, 2030 with actions, programmes, activities and even change of policies if needed, can be set.

The next step for implementing the action plan and localisation is allocation of resources. General Economics Division of Bangladesh Planning Commission estimated that around US$ 928 billion will be needed in the SDG period with US$ 66 billion per annum on an average. Out of this amount, 42 per cent will come from private sector, 34 per cent from the government. Other sources include public private partnership (6.0 per cent), non-governmental organisations or NGOs (4.0 per cent), Foreign Direct Investment (10 per cent) and aid support (5.0 per cent). At present, 3.5 million people hold e-TINs. But the number of taxpayers is merely 1.6 million. This is rather disappointing for a country with total population of 160 million that already has a lower middle-income country status. The government targets to increase the number of registered taxpayers to 10 million by 2023. In addition, Value Added Tax and Supplementary Duty Act, 2012 must be enacted as soon as possible if the country wants to graduate from Least Development Country (LDC) status with domestic financial soundness to a developing country status by 2024 along with SDG implementation. The tax net should be broadened by encouraging taxpayers with minimal administrative process. Foreign direct investment may not pour into a country where tax-GDP ratio is the lowest in the world, indicating low resource base of the country for SDGs implementation and/or for massive economic growth.

Further, private sector has a crucial role to play in reaching SDGs, particularly by supplying resources. It is the main driver of growth and innovation, without which SDG will remain unrealised. CEO Guide to SDGs identified four pillars which are pivotal for understanding the implications and engagement of business. These are- (i) the risk of inaction which means doing nothing will entail huge cost; (ii) capturing opportunities or receiving benefits from business and SDG alignment; (iii) governance and transparency indicating the role of information; and finally, (iv) the need for collaboration, which is basically SDG 17 version of business-partnership.

One way that businesses can contribute to SDGs is by internalising negative externalities of carbon emission and environmental pollution. Hence, it is high time that businesses prepared their roadmap by attaining specific targets particularly related with Goal 13, climate actions.

The national budget of Bangladesh is made as much as possible in line with the five year plan. In light of this, budget needs to be fully aligned with sustainable goals agenda so as to respond to the highest political commitment of leadership. With respect to international cooperation, Economic Relations Division (ERD) must know the SDG priorities of the development partners. Out of 169 targets, 41 targets of SDGs are espoused to international cooperation. Now-a-days, agriculture gets less attention from development partners. Less than other soft issues like policy seminar, workshop, capacity building, raising awareness and so on. That does not mean that they are not necessary. Other sectors, including health education and building productive capacity, are fundamental. The development partners should review the progress to the SDG targets. They are propagating a 'platform approach' to go with implementation of SDGs.

Now let us talk about the role of NGO. There is no denying the fact that NGOs played a crucial role in changing social transformation of the country. Bangladesh has the largest number of NGOs in the world. Also, the country has all the big ones which are simultaneously working in nine other developing countries. In recent times, many civil society organisations have started raising their voice about the SDGs. But these voices are louder than actions on the ground. In this respect Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) can play a bigger role to streamline the NGOs according to SDG targets as they receive huge government finance for wholesaling credit monies to the NGOs.

Bangladesh is burdened with problems beyond its control such as climate change and disaster. According to Global Climate Risk Index 2018, Bangladesh was ranked the sixth country affected by extreme weather in the period between 1997 and 2016 (20 years). In the year 2016, losses in million US$ (Purchasing Power Parity) in Bangladesh was estimated to be US$1,104.6 million and the losses per unit GDP in per cent as 0.18. In a country study by World Bank (2010), the damage and losses from Cyclone Sidr accounted to US$ 1.7 billion which was 2.6 per cent of GDP in 2007. One estimate suggests that the cost to national economy resulted from natural disaster in terms of production forgone, loss of livelihood and infrastructure amounts to 0.5-1.0 per cent of GDP per annum over 2000s. Around 60 per cent of the population directly or indirectly relies on agriculture constituting roughly 15 per cent of GDP. It is estimated that the combined effect of climate change can reduce rice production by 3.90 per cent and a GDP loss by 3.10 percent each year.

According to the Economist, Dhaka ranks among the least liveable cities in the world, a result of long period unplanned urbanisation. Cities are the heart of growth and economic activities. Urbanisation will continue with the pace of economic development. Without proper planning and urban management, the future of this country's children may be doomed. Research shows that cities with green open space have tremendous impact on mental and physical health, which is the key to human productivity. Our competiveness level is improving but still needs considerable effort. Further, we have challenges in governance largely in delivering due services to the public.

All of these, if not addressed properly, can undermine the very progress of SDGs, which needs to be dealt with caution and patience. SDGs have given us a path on which to move forward. We must seize this opportunity by translating plans into implementable action.

Dr Shamsul Alam is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Bangladesh.





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