MY THOUGHTS AS A PARTICIPANT AT JULY 2017 HLPF VNR NEW YORK USA BY TOLA WINJOBI (PhD) NATIONAL COORDINATOR, CIVIL SOCIETY COALITION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND PRINCIPAL COORDINATOR, CAFSO-WRAG FOR DEVELOPMENT

Convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development was held from 10-19 July in and around the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA. The National Voluntary Report was mainly done in Room 4 of the UN while many side events took place within and around the premises. There was a ministerial declaration of the high-level segment of the 2017 session of the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum on sustainable development, convened under the auspices of the Council, submitted by the President of the Council, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe).It is interesting to note that the representatives of many CSOs across the globe were part of the process in spite of funding challenge apart from the fact that many were denied a visa to enter the US.

My reflections from the 2017 HLPF and shortcomings

HLPF is desirable as it is an opportunity for countries involved in VNR to show case their efforts in implementing SDGs in the past couple of months. It is also an opportunity for NGOs from these countries to hear directly from their political leaders some “lies” being told about the implementation of SDGs. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for NGOs to rebuff some of these “insincere” implementation commentaries because NGOs were preselected to make comments. However, HLPF though political in nature is good as NGOs can still hold their government accountable back home.

Something that stood out cutting across the NVR presentations in developing countries is the fact that many of them were really passionate about implementing SDGs in their countries but they shied away from the major challenges facing them; two of which are insecurity and corruption. For example, countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and even Somaliland are still battling with violent extremism as evident in the antics of Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Queda, etc destroying lives and property which ossifies smooth implementation and attainment of SDGs. Corruption has also become a dreaded disease seeping through the pores of the fabrics of each of those countries and ravaging it beyond repair. A shining example is the case of Nigeria where leadership of the Senate is enmeshed in high level corruption to the extent that they refused to confirm the appointment of Mr Ibrahim Magu the Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) because the latter is considered as a no nonsense man who would not condone the corrupt tendencies of the former who already have their graft case files with him.

There were some shortcomings some of which emanated from the participating VNR countries while some bother on UNDESA’s:

In the first case, many active NGOs were left behind in attending the HLPF/VNR as they couldn’t receive support from their home governments. This is for some obvious reasons; apart from governments’ usual complaints of “No money” to support their NGOs, many of them deliberately abandoned their NGOs presumptuously to prevent them from attending HLPF and therefore preventing them from seeing the naked SDGs implementation lies governments were telling to the UN during their presentations. UNDESA didn’t help matter as well as it couldn’t support the participation of many NGOs that would have been part of the HLPF. This was made worse by the inability of UNDESA to negotiate with USA Border Homeland Security or US embassies to effect or speed up their visa application process. There should be an improvement in this area otherwise this negates the spirit of the UN mantra “leave no one behind” as many couldn’t attend the HLPF due to visa denial.

In relation to participation by NGOs, many major NGOs and stakeholders were mere participants as their voice was not strong enough because of their meager number and the regimented role given them especially in asking specific questions. Major Groups and other Stakeholders should have been given more space to take the centre stage after each of the VNR presentation to review in-depth countries’ VNR so that NGOs from those countries would have the opportunity of making their informed comments on the presentations of their political leaders. Even the 11 July 2017 Major Groups and other Stakeholders official session were not all-inclusive as many NGOs couldn’t make it to the venue.

My thoughts/reflections on this year’s Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) and presentations at the HLPF

Some of the presentations were meaningful especially considering countries from the global north while countries from the global south still have many rivers to cross. Well, this is just the beginning; about sixteen months’ review into SDGs implementation. There is still room for improvements. At least it is an opportunity to show case to the world what they have been doing which was not done under MDGs. However, many of the presentations lacked content as they were mere political story telling. Some of the presenters didn’t seem to understand the import and intendment of the voluntary review. Some in deed lacked focus. Some made a general presentation. Some surprisingly were still referring to SDGs as MDGs!

I am pained by the lack of the capacity of NGOs in various countries of the NVR to make shadow reports against the governments’ reports. There should have been specific funds to be provided by UNDESA, UN SDG Action Campaign, and UNDP to support the shadow reports by CSOs that have the capacity to hold the shadow reports. This would have given a balanced reporting as we were being fed with tissue of lies by governments from developing countries as many of them obviously hadn’t prepared well for the VNR before they promised to undertake the VNR. An example is the case of Nigeria where the report presented is nothing but the charade to impress the whole world that something is happening in SDGs implementation in Nigeria. The SDG Private Sector Group initiative is a deceit as those businessmen are not accessible to other stakeholders like CSOs who have been trying to get them involved in their activities in Nigeria. Also, looking at the report, there is a lack of understanding about the expectation of UN on countries reporting VNR. Nigeria, for example, reported across all the goals rather than considering specific goals (like expected Goals1,2,3,5,9, and 14) thus making the whole report looking like a political narration that lacks content. Solution to this anomaly is support to CSOs’ shadow reports across the VNR countries. And these shadow reports should be presented immediately after each country VNR presentation so that people won’t lose steam of the nexus between the two reports. In addition, the shadow reports should place on UNDESA, UN SDG Action Campaign and countries’ websites in the spirit of openness.

My thoughts on this year’s HLPF Ministerial Declaration

I personally praise the efforts of the UN in its commitment towards eradicating poverty of the critical masses of the citizens namely “children, adolescents, youth, persons with disabilities (of whom more than 80 per cent live in poverty), people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons, migrants and peoples living in areas affected by complex humanitarian emergencies, and peoples in areas affected by terrorism and conflict”. I only hope this is not a mere political declaration that no one could hold UN accountable to! However, I am concerned about the shrinking role of the link-agent between the governments and the critical masses of the people. Making contributions in other fora, I lamented that the role of civil society has been further decimated especially in follow up, review and implementation of the SDGs with the text of the Ministerial Declaration. The HLPF Ministerial Declaration does not see civil society as link agent and partners in progress. As a result, SDGs monitoring process would be impaired.

The text of the Ministerial Declaration seems to underplay the interlink of the three pillars of sustainable development including environmental, social and economic pillars which hinges on realization of Agenda 2030. Though reference was made to Climate Change the issue of the environment including the role of biodiversity and healthy environment for realization of poverty eradication was not enhanced in the declaration.

Feedback on the TAP Network’s events/workshops at the 2017 HLPF

TAP Network’s events and workshops were useful and an eye opener to understanding SDG 16. I was part of many of those workshops and side events such as TAP Network Strategy and Networking Luncheon on 13th July; Beyond VNRs: Global Workshop on Civil Society Parallel Reports for SDGs 16 on the 14th July at UN Church Centre; and in particular SGD16 and Justice, National Civil Society Advocacy Workshop held on the 15th of July at World Vision International Office.

The July 14 Workshop was useful as it was an opportunity to learn from other colleagues the challenges facing them and how they had been tackling them. It was a also a rallying point for meeting CSO members of Network  in other countries and in my own country for the first time. Meeting some members of TAP Network from my own country shows how vast Nigeria is to the extent that it is a challenge meeting together.

However, there is the need for improvement in such workshop next time. .

  1. There was not enough time for members to interact and make contributions at the workshop. There was so much for me to discuss but the time allocated to me was too limited.
  2. The content of the workshop was not well enhanced perhaps due to the same factor – time – as many aspects were left untouched.
  3. The workshop was not participatory enough while what we experienced was highly theoretical rather than being practical. Other elements of advocacy such as Advocacy Steps and Role Play should have been introduced.
  4. Goal 16 Advocacy Toolkit is good but needs improvement. Central to the challenges facing African TAP Members is fundraising which could find a chapter in the toolkit while under “Helpful links” there could be a links to funding agencies for Goal 16. There could also be some sample advocacy letters and shadow report which TAP members could adapt in their various countries.
  5. I advise that TAP Secretariat should relate to existing member network/coalitions especially network or coalition founded for the purpose of monitoring SDGs rather than individual NGOs in respective countries as the work of TAP Network can easily be enhanced by a coalition or network not by an individual NGO that doesn’t have followership. Result abounds when working together in unity.