Millennium Goals: 'A Miserable Performance,' Mbeki Scolds UN Summit

Paula Fray

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 16 (IPS) - The United Nations World Summit 2005, originally billed as a review of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the world body in 2000, saw a discontented South African President Thabo Mbeki, who described poverty-fighting efforts towards those goals as "half- hearted, timid and tepid."

In his address to the General Assembly Thursday, Mbeki lamented the fact that the leaders of more than 170 nations had failed to make "decisive progress" on the "critical issue of the reform of the United Nations."

"The only saving grace with regard to this miserable performance," he said, is that the 59th General Assembly "reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen the United Nations with a view to enhancing its authority and efficiency, as well as its capacity to address effectively... the full range of challenges of our time."

Mbeki said the three-day summit, which ends Friday, had shown that "our approach to the challenge to commit and deploy the necessary resources for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals has been half-hearted, timid and tepid."

South Africa is known to be disenchanted with the watered-down outcomes document. "It is disappointing in many ways," said South African ambassador to the United Nations Dumisani Khumalo after the day's negotiations on Tuesday.

Eyes are now turning to the upcoming World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual general meeting and World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial talks in Hong Kong in December to deliver the impetus for fighting poverty which the summit has fallen short of delivering.

Speaking at a press conference earlier, rockstar-turned-anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof -- who gave the summit a mark of 4 out of 10 -- said a great leap forward must be implemented at the WTO trade talks in Hong Kong.

Asked to "name and shame" the countries who were the "spoilers" in the outcomes document negotiations, Geldof reflected on "the pornography of poverty that parades across our screen each night," saying it was not the responsibility of any one country.

"The shame is ours; the name is the world."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo described the outcomes as a "qualified success", saying some "expected a little bit more, particularly with the great leap forward we had at Gleneagles" -- a reference to the G8 Summit of the most powerful countries held in Scotland in July.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that among the milestones that need to be measured now are debt relief and trade negotiations. Pledging to make sure that the December WTO talks would be fruitful, Blair said they need to ensure "people understand that if we end up with failure in December, it will echo across the world."

In a statement issued Thursday, Kumi Naidoo chairman of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) also looked to the upcoming World Bank/IMF meetings.

"With 191 countries endorsing the G8 debt deal at the United Nations this week, it is crucial that the World Bank/IMF hear their collective voice, stop quibbling and cancel the debts of the poorest countries," he said.

"Delays in debt cancellation come at a high cost for the world's poorest countries and their people," said Naidoo. "Every dollar spent on crippling debt is a dollar not spent on food, education and fighting diseases".

African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka told IPS the summit had shown that there was commitment to the MDGs set out in 2000.

"The problems of Africa cannot be solved on the same day. It is a process," said Kaberuka, the former Rwandan Finance Minister who took the helm of the African Development Bank this month.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the World Bank announced that the executive directors have discussed the bank's "Africa Action Plan" to support African countries in their efforts to increase growth, tackle poverty and achieve the MDGs.

"Success in this effort depends both on developed countries and developing countries stepping up to their responsibilities. It is a matter of performance for assistance," said Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank.

On Wednesday, Leonor Magtolis Briones, representing Social Watch and acting on behalf of civil society groups at the summit, submitted a statement to the UN General Assembly calling on world leaders to live up to their promises.

"The Millennium Development Goals will not be reached by 2015," said Briones.

As a consequence of unfulfilled promises, "more than a billion people continue to live in absolute poverty. Girl children are not able to go to school, infant mortality rates remain high, mothers still die in childbirth, the HIV pandemic continues to escalate, the environment continues to be devastated, and global issues on trade, debt and official development assistance remain unresolved," said Briones.

"This General Assembly is not the time for more promises. It is time to fulfil old and new promises. The poor of the world, especially the women and children, cannot wait until 2015."

Mbeki said the summit had not made the necessary progress because it had not achieved "a security consensus".

"It is the poor of the world whose interests are best served by real and genuine respect for the fundamental proposition that we need the security consensus identified by the Outcomes Document. The actions of the rich and powerful strongly suggest that they are not in the least convinced that this 'security consensus' would serve their interests," said Mbeki.

"Thus they use their power to perpetuate the power imbalance in the ordering of global affairs. As a consequence of this, we have not made the progress of the reform of the UN that we should have. Because of that, we have the result that we have not achieved the required scale of resource transfer from those who have these resources, to empower the poor of the world to extricate themselves from their misery."

Simply put, said Mbeki, "the logic in the use of power is the reinforcement of the might of the powerful and therefore the perpetuation of the disempowerment of the powerless.

"This is the poisonous mixture that has given us the outcome that will issue from this Millennium Review Summit to the peoples of the world. We should not be surprised when these billions do not acclaim us as heroes and heroines," said Mbeki.

In a briefing prior to the summit, the South African government expressed confidence that it would meet the MDGs by 2015, outlining a number of achievements already reached.
The briefing noted that measures taken to eradicate poverty included social grants, an expanded public works programme and health initiatives.

However, concern was expressed about the quality of the baseline data being used which was from before the advent of democracy.

The Economic Commission for Africa report "The Millennium Development Goals in Africa: Progress and Challenges" notes that Africa fared the worst of the world's regions. "It saw the slowest progress overall and suffered reverses in crucial areas. In sub- Saharan Africa, the number of people living in extreme poverty (on one dollar a day or less) rose from 217 million in 1990 to 290 million in 2000, the majority of whom are women."

The report identifies South Africa as on track to halve poverty, achieve universal education, halt and reverse the incidence of tuberculosis and provide safe access to water.

South African civil society's response to the government's review centred on the consultative process. In a summary produced by a range of NGO, union and community groups, the movement expressed concerns that the MDGs were the barest minimum for a development programme.

Noting that civil society had been excluded from the drafting of the report, they called on the South African government to "establish a broad, truly consultative standing forum with civil society and labour to develop the MDGs further in our country, and to allow for the ongoing monitoring of our progress of the goals."

*This story was produced for the TerraViva Millennium Development Goals Journal.