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WORLD: Better Global and Local Governance Keys for LDCs

Claire Ngozo

ISTANBUL, May 10 2011 (IPS) - The world’s poorest citizens must struggle for more democratic governance and demand that their leaders fulfill their duties and responsibilities if their countries are to graduate from the group of 48 least developed countries, say civil society representatives.

More than 8,000 people – representatives of governments, international agencies, development partners and civil society – are attending the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), outlining a plan to lessen the burden of poverty, hunger and disease on the world’s most vulnerable people.

Speaking to delegates, Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said LDCs need to take ownership of and primary responsibility for their own development.

“The European Union underlines the interdependence of progress in the LDCs with human rights, gender equality, democracy and good governance as well as peace and security,” said Barroso.

The private sector also has a crucial role to play in reducing the vulnerability of LDCs, according to Barroso. “They have a huge impact of people’s lives through generating wealth and employment.”

But Demba Moussa Dembélé, a member of the Civil Society Steering Committee of LDC-IV, said developed countries had failed to meet their pledges of support to LDCs, especially in terms of official development assistance.


He also charged international finance institutions with being primarily concerned with cost-effectiveness and ability to repay loans.

“LDC governments are not free to design their own financial policies that suit their priorities. The IMF and World Bank still have a huge say on how economies in the LDCs should be run,” Dembélé told IPS.

Dembélé, who is the director of the African Forum on Alternatives, said the Brussels Programme of Action, drawn up at the previous LDC conference in 2001, failed to recognise the sovereignty of LDC states and did not manage to create enough jobs for LDC citizens. The world’s poorest countries have been unable to gain a foothold in international trade, mobilise sufficient resources for development, or feed their populations.

Hunger remains a major concern in the least developed countries. The World Food Programme indicates that 12 out of 16 hunger hotspot countries are LDCs.

“No efforts were made to create subsidies for local farmers in the LDCs and they toil to feed themselves,” said Dembélé.

The challenges facing LDCs have only grown since 2001, with fragile progress at the start of the decade reversed by factors such as the global financial crisis and the rising cost of food and fuel. Increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters have also played a role, according to the civil society forum.

But armed conflict, autocratic leadership and gender inequality – for example denying women and girls equal access to education or health care – have only weakened least developed countries’ efforts to build productive economies and provide basic services.

Civil society’s vision of the way forward is contained in a report launched in Istanbul on May 8, titled “A World without LDCs”, which outlines an ambitious plan of action to lift the LDCs out of poverty and vulnerability.

Some of the recommendations being promoted by the civil society group include strengthening domestic economies by increasing democratic ownership and control of resources, setting up progressive domestic and international tax and tariff regimes and ensuring 100 percent duty and quota-free market access for LDC exports to the Rich World.

“There is need to improve global governance by setting up a global economic council under the auspices of the U.N. and carry out massive overhaul of international institutions,” said Arjun Karki, the spokesperson for the civil society forum at LDC-IV.

The leading social activist and development practitioner also echoed Barroso’s emphasis on governance within individual LDCs. “Citizens must be closely involved in the follow up and monitoring of the Istanbul Plan of Action if it is to succeed.”

 
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