Interview: Prof. Armida Alisjahbana on SDGs

Picture: MCA-IndonesiaOn February 12, 2016, The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Bureau announced the establishment of an Independent Team of Advisors to support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prof. Armida Alisjahbana, a professor from Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitas Padjadjaran and also a former director of CEDS UNPAD is appointed as one of its members.

She previously served as Minister of National Development Planning / Head of the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) in Indonesia (2009-2014). She has worked extensively as a researcher, consultant, and expert for international organizations, such as the UNU Institute for Advanced Study in Tokyo, the World Bank, ADB, AusAID, the European Commission, and ILO. She also held the position of the co-chair of the Global Partnership (2013-2014) alongside Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Minister of Finance, Nigeria) and Ms. Justine Greening (Secretary of State for International Development, UK).

CEDS Researcher, Yangki Suara had a unique opportunity of speaking with Prof. Armida in her office at Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitas Padjadjaran, Jalan Cimandiri No. 6-8, Bandung, West Java. We discussed various topics related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), her experience as the Former co-chair of Global Partnership, and her current activities as a director of SDGs Center at Universitas Padjadjaran.

What will be the main task of the independent team of advisor to UN ECOSOC?

The Independent Team of Advisor to the UN ECOSOC consists of fifteen members including former president, former prime minister, former ministers, academia, and representative from civil society organization (CSO). This team led by two co-chairs, Mr. Juan Somavia of Chile (Former Director-General of International Labour Organisation/ILO) and Mr. Klaus Töpfer of Germany (Former Germany Federal Minister for the Environment). The main task of the team is to provide a recommendation to re-positioning the UN system to support the implementation of the Agenda 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs).

Why the UN System has to be re-positioned to support the implementation of the SDGs?

There are various reasons why the UN System has to be re-positioned toward the implementation of the SDGs. First, from the SDGs itself and from the existing structure of the UN. We know that SDGs is one of the most ambitious development agendas with its 17 goals and 169 targets in just 15 years. Including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, promoting sustainable economic growth, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, protecting oceans and forests, and strengthen global partnership for sustainable development. To successfully in achieving its SDGs, we can’t rely on the existing structure of the UN system and for some instances becoming more bureaucratic compare to the UN structure in the 1980s. Therefore, the re-positioning is needed to make sure that the new UN system can accommodate the needs to implement the global agenda while maintaining its good governance and its accountability.

Second, there has been a massive change in the global constellation in the past decade. For example, some developing countries are now classified as a member of emerging economies and least developed countries. If in the past we heavily rely on funding for development from developed countries (United States, Japan, United Kingdom), now some emerging economies have contributed to financing the global development agenda (e.g. China). In addition, new sources of funding also come from the collaboration between private sector and the government through public-private partnership, and also from private individuals and communities.

Lastly, there has been a growing number of fragile countries in the past decade as a result of an endless conflict, stretching from the Sub-Saharan region / Northern Africa (Libya, Egypt, Sudan) to the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Yemen) all the way to Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan). The new UN system is needed to bring peace and security to those regions and stay throughout the post-conflict recovery and development phase. In short, the UN system should be re-positioned to make it fit with SDGs.

When the recommendation of the independent teams will be discussed by the UN?

The work of the team will be submitted to the UN ECOSOC Bureau and it will be deliberated during the 2016 UN General Assembly in September this year. The agreements from this General Assembly will be the basis for making the new UN development system fit for Agenda 2030 (SDGs).

You also became one of the co-chairs for the Global Partnership between 2013 and 2014. Could you please explain the concept of the Global Partnership as well as its position in the SDGs?

During the Global Partnership meeting, Indonesia as one of the co-chairs of this meeting proposed the implementation of triangular cooperation as an important link between North-South and South-South cooperation facilitated by third actor from either multilateral organisations or developed countries. This platform can be used as a knowledge sharing not only between developed countries and developing countries (North-South), but also between developing countries itself (South-South) with a support and assistance from multilateral organisations or other develop countries. The co-chair from Nigeria (Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance) proposed the domestic resources mobilisation. The reason is very simple, the developing countries will not be able to go forward without domestic reforms, such as tax reform. This will increase state revenue from tax and it can reduce its dependency of foreign aid in building the country.

Ms. Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, co-chair from the UK suggested that it is also important to collaborate with private sector to transform developing countries into developed world, as we learned from the British experience.  During the meeting, we agreed that rather than carry on its own global agenda, the Global Partnership will take part in the existing Post-2015 Development Agenda under SDGs target number 17.

In your view, what is the biggest challenge in implementing SDGs in developing countries?

There are many challenges, especially for developing countries. First, data availability. The availability of data is a key to monitor the achievement of SDGs targets. Indonesia is very fortunate to have the Central Statistics Agency (Badan Pusat Statistik/BPS) as a reliable sources of statistical data provider in Indonesia. Second, the substance of the development agenda itself. A vast majority of developing countries is missing its MDGs which only consists of 8 goals, and now SDGs is coming up with more targets and indicators than MDGS. These are two biggest challenges in implementing SDGs in developing world.

What is your expectation regarding the implementation of SDGs in Indonesia?

Based on my experiences in the government from 2009 to 2014 (as a Minister of Development Planning / Head of BAPPENAS), it is important to highlight that the government needs to collaborate with various stakeholders, including academia, to achieve its MDGs targets, and now SDGs. Therefore, I would expect the government to invite the universities to play an active role in the implementation of SDGs in Indonesia. We will not stand idly waiting for the call, in the next few months, together with Dr. Arief Anshory Yusuf (Faculty of Economics and Business), Dr. Suzy Anna (Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences) and Ade Kadarisman, M.Sc, MT (Faculty of Communication), and with a support from Universitas Padjadjaran (UNPAD), we will launch the SDGs Center. Our hope is that the SDGs Center can contribute actively in the implementation of SDGs in Indonesia through various activities, including; academic studies, trainings, regular seminars and workshops by inviting experts from various disciplines on sustainable development.

Photo credit: MCA-Indonesia.


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Center for Economics and Development Studies is a research center under the Department of Economics, Padjadjaran University, Indonesia. A leading research institute in Indonesia in the area of economics and development studies.
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