New Zealand Permanent Mission Geneva, Switzerland

ECOSOC Side event - 8 July 2013

Fragile Futures? Inclusive growth, jobs and youth post 2015

ECOSOC Side event sponsored by the Permanent Missions of New Zealand, the African Union and the Solomon Islands, Geneva, 8 July 2013.


In her introductory comments, New Zealand Ambassador Amanda Ellis noted that the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda identified peace and security as one of five critical ‘transformative shifts’, thus underlining the importance of the security/development nexus. She welcomed UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, a fellow New Zealander, who would provide a global perspective on the importance of creating long term development opportunities and sustainable pathways out of poverty.  She cited respected academician Paul Collier’s work on the poverty/conflict trap, which indicated that conflict-affected countries had much higher levels of poverty; an average of 53% of the population, compared to 21% in other countries.  Following Administrator Clark, the group was privileged to have representatives from the Pacific region, from  Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands, to discuss the lessons learned from their countries’ successful transitions. In the Solomon Islands, Ellis explained, a Pacific regional approach (RAMSI) had underpinned that success.  In Timor-Leste, the active role of Minister Pires in the ‘g7 plus’ group of fragile states was an illustration of a revolutionary approach to mutual support and sharing of good practice.  Ambassador Ehouzou of the African Union would close the presentations by discussing relevant examples from Africa, the continent that comprised the majority of the UN Security Council’s agenda. The investments needed to create long-term sustainable development were critical to achieving the shift from peace-keeping to peace building and maintenance.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark delivered the first key-note speech. ‘Fragility’ she argued, affected everyone in one form or another; even the world’s large emerging economies had had a year of slow economic growth, and this had a direct impact on people’s lives. Social unrest was also widespread; democracy was a good ‘shock absorber’, but where political and economic exclusion were combined unrest could boil over, and political transition was a bumpy, unpredictable road. Finally, natural disasters frequently affected developing countries with less resilience, and created a particular kind of physical fragility. The post-2015 development agenda was therefore relevant to all countries.

The 5 ‘transformative shifts’ in development policy articulated in the report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda were bold changes directly relevant to states affected by fragility. These states were the least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and required sustained support, delivered by new models of multi-dimensional and comprehensive partnerships, to address the root causes of conflict and lack of cohesion. The ‘g7 plus’ group chaired by Minister Pires aimed to foster a ‘New Deal’ of real security, justice and growth. The international community owed it to these countries to support their efforts.   Efforts to build inclusive growth had to focus on where the poor lived and worked, which was overwhelmingly in rural and agricultural areas. These areas had to become the focus for development efforts, for youth employment and job creation.

In introducing Timor-Leste’s Minister of Finance Emilia Pires, Solomon Islands Ambassador Moses Mosé described his country’s experience of devastating ethnic conflict during the 1990s; a conflict so overwhelming that the government became incapable of providing basic services to parts of the country, leading to the Solomons being labelled a ‘failed state’.  In July 2001, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, a partnership between the people and government of the Solomon Islands and 15 contributing Pacific countries, was deployed to restore law and order.  Ambassador Mosé expressed his particular thanks to Helen Clark, who authorised the deployment during her time as New Zealand’s Prime Minister. 10 years later, as the last military contingent was preparing to depart, the deployment’s achievements had been remarkable; law and order were greatly improved. The next challenge was to sustain these achievements.

In delivering the second keynote speech, Minister Pires explained that fragile states were increasingly sharing lessons learned, particularly about what not to do, in the transition away from conflict.  While World Bank and academic estimates suggested that building sustainable institutions took between 15 and 20 years, and that the transition from conflict to stable peace and growth around 59 years on average, Minister Pires was convinced it had to be done more quickly. 

When it became independent, Timor-Leste had been the darling of the donor community, receiving $8 billion of financial assistance between 1999 and 2007. In 2006, however, Timor-Leste had faced a serious crisis; what had gone wrong up to that point, she asked, and what had gone right afterwards?   When Timor-Leste’s army and police clashed violently, the only solution was to foster dialogue at all levels. If people could not talk to each other, violence tended to erupt, she argued.  Justice was essential, but in the absence of institutions, authorities had to be innovative about the models they used. Conciliation had been a useful model in the Timorese context, as well as looking back into the history of a crime to find the real source of the wrong.  The more fundamental explanation for Timor-Leste’s ability to move beyond the crisis was that the Timorese learned to take ownership for the country’s law and order.  After years during which others had been responsible for the country’s military and police support, Timor-Leste’s government realised that it had to take responsibility for the country’s security and lead, rather than be led by, its development partners.

This fundamental principle was a cornerstone of the New Deal developed by the ‘g7 plus’ group. The group’s approach centred on three principles: setting goals, focusing on priorities, and building trust. Fragile states needed to acknowledge their own fragility and tackle it honestly, rather than pretend the issues did not exist. Most importantly, it needed a shared vision to keep working towards.

The Timor-Leste government had also focused on creating jobs; it had started with labour-intensive $2 and $4 projects using only Timorese labour and centred on rural areas. Using local labour had the unexpected result of building ownership and social accountability for the quality of the projects’ outcomes.  A broader overriding problem, however, was government capacity. The Finance Ministry struggled to spend funds because the procurement rules were too complex, and 60% of the staff had only 3rd grade levels of numeracy. The solution was not to outsource but to invest, both in staff training and in automating procedures so that less staff time was involved. Timor-Leste had come a very long way since the crisis: it now enjoyed double-digit economic growth and had a government team in charge of fiscal and macro-economic policy.

African Union Ambassador Ehouzou provided closing remarks from an African perspective. Young Africans would take a job if one was offered to them, he argued, but would take a gun if one was offered instead. The development/security nexus was clear. Jobs required investment, and Africa needed FDI to move from a resource-extraction model to one of added-value industrialisation. Africa’s growth was impressive: 80% of African countries had growth greater than the global average, and by 2040, 50% of the world’s youth would be African. Development was reliant on adding value and on trade.  None of Africa’s four cotton-producing countries had working textile factories, and exporting raw cotton was no longer viable, so there was no social investment. Development had to come with trade, he argued, or Africa would miss its chance.

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