16 December 2012

Ethiopia: Quality Must Top Post-MDG Agenda


It is immediately after the end of the Great Depression that development became a buzz word in policy making. But, it took four solid decades of policy trial for the world to realise that mere declarations would not crack the password of underdevelopment.

And it is only in 2000 that a global consensus was reached to push the horizons of underdevelopment further and uplift half of the world's poor out of the cycle of destitution.

It is this latest global consensus that brought the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in to the scene. A set of development targets that governments of almost all of the least developed countries (LDCs) agreed to achieve in 15 years time, the MDGs served as a minimum development common ground. They have been the springboard of development policy making.

With the end of the MDG era fast approaching, the world has started a discussion on the way forward. As guardian to global interests, the United Nations has appointed a high-level panel on the issue to be chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron of United Kingdom (UK). The Panel, which has presidents ofIndonesiaandLiberiaas its members, would present a global roadmap for another era of development targeting in two months time.

Those in Ethiopian policy circles are also tinkering over the issue with a new venture by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MoFED, trying to consolidate local interests around the national agenda. Series of public discussion forums are being organised for the very purpose of crafting the national post-MDGs Agenda.

Yet, the debate over the issue is not vibrant. Rather, it is filled with the traditional development complacence that focuses on the quantitative achievements of the past 13 years. Little is also being said on the gaps of the MDGs.

True, the last decade has seen a remarkable achievement in terms of poverty reduction. The changes made in areas of education, health, water supply, sanitation, and women's empowerment were truly historic. It all goes against what has been the norm in the last 600 years.

Ethiopia's achievement has equally been remarkable. By way of embracing the MDGs within its development plans, the nation managed to provide its citizens with better services.

Poverty headcount, for example, has decreased from 49.5pc to 29.2pc between 1995 and 2011. Gross primary education enrolment is slowly inching to a universal level, currently standing at 95.9pc. A similarly impressive reduction has also been witnessed in child mortality with those under five and infant mortality rates falling to 101 and 45 per 1,000 children, respectively. Maternal mortality, HIV prevalence and access to safe drinking water are other fronts that significant leaps have been made.

By focusing on measurable targets, the MDGs era has inherently ignored quality. It settled for the easiest measurement as it avoids the subjective. Apparently, the weakness of the Agenda slowly infiltrated into local policy making, eventually causing national policy makers to become complacent.

Closer, the focus had all been on economic growth, a vital force behind both poverty reduction and public service provision. And the outcome has been impressive by any standard.

Average annual economic growth over the last nine years has been about 10.6pc, according to the latest World Bank Report on Ethiopian Economy. This has translated into a 15.9 percentage point reduction in poverty; poverty incidence in the country stayed at 29.6pc in 2010/11.

Yet, alike the global framework, the Ethiopian reality had largely been lopsided towards quantitative indicators. It gives less attention to quality of services.

By and large, the benefit of the global MDGs agenda has been making governments 'developmentally accountable' to their citizens. It put in place concrete indicators to measure the success and failure of states. Historic as it may be, it has also detached development from gross domestic product (GDP) expansion.

Little would have been achieved without GDP growth, however. All the more impressive progress thatEthiopiahas accomplished in service provision over the last 13 years is a result of the fast growth of the economy and the positive externalities thereof. Arguably, this has a lot to contribute to prove the policy priorities of theDevelopmentalStateright.

But this is not the whole story. It is only when the swirling wind of quantitative achievements is accounted with the barring effect of dismal quality service that a wholesome picture can be obtained.

For the many development players, the improvements in access are essential, though not sufficient, in and of themselves. That is exactly why their focus had largely been on the glass half-full.

It had been so, across the world. Global development players had been providing more focus on verifiable indicators. To their dismay, however, their effort brought little in the form of sustainable reforms.

An ending MDGs era would, then, mark an opportunity to push for such vital reforms in service delivery. It would also bring a chance to embrace new additions to the global set of public service goals.

No doubt that the era calls for quality of services. Sacrificing quality for quantity cannot be tolerated any more. A world witnessing a surge in people with higher incomes should rightly push for better quality provisions.

Hence, service provision indicators, from education to governance, have to be tailored towards the rather subjective but definitive role of quality. Such a focus would help streamline a more comprehensive framework for governmental transparency. It would also facilitate the global journey towards 'managing for development results.'

The journey beyond the MDGs ought to also be made different. So much as the last decade brought enough momentum in terms of inclusive economic growth, what seems to be at stake is sustaining the growth for yet another era of development targeting. Doing so would put the accomplishments of the MDGs era on solid ground.

Even then, two important threads will define the sustainability of the results achieved in the past 13 years. Creating a favourable environment for private sector development is one thread that will define the structural transformation of economies, includingEthiopia, and their ability to provide uninterrupted services. More definitive in the equation, however, is the willingness of governments to inculcate political competition.

After all, the MDGs era witnesses a missing political link. Only few governments have realised reforms in their administrations. As a result, competitive politics remains a rarity.

No different is the Ethiopian case. In addition to focusing on quality of services, the national Post-MDGs agenda has to include clear and measurable indicators about the offerings of the state for private sector development and competitive politics.

In purely economic terms, the stake at hand forEthiopiais largely about sustaining growth for an even longer period of time.

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