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- Pacific Island countries need to commit to mechanisms for engaging civil society at the national level to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and report on them.
Speaking at the International Forum for National Platforms (IFP/Forus) roundtable meeting at the Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, last week, Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) Executive Director Emele Duituturaga said that regional spaces for CSO engagement do not necessarily guarantee spaces at the national levels.
She told the meeting that in 2012, with support from IFP/ Forus, PIANGO became actively involved in a global campaign called 'Beyond 2015' - to make the Post 2015 Agenda Ambitious and Transformative.
“Ambitious in leaving no one behind and transformative in the integration of social, economic and environmental priorities within one global agenda, and to be implemented through multi stakeholder partnerships, specifically the engagement of civil society,” she said.
“Through the 'Beyond 2015' campaign, we carried out advocacy activities in five Pacific Island countries with our national platforms – Fiji, Kiribati, PNG, Samoa and Solomon Islands. So, we became intimately aware and knowledgeable about what became Agenda 2030. Knowing it is a United Nations Agenda, we took advantage of opportunities to engage with ESCAP - the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific - the equivalent to ECLAC.”
Speaking from a civil society perspective on regional processes and how they can build a momentum for national implementation of Agenda 2030, Duituturaga said PIANGO would assess this on – voice, space, capacity and resourcing.
Voice and Space has been provided by ESCAP based in Bangkok, Thailand, which has for the fifth year, convened the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD).
“Since its inaugural session in 2014, the APFSD has brought governments, civil society, the private sector and other and other stakeholders together in preparing for the high-level political on sustainable development (HLPF), held annually in New York for the presentation of Voluntary National Reviews (VNR),” she added.
“By their own admission, ESCAP state that high levels of commitment and proactive action by CSOs in this region has boosted the quality of dialogue at the APFSD, the HLPF and other global forums and strengthened civil society organisations on the 2030 Agenda across the globe.”
Duituturaga said there is space for civil society voice at the regional ESCAP level and with a two-day CSO Forum facilitated and funded by ESCAP prior to and as part of the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) organised by civil society,
The Secretariat is represented by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development as the co-ordinator of the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism.
“So, this CSO engagement mechanism is established at the ESCAP regional level but there is no equivalent at the national level.”
Duituturaga said at the regional Pacific Islands Forum, “we have the Framework for Pacific regionalism which actively seeks the participation of civil society and citizens to make submissions to the Pacific leaders for priority regional issues.”
For the fourth year now, civil society has had a dialogue space with Pacific leaders at their annual meetings.
She said the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has a CSO engagement strategy and PIANGO has been on the regional SDG taskforce which produced the Pacific sustainable development strategy endorsed by Pacific leaders.
“But again, at the national level, there are no equivalent mechanisms and spaces,” she summed.
“So, our same governments who extend these spaces to civil society at the regional and global levels are the same governments who deny civil society these spaces at the national level. And because of this, civil society wait for governments to initiate state led SDG implementation and reporting.”
Duituturaga told the conference that the 2030 Agenda is about partnerships and that the implementation of the SDGs is not possible without partnerships between government, civil society, the private sector and engagement of its citizens.
“There has to be a whole of society approach. So, both civil society and governments need to capacity to engage in meaningful not token or controlling partnerships.
She said there was a desperate need to link what is going on in Bangkok and New York, meetings attended by State representatives and what they do back in their country at the very least in their capitals.
“So, state governments do not transfer CSO mechanisms at ESCAP and CSO ECOSOC accreditation to their national settings,” she added
“At the national level, we see that civil society has been engaging but largely on an ad hoc basis and with due respect, we have seen some governments establishing their own sponsored NGO bodies that toe the government line.”
Duituturaga said PIANGO, in realising the prerequisite need to engage with governments in order to effectively implement the SDGs, developed the SDG Barometer tool to gauge the relationship between civil society and government. The Barometer is a survey instrument with three-tier set of questions administered with our members as capacity assessment to strategise their policy influencing needs.
“The UN needs to focus on building the capacity of governments to effectively and meaningfully engage civil society at the national and subnational levels as partners to national implementing and reporting on the SDGs,” said, adding it was pleasing to note that ESCPAP and UNDESA officials understood this and are now conducting SDG and VNR workshops in the five sub-regions of Asia and the Pacific with national government officials and civil society representatives together.
Duituturaga assured the meeting that PIANGO would be involved in this training in Fiji at the end of September and “we will be raising this issue for discussion with our government counterparts”.
“There are simply no resources that we have seen to date for implementing the SDGs. Ironically, there is funding for meetings and more meetings to discuss and review but no funding to support and raise awareness and for implementation at national, subnational and local community levels,” she said.
Duituturaga was also involved in discussions on "Leadership in challenging times" and shared how IFP had helped to strengthen PIANGO's regional role at the conference.
The president of the Kiribati Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (KANGO), TereeaoTeingaiia, was part of the discussions which were to consider the current activities and to provide input on the future strategies and direction for the next 2020-2050 Strategic Plan for IFP/Forus.
Fiji Council of Social Services executive director Vani Catanasiga also facilitated the workshop on exchange of capacity development strategies at the meeting.
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