Securing the outcome of the UN LDC IV: The need for an independent monitoring mechanism: By Debapriya Bhattacharya and Syed Saifuddin Hossain

4 November 2011

The much awaited Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (UN LDC IV) concluded on 13 May 2011 after an eventful five-day summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Once again promises have been made and modalities have been proposed to address the development challenges of the LDCs. Indeed, articulation of a fresh and innovative partnership agreement between the LDCs and their development partners at the Istanbul Conference was a daunting challenge. No less important was devising mechanisms for ensuring effective delivery of the commitments made at the Conference. This was more so in view of the recognition of the critical fault lines in the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) relating to its weak implementation and monitoring mechanism (1). Thus, in order to ensure meaningful realisation of the UN LDC IV outcomes, the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) needs to be followed up with strong strategic focus, identification of delivery tools for specific targets, provision of necessary financial and other resources, as well as the establishment of a strengthened monitoring mechanism. Moreover, without demonstrated political will on the part of all concerned parties towards implementation of the UN LDC IV outcome, it will be almost impossible to deliver any of the targets agreed in Istanbul. Thus, an independent monitoring mechanism can emerge as a strong instrument for addressing these concerns.

The need for an independent monitoring mechanism

IPoA, like its predecessors, includes elements of an institutional mechanism, which is supposed to follow-up and review delivery of the goals and targets contained in the programme of action. The institutional mechanism is essentially anchored in the inter-governmental process of the UN, and allows for collaboration both within and beyond the UN development system. The implementation and review mechanisms of the IPoA mirror those of the BPoA with the inclusion of some additional elements. As for the additions, IPoA more explicitly mentions the role of the parliamentarians, private sector and civil society in relation to implementation, follow-up and monitoring. As a tool for implementation, improved integration of the IPoA into the aid, trade and development strategies of the development partners has also been urged. The Action Plan insists that the follow-up exercise should focus on actions rather than being limited simply to goals and targets. However, it is important to note that a number of implementation and monitoring related issues on mutual accountability, which figured in the earlier drafts of the outcome document, disappeared conspicuously from the final version. This owed particularly to objections from a number of important developed countries. One such issue related to greater involvement of the LDCs and other key stakeholders in the review mechanism to monitor the delivery of the commitments by the development partners.

As the additions introduced in the IPoA fall short of designing an efficient yet an all encompassing monitoring and implementation mechanism, one potential approach to address this shortcoming involves putting together an "independent" monitoring mechanism to operate as a "watchdog" on behalf of the global development community. This could complement the IPoA mechanism while at the same time bringing IPoA under wider public scrutiny and visibility. As is known, non-state actors were involved during the preparatory process of the UN LDC IV. Creation of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) for the UN LDC IV by the UN Secretary General recognised the role of ideas, knowledge and wisdom of the civil society in shaping the "deliverables" of the conference. Unfortunately, such features were not incorporated in the implementation process of the IPoA. However, the IPoA calls upon the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) to "continue awareness raising and advocacy works in favour of LDCs in partnership with UN, parliaments, civil society organisations (CSOs), media, and academia". An independent mechanism falls in line with these approaches and can contribute effectively to the official follow-up and review mechanism of the IPoA.

The emergence and consolidation of a number of high calibre development policy related think tanks across the world in the past decade allows us to think that the proposed monitoring mechanism can be institutionally serviced by dedicated non-government professionals. Especially so as they have access to real time data at the national level and provide high quality policy analyses, which feed effectively into the national policy-making process across a wide range of countries. Such institutions have often cooperated closely at the global level to perform oversight functions on behalf of the civil society. Thus, the proposal to establish a system to track and oversee the implementation of the Plan of Action for the LDCs is not entirely a novel endeavor but one based on positive experiences.

Key features of the proposed mechanism

Track II approach: The proposed mechanism is based on a network of policy-oriented think tanks, drawn from both developed and developing countries (including LDCs), which have demonstrated interest in development policies related to the LDCs. In other words, it is for the most part a Track II (non-government) initiative, although it does not exclude collaborative engagements with inter-governmental knowledge platforms. A secretariat could be set up at any of the participating institutions (in rotation) to facilitate the functions of the consortium. Similarly to the inter-governmental process, the network would maintain close liaison with all relevant agencies in order to ensure the availability of data and information necessary for analytical review of progress achieved by the IPoA. The process could be similar to the country review mechanisms carried out for assessment of achievements under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The objective of the approach should be to come up with additional insights rather than to duplicate the tasks of the official bodies.

Strategic and selective focus: The proposed initiative would not, however, produce regular, comprehensive reviews of the state of implementation of the IPoA. Rather it would strategically and selectively focus on certain key elements of the action programme. To this end, the initiative would be guided by the comparative advantage of the participating institutions of the network in terms of their capacity in the areas of research, dialogue and outreach. Such an approach ought to encourage expertise-specific issue selection and ensure high quality analytical output from the network.

Working relations with the inter-governmental process: In addition to maintaining a network among its members, it must be ensured that the independent monitoring mechanism enjoys good relations with the OHRLLS as well as the inter-governmental process and the concerned international/regional development agencies. This may take place by absorbing knowledge generated by the concerned agencies as well as by providing inputs generated through the network's own research and analysis. Such an initiative might also facilitate comparison of analytical results as well as may create development synergies.

International Peer Group: A group of eminent personalities with recognised credentials in the field of development might act as a Peer Group for the proposed initiative. The main function of the Peer Group would be to provide strategic guidance to the network and ensure the quality of its outputs. The experience of the EPG of the UN LDC IV might be studied to take lessons with a view to making the functioning of the Peer Group more effective.

Support from the development partners: The development partners, through their statements and association with the outcome of UN LDC IV, have reiterated their commitment to ensuring effective implementation of the IPoA. Indeed, the IPoA calls upon the private sector, parliamentarians and civil society to make suitable contributions so that the objectives of the IPoA are achieved. Thus, it may be justifiably expected that the development partners of the LDCs - both developed and developing countries - will extend substantive support to the proposed initiative. The role of the host country of the UN LDC IV, namely Turkey will be critical in this regard.

Major tasks of the proposed mechanism

Benchmarking of the initial condition: One of the initial tasks of the proposed mechanism would be to benchmark the relevant development indicators of the LDCs so that there would be no confusion in measurement of subsequent progress. In the same vein, the performance record of the major development partners would have to be registered so that their contribution could be measured.

Clarification of the targets of the IPoA: A large number of the goals and targets set out in the outcome document of the UN LDC IV are presented in a descriptive manner or in relation to the benchmark condition of a specific country (as with MDGs). With a view to making these targets measurable, the proposed mechanism would have to quantify them in a manner that is compatible with the data collection practices of concerned development agencies. This is expected to lead to transparency and accountability in the overall implementation process of the IPoA.

Establishing coherence: Once translated into quantifiable indicators, the process would facilitate establishing the level of coherence (and conflicts) between different targets mentioned in the IPoA. The process would further distinguish between input and output indicators. One would also expect that in establishing the level of coherence the process would clarify the interrelationship of the IPoA and other international development commitments (e.g. MDGs). Research would be undertaken to expose the causal relationships between various development variables in the context of LDCs.

Identification of data and information need: The proposed mechanism is expected to carry out an inventory of data and information and conduct situation-gap analysis. This may lead to generation of relevant data for assessing the delivery of the IPoA. While the task may be a difficult one, the impact of such an exercise on the overall monitoring of the IPoA implementation process is expected to be highly significant.

Preparation of periodic progress and analytical reports: The envisaged process should ultimately seek to produce biennial and mid-term reviews of the progress of the IPoA. These "shadow reports" would be widely disseminated among the LDC governments and international organisations prior to the consideration of the official reports from the inter-governmental process. As part of the process, the network should organise annual meetings to discuss the findings of the analytical review and research in the context of implementation of the IPoA. Outcome of these meetings is expected to feed in into the mid-term review process. Hopefully, these will also be used by the official process.

Conclusion

The level of domestic reform initiatives as well as fulfillments of the commitments made by the international development partners are crucial for LDCs in achieving the goals and targets identified in the IPoA. For these to be successful, a framework for transparency and accountability based on interaction with external stakeholders will be imperative. To this end, the proposed knowledge-based monitoring mechanism for the Istanbul outcome of the UN LDC IV could turn out to be one of the defining instruments.

Authors:

Debapriya Bhattacharya is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka. He served formerly as Bangladeshi Ambassador to the WTO and UN Offices in Geneva, and has held the post of Special Adviser on LDCs to the Secretary General of UNCTAD.

Syed Saifuddin Hossain is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This article is a summary of the paper Securing the Outcome of the UN LDC IV: The Need for an Independent Monitoring Mechanism.

For more information on the outcome of the UNLDC IV in Istanbul on 9-13 May read:

UN LDC Conference Endorses 10-Year Plan, But Criticised for Lack of Accountability Mechanisms, 18 May.

UN LDC Summit Kicks Off in Istanbul, 11 May.

1 The Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries was adopted for the Decade 2001-2010 at the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries that was held in 2001 in Brussels.

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