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SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Representative democracy failing us


SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Representative democracy failing us

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AT THE UNITED NATIONS yesterday governments adopted a UN resolution on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are intended to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will represent the major goals countries will be trying to achieve.

The SDGs have been negotiated over a three year period, which means that for the last three years our government has also been negotiating these goals. Now these goals are intended to be “transformative” (UN aspirational language), they speak to issues like ending poverty, addressing climate change, building stronger institutions and achieving gender equality. 

I want to ask one question though, can I see by a raise of hands how many people reading this article have a clue what I am talking about? How many of you have ever heard of the SDGs?

I would put my pay cheque on the line that there is perhaps a very small percentage of you that have any idea what our governments have been negotiating the last three years. Having followed the negotiations for some time, I find myself very conflicted. While others were jumping up in jubilee at the official adoption I was sitting in my chair contemplating if it all made sense.

Did it make sense for us to be celebrating what was supposed to be a major global achievement when the vast majority of people had no idea what had happened? How do we reconcile the global celebration with current global and national realities that do not match-up? Estimates suggest that it will cost someone something trillion dollars annually for implementation of the goals.

Where is the money coming going to come from when at home we are facing major national debt and are struggling just to make sure we can pay public worker salaries every month? How do we achieve decent work and economic growth, which is about inclusive economic growth and employment for all when every day in Barbados it is clear that workers’ rights and economic stability are in a constant battle? Goal six speaks to clean water – as far as I understand we need to make sure that we will even have enough water in the near future to match demand given the current state of our water resources. 

There is also a goal which speaks to global partnership which is about developed countries helping us to increase trade and an equitable trading system. Please –  this was one of the goals which had the least movement in the MDGs; it’s here again for what I reason I am not sure except that perhaps we like failure.

The current world economic system is based on self-interest and the continued extraction of resources and maximum profits by the North. The story has not changed and will not change because the goal does not say anything about fundamentally changing the system. 

The argument is that we must now turn our attention to the issue of implementation and it is through this process that the masses of people at the national levels will become aware and involved. To m, that is like inviting me over for a joint cook up and when I get there everything is already prepared and I am told to eat even though I have no idea what is being served. How do we hold our Government accountable for something we do not have a clue about? How do we get returns on the over three years of human and financial resources which have gone into the negotiations? More important, will we know what our Government will be reporting on our behalf about the achievement of the SDGs?

This thing called representative democracy has become so diluted and fragmented that I am certain none of us is sure anymore what it actually looks and feels like. Unless we have a process that has substantive mechanisms for accountability in it then I am remain unsure where we are. 

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]