By Prof. J. George
It is time to reiterate the faith and aspirations of SAARC enshrined in the charter. The first two objectives, namely, ‘to promote the welfare of the peoples of SOUTH ASIA and to improve their quality of life; and to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realise their full potentials’ have immediate gravity. All traducing and sarcasm must pale into oblivion. It is of equal import to recall that the 13th Summit in Dhaka 2005 declared 2006-2015 as the ‘SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation’.
Two remarkable operational action steps among others are noteworthy. First they charted out a policy and action priorities while underscoring required improvements in the public service delivery mechanism. Secondly, finer points of the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) on the lines of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were lustrously brought out courtesy mandated advocacy by the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA).
It was realised, based on available data, that between the seven SAARC member countries and out of the 18 targeted action points, half of the MDGs were off-track, nearly one in every three were on-track and only one each in every ten was either achieved or never initiated at all. It is time to once again state, even at the cost of sounding clichéd, that SAARC provides a platform for the people of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in Member States.
The one unforgotten lesson in the region is the ill-effects of ‘developmental terrorism’ by the state. Amit Bhaduri defines it as ‘obsession with internationally competitive cost effectiveness’ to achieve meaningless economic growth. It stands to economic logic that unless opportunities for livelihood security and productive employment are expanded any economic growth becomes futile to the teeming millions of poor.
The22 SDGs have been organised into four broad categories, e.g. Livelihood, Educational, Health and Environmental opportunities. The 15th Summit theme of “Partnership for our People”, however, must explicitly recognise dangers of the food and fuel crisis that is primarily rooted in the speculative mode of engineering meaningless economic growth and withdrawal of state machineries.
Available data suggest that over three-fourth of South Asians live on less than PPP US$ 2 per person per day. This indicates that the South Asian poor are exceedingly vulnerable to market determined growth fundamentals. The equity and efficiency duo of SDGs demands a proactive role for the public service delivery mechanisms. This mechanism must be scripted in a manner that ‘rightsizing’, ‘downsizing’ and ‘outsourcing’ do not become evocative protocol in public service delivery enhancing efforts.
Against the backdrop of recent serial bomb blasts, the hiatus between sanctioned post vs. actual and the normative police-population ratio provide a telling commentary on mechanism. According to the South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) 7.3, a global ratio of at least 222 per lakh population is recommended for peacetime policing. The rightsizing syndrome has led to an average 9.75 per cent deficit against sanctioned post in India. In fact it is very common to see a deficit of upto 40 per cent in many vulnerable states. The scenario is not different in other SAARC member countries.
The public service delivery mechanisms, once effective, perform income distributive role when local democratic institutions and contents are allowed to be factored into the growth pathways. For example, the national rural employment guarantee scheme in India in the active presence of Panchayati raj institutions and the right to information act, notwithstanding criticisms galore, has prised open the rural wage rate fixes.
Certainly, the leaders will review progress and further raise the bar during their forthcoming summit in Colombo during early August. The structural infirmities impeding fight against the incidence of extreme poverty must top the agenda whilst restating their commitment to implement SDGs.
*[Prof. J. George, an economist was the National Convenor of now defunct Core Incubating Group on Capacity Building for Poverty Reduction (CIG-CBPR). Currently, as Chief Promoter, Strategic Economic Management in Governance (SEMIG) is engaged in providing advisory services on SEMIG.]