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Local governments are key to effective implementation

Updated September 25, 2017

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ON March 9, the Planning Commission of Pakistan organised a Local Govern­ment Summit on Sustainable Development Goals.

At the end of the day, the 75 heads of local governments, gathered from across the country, adopted a Declaration calling for administrative and financial empowerment of the district governments for implementing the global goals.

“We, the local leaders, are convinced that by giving specific attention to the localisation of all goals, the new agenda will trigger an important transformation in our joint act,” the declaration underscored.

‘We, the local leaders, are convinced that by giving specific attention to the localisation of all goals, the new agenda will trigger an important transformation in our joint act’ — Local government SDG summit declaration

Indeed, local governments are the key to successful and effective implementation of Agenda 2030 in Pakistan. Yet this tier of government remains the weakest link in the entire chain as the provinces continue to control most administrative, political and financial powers.

“Localisation of SDGs and empowerment of local governments is going to be very critical in implementation of the global goals and better outcomes,” Zafar ul Hasan, Chief Poverty Alleviation and SDGs at the Planning Commission of Pakistan, emphasised during a telephonic conversation with Dawn. “You cannot expect to achieve the SDG targets without active involvement of districts and empowering them.”

Adopted at the Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, Pakistan was one of early nations to declare the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as national agenda through a resolution in the National Assembly in the beginning of 2016.

“Early conversion of SDGs into provincial socio-economic development strategies, policies and budgets will be a major challenge in the way of achievement of the global goals by 2030,” a Punjab planning and development department official said on condition of anonymity.

“Pakistan missed the MDGs because their implementation was considered a federal responsibility. But the devolution of the federal departments and functions after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution offers a very big opportunity for localisation and achievement of the SDGs.”

Learning from the past, the government has engaged with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this time around to build an institutional framework, both on the federal and provincial level, by establishing SDG Support Units in order to provide mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support for SDGs.

‘Pakistan missed the MDGs because their implementation was considered a federal responsibility. But the devolution of the federal departments and functions after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution offers a very big opportunity for localisation and achievement of the SDGs.’

While these units have already become functional in Punjab and Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are in the process of creating these units.

The federal SDG Support Unit created at the Planning Commission will not only oversee implementation of the global goals in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and federally administered areas but also coordinate with the provinces. They will help them generate data at regular intervals for future planning and resource allocations, provide evidence, analysis and perspective to inform public policy in the context of SDG targets.

“The SDG Support Units are chiefly responsible for supporting the federal and provincial governments in planning and implementing the SDG Framework through a locally driven approach that focuses on planning processes, data availability at district level and utilisation of local budget and locally generated resources.

“The four key focus areas of the SDG Project are: aligning plans and policies to Agenda 2030; strengthening monitoring, reporting and evaluation capacities; aligning financing flows to the Agenda; and fostering innovation to accelerate progress,” according to an UNDP office in Islamabad.

These support units, according to Mr Hasan, will help provide policy consistency and institutional framework for vertical coordination necessary for SDGs implementation.

The provincial P&D department official agreed that local governments have to play a critical role in achieving the global sustainable development goals because “they are closer to the people, are aware of the local needs and issues, and easier to hold accountable for failing to meet their targets.

“The smarter strategy for the provinces will be to involve local representatives in the assessment of public need for formulating budget priorities and effective development policies.” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 25th, 2017