The Way Forward: Strategic Directions for ESCAP

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar (center), United Nations Under-Secretary-General & Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); H.E. Mr. Ly Thuch (right), Senior Minister, Chairman of National Committee for ESCAP, Cambodia; and H.E. Mr. Connelly Sandakabatu (left), Minister of Development Planning & Aid Coordination, Solomon Islands at the Ministerial Roundtable on Regional Connectivity for Shared Prosperity during the Ministerial segment of ESCAP's 70th Session.
 Photo Credit: UN ESCAP/Suwat Chancharoensuk

Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Panellists from both sessions,
Ladies and Gentlemen

The deliberations of these two panels have reinforced the outcomes of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) and the Asia-Pacific Outreach Meeting on Sustainable Development Financing.

The outcomes from both meetings have already been shared at the global High-level Political Forum held in July 2014, and the UN Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, who also joined our meeting in Jakarta.

What we will take away from the panel today is broad agreement on the recommendations of both consultation meetings. We will clearly take note of the specific recommendations and proposals:

One important recommendation, that has come through all our deliberations, is the need to undertake effective monitoring, evaluation and reporting, for better accountability, on progress in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. In this respect, it is important to agree and establish measurable goals and targets that can capture the multidimensional nature of sustainable development, and to create a framework for the implementation of those objectives with stable sources of financing. In order for ESCAP to better prepare for the next APFSD, we plan to undertake a survey of our member States to seek information about their planned national sustainable development frameworks, the goals they plan to adopt, and their evolving institutional frameworks for monitoring and accountability.

In this regard, I am positioning ESCAP to establish a focal point to coordinate monitoring and accountability of sustainable development, and we will strive to collate the existing and new emerging institutional mechanisms in Asia and the Pacific. Part of our role, as a hub for regional monitoring and accountability, will also be to promote some guiding principles, such as:

  1. The accountability and monitoring system must be universal;
  2. The system must be supportive of implementing the post-2015 development agenda as agreed in 2015;
  3. It must take into account different capacities and responsibilities of all our stakeholders;
  4. The system must use sound and objective data, information and analyses to generate results, and I plan to strengthen our Statistics Division to respond to your requirements;
  5. Results thus generated must be used by policymakers and other stakeholders;
  6. It should not only be a tool for tracking progress, but also tightly linked with policy and implementation;
  7. It must be flexible, allowing for continuous learning, adaptation and replication; and
  8. Finally, as was pointed out, it must be robust and transparent.

Mainstreaming of sustainable development financing in the national budgets will have to be one of the most important elements of national policymaking in achieving the ambitious goals for development agenda beyond 2015. In this context, we would value member States developing their domestic resource mobilization plans, and identifying annual allocations expected to be provided for the sustainable development goals.

The need for regional financial architecture and mechanisms to channel regional savings towards inclusive and sustainable development has also been a key aspect of our outreach discussions. ESCAP plans to launch a dialogue on South-South cooperation, to start more systematically and effectively tracking the financial flows and science, technology and information (STI) sharing mechanisms within Asia and the Pacific. In parallel, your Commission will, as a part of the regional cooperation and integration work that you have mandated us to do, explore how to further refine existing or encourage structuring of new regional financial cooperative arrangements – including support for cross-border regional infrastructure projects financing.

It has been further recognized that, in going forward, the region should work collectively to ensure that it nurtures strong, stable financial systems. To achieve this, policymakers and regulators will need to work with the private sector to develop more diversified and balanced financial sectors, which are key to reinforcing financial stability and sustainability, as well as to extending finance to meet people’s needs and the region’s sustainable development aspirations.

There are, at present, considerable differences across countries in terms of their level and depth of financial markets, and their capacity to anchor financial systems towards the delivery of real sector development, and to simultaneously address the sustainable development challenges. The least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, which are very close to my heart, will require special attention, and therefore regional development cooperation mechanisms will need to be strengthened as major developing countries will have to be gracious enough to take larger responsibilities to support these countries. This is what the regional commission is about – to get the stronger to help the weaker.

With regards to follow-ups on what I have outlined, and new ideas, discussions on a Regional Roadmap for sustainable development, which you have talked about, will be critical. ESCAP will now start launching the work on the establishment of new ESCAP Committees on Energy, Financing for Development and Science, Technology and Innovation. I am counting on your support to help me, because we need you to support us with resources to be able to make sure we have staff and leadership in these Committees.

We will also establish expert committees on both finance and science and technology, because outside expertise will fill in the void that we may have within ESCAP, but also bring in the regional expertise to bear on the direction in which we are going. They will help us to lay out the contours of our forward-looking analytical work, and help shape our engagement with member States.

Another area of focus for ESCAP, going forward, will be to strengthen our institutional framework for countries with special needs. This will be done to provide these countries with the analytical support needed for graduation from least developed status, and to help them to deal with their many other policy challenges and responses, strengthening their capacities to implement the sustainable development agenda.

I have built into my way forward remarks important elements from the bilateral dialogues which I have held over the course of this week with our member States.

ESCAP is also prepared to synergise its programmes, projects and capacity building related to sustainable development with ongoing national and subregional initiatives, such as in the Pacific and Central Asia. Furthermore, ESCAP is committed to create awareness on the sustainable development challenges, through research and analysis, to guide policy discussions and messaging, and to subsequently stimulate interactions among member States through the knowledge platform.

The proposal in Survey 2014 of setting up an Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, and your advice during the panel discussions, will help us to foster cooperation and capacity building in the development of more effective tax systems. This proposed Asia-Pacific Tax Forum will further enhance ESCAP’s work on regional cooperation and integration, and provide impetus in sharing best practices across countries and subregions.

We will study therefore the feasibility and operational modalities of such a Forum, and present the outcomes of our analytical work for the consideration of member States.

One important issue that deserves more consideration is how to maximize synergy between the ESCAP Commission sessions and the APFSD, or for that matter a future Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, as well as our continued outreach for Asia-Pacific sustainable financing, and several other types of regional and subregional institutional architecture that member States have initiated, to further address the development gaps. In this regard, it was recommended that further examination of the operational modalities of such fora be carried out, including their relationship with the ESCAP Commission sessions, in addition to further consideration of proposals that should be undertaken in consultation with member States and stakeholders.

In conclusion, the recommendations I have just outlined, as part of our way forward, draw on the outcomes of several consultations, both on this platform and on other platforms, as well as your bilateral advice to us, will also benefit from the review and recommendations of our conference structure, that was launched at your request. They will also benefit from the restructuring of the secretariat, not only based on the conference structure advice, but also on the recommendations of the recent OIOS evaluation, which are in sync with my own reflections over the last five months. I am hoping to launch this restructuring, with your blessing, in the months to come so that we can serve you better and more effectively, and get you more quality advice.

I thank you for your collaboration and cooperation, with me as well as with my team, and I can reassure you, as I said earlier, that we stand very committed and reenergized by all the encouraging statements that we have heard, and the blessings, Mr. Prime Minister, that you have offered by your Chairing, as well as by our previous Chair, so thank you very much for being here.