Statement to the Ministerial Roundtable I by the Civil Society FfD Group (including the Women’s Working Group on FfD), delivered by Richard Amparbeng, Public Services International on May 23, 2017 (FfD Forum 2017)
Thank you, President. I address this room on behalf of the CSO FFD Group and Public Services International.
Allow me to remind this assembly that policy coherence for development means aligning the FFD agenda with the normative development agenda, which has at its core human rights, gender equality, environmental protection, social justice and decent work for all. We remain concerned that the conventional economic growth narrative and the overreliance on the private sector continues to dominate these discussions, despite increasing evidence of the unsustainable social and environmental implications of the current business model. The consistent focus on promoting an “enabling environment for private sector business and investment” without emphasising the need for strong policy measures to regulate private sector activities remains a key concern for civil society.
Yesterday we heard about the importance of sustainable development and keeping promises made. However, when reading the outcome document one can ask the question – sustainable for whom? When e-commerce, corporate sustainability, access to financial – commercial – services and the role of the private sector are seen as the panacea, and a refusal to review global tax rules remains one of the biggest hurdles to address tax justice, it is not unreasonable to consider that there is a clear bias in favour of the private sector. There are also on-going parallel processes, such as the development of OECD guidelines on privatization of state owned enterprises that look at this process merely as the divestment of public assets, and the new cascade strategy of the World Bank.
Evidence shows that PPPs are an expensive and inefficient way of financing infrastructure and services, since they conceal public borrowing, while providing long-term state guarantees for profits to private companies. Implementing PPPs poses important capacity constraints to the public sector, particularly in developing countries. PPPs also suffer from low transparency and limited public scrutiny, which undermines democratic accountability and favours corruption.
I am sure that by now you are all familiar with the February 2016 paper by UN-DESA, “that addresses PPPs and challenges supposed efficiency gains in the social sector such as hospitals and schools where access and equity are major concerns. It also calls for an inclusive multi-stakeholder setting, such as this very FFD process and would involve UN Member States, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders for the development of guidelines for PPPs. This is in sharp contrast with the on-going work on UN-ECE PPP standards for a number of sectors, including for health, which has been conducted very quickly, with little stakeholder participation, other than a significant presence of private health providers (service, product and finance companies). I can only echo speakers who stated that the process should be more inclusive and focus on the provision of public goods.
To conclude, allow me to raise the issue of low wage policies, creating a class of working poor in the developed world and the growing despair in the developing world, where the push for PPPs and privatization means that universal access to health, education, water and sanitation remain a distant dream for the vast majority of people. What is the use of special funds to be used in case of pandemics while public health systems are being dismantled? Liberia is a sad example of what can happen in such cases. Nevertheless, both in health and education, PPPs continue to be pursued there. In our view, this is not only beyond reason, but a denial of the most basic human rights.
The world is watching indeed – we are here to ensure that promises made are promises kept and that this agenda will not be a mere vehicle for privatization. Indeed the road ahead is bumpy but we do hope that at the end it will be worker-friendly in the first place.