SDG Self-Assessment workshop for Parliament of Bhutan

Metta Resort, Paro 

6- 9 April 2021

Your Excellency, Lyonpo Wangchuk Namgyel, Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly;

Your Excellency, Lyonpo Tashi Dorji, Honorable Chairperson of the National Council;

Honorable Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons of the Parliamentary Committees;

Staff and Committee Secretaries from both the houses; and

Colleagues from GNHC and UN family in Bhutan.

Kuzuzangpo la, and good morning to you all.

 

At the outset, I would like to sincerely thank the National Assembly and the National Council for making the SDG self-assessment workshop possible

Some of you may recall in early 2019, UNDP and UNICEF organized a joint session on SDGs as part of the induction course for the new parliamentarians. Soon after, there was a request for a more detailed session on parliamentary functions in supporting localization of the SDGs, specific goals and targets, and their attainment.

UNDP Bhutan, in technical partnership with our regional office, planned this workshop, initially for early 2020. However, due to the delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now holding the workshop in a much different setting than we had originally planned. There is always a good reason for every turn of the events, and I believe the timing of this workshop could not have been more strategic and relevant than today as the global community faces multiple crises.

The year 2020 was riddled with challenges for the global community, and we are not out of the woods yet. Guided by the vision of GNH, Bhutan declared its commitment to the Sustainable Development Agenda at the UN Summit in September 2015 by endorsing the 17 SDGs and 169 actionable targets to be achieved by 2030. Since then, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has fallen by more than 1 billion. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic came – many scientists had forewarned us of such a pandemic, but even the most well-informed nations were not ready. This happened in the first year of the last Decade of Action – less than ten years before the global timeline of 2030 when the momentum should have been accelerated for the last mile push

The trend on poverty reduction is reversing. The Human Development Index has plummeted for the first time. The pandemic has also exposed existing gaps in our systems, including widening inequalities, digital divides, and racial and gender-based discrimination.

Prior to the crisis, financing had already fallen short of the spending levels required to achieve the SDGs. And now with COVID, the Global community is at risk of visible delays in the attainment of SDGs, due to a rapidly shrinking fiscal space. The ESCAP estimates that average fiscal deficit has widened in the Asia Pacific region from 1.5% in 2019 to 6.8% in 2020, owning to the combination of lower revenue with higher spending needs.

Choices we make today on how scarce resources are invested and what reforms are initiated will all have lasting impact on our future and will determine which nation will come out stronger from the crisis.

While the global pandemic was unfolding, the climate emergency did not wait for us.  The year 2020 started with gashing bushfires across Australia, and it was indeed the hottest year on record. In our generation, more than 60% of the biodiversity was lost. In the next 50 years – another generation, scientists say we might lose all glaciers. Last year was meant to be the super policy year on climate change and biodiversity in anticipation for the COP 26 where nations, including Bhutan, were expected to raise their game on Nationally Determined Contributions. There is a growing sense of despair because the current rate of efforts is not simply good enough.

As is the case with every crisis, nations around the world are building on the COVID dividends and moving fast and decisively with bold policy interventions and reforms. This is evident in promoting green investments, social protection laws, new trade and investment options to stimulate impactful economic recovery, and fast-tracking regulatory frameworks to facilitate digital solutions.

The role of the Parliament is therefore ever more crucial: The legislature can help the Executive not only to stay on track, but also to optimize limited resources to leverage emerging opportunities, while protecting the interests of the most vulnerable. The COVID crisis presents a once-in-generation opportunity to do things right and differently.

The attainment of Agenda 2030 with limited resources requires a well-informed Parliament that understands data and the interconnectedness of everything we do.

Here in Bhutan, we are half-way into the implementation of the 12th Five Year Plan and the Government is currently conducting a Mid-Term Review of the plan. Bhutan is also formulating the second Voluntary National Review to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.

These exercises will present useful measurements of progress, and certainly, the upcoming SDG database will improve the access to data by decision makers, including the Parliamentarians. However, the preliminary assessments are already indicating critical data gaps.

Dutch Prime Minister said, “We need to take 100% decisions with 50% of information.” This captured quite well the predicament of decision makers in conditions of unprecedented uncertainty. One important lesson from the pandemic is the need for real-time data. And the good news is that today’s technology allows for it.

As the core parliamentary roles of law-making, budgeting, oversight and representation of constituency interests are critical to the full implementation of the SDGs, I would like to commend the commitment demonstrated by the Parliament of Bhutan to assessing its readiness. We in UNDP are humbled to be a partner in this endeavor and look forward to taking the action plan forward.

Once again, please accept my sincere gratitude for your presence. I also would like to thank UNICEF and RCO colleagues in Bhutan, and Ms. Doina Ghimici, parliamentary advisor from UNDP’s regional office in Bangkok, for the partnership that made this week possible.

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