Leaving no one behind

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File photo shows the CSO representatives and speakers in a photo-call, taken during the forum on the UN SDG theme held in Kuching in July 2018.

SIX years ago, a regular reader of this column drew my attention to the above tagline and wanted to know if there was any project of the United Nations (UN) in Sarawak that would incorporate the spirit of the slogan.

Curious about what the slogan was all about, I attended a discussion forum on that theme.

It was held on July 28, 2018, at a hotel a few miles from where I live in Kuching. The discussion was planned to achieve the following objectives:

  • To generate public awareness of the importance of the global UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of the mechanisms to effect change for the better for Sarawakians;
  • To highlight the current work of civil societies (CSOs) in the state and its relevance to SDGS;
  • To discuss how the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can be enhanced through interactive discussions with the wider public particularly the local youths, and;
  • To establish a platform, the Sarawak CSO Alliance, to enable Sarawak CSOs to engage with federal and state governments towards achieving all the UN’s goals.

Quite a tall order.

Working papers on respective fields of expertise were presented by a practicing lawyer, a medical doctor and social activist, followed by a lively session of ‘Questions and Answers’.

Subjects on health, gender equality and native land rights were well discussed; others, hardly touched on, were reserved for some future occasion.

I came specially to hear about the proposal by the organisers of the forum to create an ‘Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in Sarawak’ and how that alliance would help the state authorities implement the UN’s guidelines in the state.

It was thought that the role of the local NGOS in terms of development would be appreciated by the governing authorities.

The NGOS are volunteers and therefore, have no vested partisan political interests and can be trusted with impartial views on matters including politics in general.

A few weeks later, there was another meeting of the alliance which retired Colonel Fabian Wong of the ‘Kuching Urban Poor’ and I attended. We suggested that, to be effective, Sarawak Alliance would be better organised if there was to be established a state-level committee to coordinate the activities of the local NGOS that subscribed to the UN’s goals.

Except for snippets of information from Facebook postings by individuals, there has been no follow-up to the second discussion.

For six long years – silence!

It is my hope that whoever is still active in the UN SDG programme would resurrect public interest in the importance of the SDGs in Sarawak.

It is the mechanism to effect change that is required. This could be discussed through a platform that is led by a committee of men and women willing and able to engage with the authorities (federal and state) without having to wait for the greenlight from Kuala Lumpur every time action is required at the state level.

At the moment, I do not know whom I shall get in touch with if I want some information on how much has been achieved in and by Sarawak – or by Malaysia, for that matter – as a member of the UN in terms of implementing the UN’s goals (actually guidelines).

We are running against time; only six years to go before the UN agenda ends. It looks like there may be another extension for another 15 years.

Just a reminder: the UN’s agenda for implementation by every member country of the UN comprises the following: ‘Zero Poverty’, ‘Zero Hunger’, ‘Good Health and Well-Being’, ‘Quality Education’, ‘Gender Equality’, ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’, ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’, ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’, ‘Reduced Inequalities’, ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, ‘Climate Action’, ‘Life Below Water’, ‘Life on Land’, ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Partnerships’.

These are actually guidelines worked out by the UN officials who recommended them for adoption by member countries, which would be free to modify the methods of implementation on the ground level, but the approaches should be based on the UN’s line as far as possible.

Each country has its own development plans. Malaysia has five-yearly National Development Plan. Our current Plan, the 11th is being implemented. Elements of the UN goals are incorporated in all the development programmes.

And as a member country of the UN, Malaysia should provide the world body with a regular report of activities relating to the UN Goals, for the record.

I do not know if we ever send any report to the Economic and Social Council of the UN.

Malaysia must show to the world that our country recognises and appreciates the work and the role of the NGOs or the CSOs in the country as being important and supplementary assets, not a liability to the government; a partner and part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The NGOs Alliance would be happy to be a partner if there exists the esprit de corps.