My Thoughts on SDGs
The Pakatan Harapan MPs, 2 day conference has started. Since we are not allowed to write anything about what is said, I will more or less be on silent mode for today and tomorrow.
As such, I am going to publish the speech I gave yesterday on the topic of Sustainable Development Goals. The text is written by me, edited by Alethea, researched by the interns.
YANG BERHORMAT TUAN WONG CHEN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR SUBANG (P104)
ASIAN LAW STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION (ALSA) NATIONAL FORUM 2019 DEVELOP THE POSSIBILITIES: THE ROLES OF PUBLIC POLICIES IN ADVANCING THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
PANEL SESSION 1: PUBLIC POLICIES COHERENCY WITH SDGs 11AM – 12:30PM
4TH OCTOBER 2019
1. Since the session title is kind of open ended, the primary focus of my speech will aim to answer this simple question: has the Pakatan Harapan embraced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a template in their policymaking? Are we on track for Agenda 2030?
2. As you all know, there are 17 SDGs and what my interns have done in the last few days, is to do desktop research by googling for news, to see if PH ministers have made any references to SDGs as part of their respective ministry policies, since winning GE14.
3. But before I go into the findings, which I have reduced to a skeletal summary, let’s just start by stating who is in charge of coordinating and compiling the SDGs for the Malaysian government.
4. In the previous Najib government, SDGs reporting were handled by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, which is under the Prime Minister’s Department, and the Minister in charge then was Datuk Seri Rahman Dahlan of the Economic Planning Unit.
5. When Pakatan Harapan took over in May 2018, we assume that the SDGs fell into the purview of Dato’ Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, when the EPU expanded and became the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
6. Since the SDGs started during the Najib administration, we have to acknowledge that his administration actually made good efforts to embrace the SDGs.
7. So much so, that it culminated in the Voluntary National Review Report 2017 and the inclusion of SDGs measures into the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016 to 2020). One of the reasons for this is simply because the Najib administration poured in a lot of resources and hired a lot of foreign consultants, as Najib was preoccupied with building up his and the country’s international reputation as a progressive and sustainable nation. Of course, the 1MDB saga then destroyed his carefully crafted international reputation. But be that as it may, we should still acknowledge his good efforts on the SDGs front.
8. The SDGs are one of the very few things, the Pakatan Harapan government should be happy to inherit and we should rightfully be pursuing and expanding the same.
9. Tomorrow, the Pakatan Harapan government will be launching their Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, which is touted to be a social-economic blueprint for Pakatan Harapan.
10. How extensive will the SDGs be mentioned in this new blueprint? I don’t know. Backbench Pakatan Harapan MPs haven’t yet been briefed of its content. But I will highly suggest all of you to read the report carefully over the weekend. Look out and see if there are any references to SDGs.
11. On the surface, the SDGs are not mentioned as often nowadays by Pakatan compared with the then Najib administration. So on the surface, I must concede that the SDGs may have been somewhat overlooked by the new Pakatan Harapan government.
12. Now let’s go to the summary of the 17 SDGs. I will give a very quick summarized report of what individual ministers have said to the press, since GE 14, regarding SDGs.
i. SDG 1 No Poverty, under MEA, Azmin Ali. As you know, he had an issue with the UN Rapporteur regarding whether poverty still exists in Malaysia.
ii. SDG 2 No Hunger, again under MEA, again the same issue regarding the UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty and Human Rights’ report, by Professor Alston.
iii. SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing. Under MOH, Dzulkefly Ahmad, said that he will prioritize SDGs into his Ministry. So some positive sound bites.
iv. SDG 4 Quality Education. Under MoE, Maszlee Malik did mention it in relation to UNESCO Clubs.
v. SDG 5 Gender Equality. Under Ministry of Women, family and community development, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, her ministry is probably the most active in adopting SDGs for her programs on family and community empowerment, Gender Equality Commission, i-Suri program, and ASEM partnership.
vi. SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation. Ministry of Water, Land & Natural Resources, under Xavier Jayakumar, a few mentions on sustainability but not SDGs directly.
vii. SDG 7 Renewable Energy. Under MESTECC , Yeo Bee Yin, is pursuing large scale solar panel projects.
viii. SDG 8 Good Jobs and Economic Growth. Azmin Ali, not much said on SDGs for this category.
ix. SDG 9 Innovation and Infrastructure. Under four ministers, Baru Bian, Anthony Loke, Gobind Singh, and Redzuan Yusof, all of them made some minor references to SDGs.
x. SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities. Azmin Ali hinted that the Shared Prosperity Vision will be in line with the SDGs.
xi. SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities. Under Khalid Samad and Zuraida Kamaruddin, KL City Plan 2020 where Khalid Samad mentioned SDGs in passing and Zuraida mentions the need for sustainable housing schemes.
xii. SDG 12 Responsible Production and Consumption. Azmin Ali again, suggesting the Share Prosperity Vision 2030 will incorporate some sustainability points.
xiii. SDG 13 Climate Action. Under Yeo Bee Yin, she recently inexplicably stated that a climate change law will need at least 2 years to be drafted and tabled.
xiv. SDG 14 Life Below Water. Under Salahuddin Ayub and Yeo Bee Yin, they mentioned sustainable development as part of their policies.
xv. SDG 15 Life On Land. Xavier Jayakumar, not much said and as for Teresa Kok, she is balancing SDGs and the controversial palm oil issues.
xvi. SDG 16 Peace and Justice. Muhyiddin Yassin and Liew Vui Keong, no mention on SDGs but talked about overall better governance.
xvii. SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals. Saifuddin Abdullah as foreign minister has stated Malaysia is actively implementing the SDGs as per the Eleventh Malaysia Plan.
13. The summary that I just read out, are based on available information online. It may not be complete but substantial efforts were put in the research by my interns. Some of these may be just lip service, some of them could be substantive. It’s very hard for us to make an informed judgement whether the SDGs are truly important to these PH ministers. But even at the press statement level, you can see that SDGs doesn’t appear in the news on a regular basis.
14. But this does not necessarily mean that the PH government is not committed to sustainable issues. It is also important to bear in mind that it is not too late for the MEA to nudge the other ministries to look deeper into SDGs and to use these templates as part of their policymaking.
15. You may also ask how is it, that PH Members of Parliament, like myself, are not aware of the implementation status of SDGs of our own the PH government. The answer to this is simple. Currently, there is only one ministerial select committee in the Malaysian Parliament.
16. MPs require ministerial select committees to be formed in order for them to meaningfully take part in policy making. The current situation is embarrassing and dire, where we have 25 ministers and only 1 ministerial select committee, that is on home and defence. We need to urgently reform Parliament. This is my pet issue that I have been championing for more than a year now, and unfortunately not taken up by the cabinet. If you want good and effective policy making, we need to completely overhaul Parliament, to enforce the separation of powers, increase independence and resources of Parliament, and to establish complete ministerial select committees so that Members of Parliament can do their fundamental duty of taking part in policymaking.
17. So for instance, I’m interested in SDG 13 Climate Action and SDG 16 Peace and Justice. If Parliament has a full set of ministerial select committees, I could use the committee system to make ministers accountable and really go into the detailed policy making of government, including using the SDGs as a template to measure policy results.
18. Now, allow me to also share some of my personal experience on the issue of SDGs from the perspective of a Member of Parliament. On SDG 13 Climate Action, there are only four targets and the eight indicators, so these goals are not very onerous and slightly open ended. But I did use the SDGs template to help me draft a resolution for ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) to push a climate action/climate change resolution. I focused primarily on the issue of carbon pricing and got a resolution passed in August last month in Bangkok. Did the SDG 13 template helped me in the process? I would say yes, to initially frame the issues and then guide my discussions with other ASEAN MPs.
19. The bigger challenge now is to bring that AIPA resolution and try to compel my own government, in particular MESTECC, to adopt carbon pricing. If MESTECC also pays attention to SDG 13, then theoretically they could meet me halfway, and we can then work together to meet the SDG 13 goals.
20. On SDG 16, in particular 16.6 and 16.7, as I mentioned in my opening speech, I went to the UN in July after I was selected by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Westminster Democracy Foundation, both entities are funded by the UK government. Some 4 months before that, CPA sent their researchers to interview me, using the SDG template and then expanding on each of these items into a very comprehensive 80-point questionnaire.
21. So for SDG 16.6 which is on governance, the CPA researchers interviewed MPs from several commonwealth countries, including Malaysia. They created an entire system of questionnaires, feedback and eventual solution guidelines out of the SDGs template. Now that to me, is a fully committed, comprehensive and exemplary adoption of SDGs by the UK government. That to me is the gold standard, and I hope that every Ministry in Malaysia can adopt the same approach.
22. At this stage, I want to remind everybody that in policymaking, there are four essential steps: Step (1) Understanding the policy problem with complete data and information, Step (2) finding solutions to those problem, Step (3) finding the budget to solve those problems, and lastly, Step (4) implementing a strategy or a series of actions to ensure the problem is largely solved.
23. Every single policy must go through these four steps. And this is why it is important to stress to all of you that the SDGs deal only with the first two steps: (1) identifying the problem, and (2) giving indicators and targets on how to solve the problems.
24. So for today and tomorrow, you will primarily be looking at steps 1 and 2. The real big challenge of policy making is actually in steps 3 and 4, finding the budget and money, and then implementing the policy solutions.
25. So do use the SDGs to build your knowledge, but also to always keep in the back of your mind, that in reality, finding money and implementation of policies are probably the bigger hurdles.
26. Lastly, I urge all the students and everybody here to continue to push the SDGs agenda to your elected representatives and ministers. We live in a world of multiple global challenges, and these SDGs are so important and relevant in this age of climate change, high inequality and high unemployment resulting from artificial intelligence technology.
With that note, I end my speech. Thank you for your kind attention. I will be happy to answer your questions later.