2018 Round Table Implementation Meeting
5 December 2018 – Vientiane, Lao PDR
Closing Remarks by Mrs. Kaarina Immonen
United Nations Resident Co-ordinator & UNDP Resident Representative for Lao PDR
Excellency, Dr. Souphanh Keomixay, Minister of Planning & Investment
My dear colleague, Valerie,
Thank you all for your active participation in our rich and constructive dialogue today across a wide range of issues.
Let me try to briefly summarise some of the key issues that we have discussed throughout the day.
At the outset of the day we benefitted from a comprehensive address from His Excellency, Mr. Somdy Douangdy, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Lao PDR.
We then heard from Valerie - her keynote speech including the regional development context, trends, challenges and opportunities.
This was followed by His Excellency Dr. Souphanh Keomixay, who recalled the strength of partnership between the Government of Lao PDR and development partners.
Dr. Kikeo provided an excellent strategic overview of the Mid – Term Review of the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (8th NSEDP). That presentation, accompanied by the detailed Mid-Term Review Report, gave us all a strong grasp of the progress that has been achieved since the 8th plan was launched – as well as the main constraints and priorities that lie ahead, including for the 9th NSEDP. (It was a frank and honest presentation of the realities).
All development partners commended the Government for the overall progress that has been achieved, for the quality of the Mid-Term Review process and report, and for the openness of the Round Table Meeting. Development partners re-affirmed that all partners should be engaged in the Round Table Meeting as an inclusive platform for development dialogue.
We heard from HE Dr. Kikeo that implementation of the 8th NSEDP has been taking place amidst a more challenging regional and international environment than was predicted. Whilst relatively high growth has been maintained, we were all reminded that Lao PDR remains susceptible to risks and disasters – evidenced by this years’ unprecedented floods.
WITHIN OUTCOME 1, PROMOTING ‘INCLUSIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH’ we discussed how structural economic transformation will need to be pursued moving Lao PDR towards a sustainable, long-term, green growth strategy, targeting non-resource based economic diversification. This included the centrality of investment in human capital and skills development, the pursuit of an improved business environment, and an increasingly resilient agricultural sector.
IN TERMS OF ‘MACRO-ECONOMIC STABILITY’ - it was re-confirmed that a stable macroeconomic framework is an essential requirement for achieving durable growth. We discussed the risks and vulnerabilities that exist, including Government initiatives for tackling these. These risks and vulnerabilities related to the challenge of growing public debt, revenue shortfalls, fiscal consolidation, management of the financial sector and strengthening buffers to shocks – all of which require further attention.
The Government’s aspiration to pursue a more INTEGRATED APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT PLANNING AND BUDGETING was mentioned. This will improve transparency and accountability and enable better monitoring and measurement of development effectiveness. This is also essential for development partners to better align their assistance to national development priorities, for predictability and for the sustainability of sector investments. Greater decentralization of budgets was also encouraged.
We discussed the need for more BALANCED NATION-WIDE DEVELOPMENT, in order to tackle persistent disparities and growing inequalities. The point was made that economic growth does not automatically translate into poverty reduction. And although overall levels of poverty are reducing, vulnerabilities are still apparent and inequalities are at the same time widening. This represents a challenge to the notion of inclusive development.
In this regard, delegates spoke about the need for greater efforts in order to reach rural, remote communities with service delivery. In addition, with resources so constrained, the Government was encouraged to further empower communities and support civil society to provide services in poorer areas, where they have the capacity and the reach.
Mention was also made of the efforts to ensure the quality, efficiency and safety of the infrastructure, power and water sectors – including a strategic review of existing and new hydropower investments and projects in line with international standards.
Our visit to the site of the Lao-China railway yesterday enabled us to see the transformation that is taking place.
The ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR was extensively spoken about as a catalyst and partner to development. Without adequate engagement of the private sector the 2030 agenda for sustainable development will remain out of reach and unattainable. There was a strong consensus on improving the operating conditions that would be attractive for QUALITY PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT.
Development partners, including civil society organisations advocated for a conducive and enabling environment for the operation of civil society in the country.
WITHIN OUTCOME 2 OF OUR DISCUSSIONS ON ‘ENHANCED HUMAN DEVELOPMENT’ our consultations converged on the themes of human capital development and poverty reduction.
We all have reasons to celebrate that poverty in Lao PDR is reducing. However, we all need to be more ambitious in tackling rural poverty and inequalities. This may require the Government giving renewed consideration to this as it sets about framing the 9th NSEDP.
We were all reassured to hear that rates of FOOD INSECURITY AND MALNUTRITION are reducing. This Round Table acknowledged that perseverance is required in this area for sustainable results to be realized. This goal is fundamental to seeing Lao PDR climb the human assets index, which is vital to achieve LDC graduation.
Similarly, great efforts are being made to REDUCE UXO CASUALTIES and the clearance of contaminated land - yet the challenge ahead still remains vast.
We discussed the state of education. Among some laudable accomplishments, dropout rates continue to be high. Improvements to teacher quality and the quality of teaching are key to the success of the sector. We discussed the need for higher prioritization of investment in human assets as being at the heart of a human resources development strategy to secure the country’s future within a competitive regional economy.
Development partners, including my UN colleagues, voiced their views regarding maternal and child mortality rates, which have been significantly reduced. But these remain a cause for concern since they are still among the highest rates recorded in the region. Efforts to support adolescent girls, prevent early marriage and achieve gender equality were welcomed.
Regarding Outcome 3: ‘Improved Environmental Protection’ development partners acknowledged the Government’s leadership in ratifying the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) in response to the flooding benefited from strong leadership by the Government, supported by the World Bank, European Union and United Nations. This was a powerful example of Government leadership, coordination and collaboration. From that exercise we learned that the rural infrastructure and agriculture sector were particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, which is closely linked to food security, nutrition and public health. The ‘build back better’ principle should apply to damaged infrastructure.
The need to mainstream climate change adaptation and natural disaster management across all sectors was clear. Further coordination across Government agencies will assist in this regard. In addition, financial preparedness through insurance initiatives was encouraged.
The agricultural sector in particular would benefit from a greater uptake of climate-resilient practices and technological innovation. In addition, strengthening the legal and regulatory framework, for example, finalizing the law on disaster prevention and control is important. Building resilience and capacities at the community level, including early warning systems should be prioritized, especially for those communities at greatest risk.
With regard to the Cross-Cutting areas of the NSEDP, panel 4 clearly benefited from a useful and constructive discussion regarding progress towards A RULE OF LAW STATE AND IMPROVED ACCESS TO JUSTICE.
Our consultations included reference to a number of legal reforms that have either been introduced, or are being introduced. This included revisions to the national constitution, human rights legislation and the codifying of criminal and civil laws. These efforts continue to bring domestic laws into alignment with international norms – which will continue to be work in progress as the next Universal Periodic Review approaches in 2020.
Continued efforts to raise awareness and disseminate the laws, including engaging of civil society, in helping to raise awareness of people’s rights and obligations under the law. Panel Four also recommended more could be done to strengthen institutional capacity for implementation and enforcement of the rule of law.
Progress and challenges regarding gender equality and the advancement of women was outlined – in particular through SDG 5. Statistical disaggregation is increasingly taking place, which is welcome, and which will help in the better targeting for promoting inclusive growth – especially of vulnerable women, the disabled and communities in remote areas.
In our final session I am grateful to the presentation made by Mr. Anoupab Vongnorkeo from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and LDC graduation. Indeed, in the run up to this round table meeting we have had a well-rounded consultation on how Lao PDR can succeed in both. This was backed by the Government’s Voluntary National Review into implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the workshop report of the pre-consultation meeting on LDC graduation that took place at the end of August.
In summing up I was extremely pleased with the high level of policy discussion that took place today. And whilst time is always short, I believe we have arrived at a stronger mutual consensus on the key challenges and priorities where we must invest our time, resources and financing in the next two years of the 8th NSEDP.
Each Round Table Meeting has a character of its own – and I am pleased to see that our meeting this year has built further on the CONTINUITY OF ISSUES that have been raised in previous Round Table meetings. The Joint Government of Lao/UN Secretariat will set about recording a summary of the major themes that we have discussed today so that we may be able to gauge our progress on this agenda, including through the Sector Working Groups, over the 12 months ahead. This will build on the results orientation that we have sought to bring to the Round Table process.
Let me close by congratulating the Government for once again hosting us all so brilliantly, and for engaging all development partners so openly in a discussion on the national development priorities.
I would like to acknowledge Luxembourg for its support to the Round Table Meeting.
I am especially grateful to my co-chair today, His Excellency, Mr. Souphanh Keomixay, Minister of Planning & Investment for his leadership of the Round Table, as well as His Excellency, Vice Minister Dr. Kikeo for his gracious collaboration. I am also extremely grateful to all Government representative and all development partners who have attended and participated so constructively in the proceedings over the past couple of days.
I wish you all a very pleasant evening.