Finance Minister upbeat on millennium development goals

As the United Nations ups the momentum for reaching the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the government here says that policies pertaining to reaching these goals have been accelerated and the future seems bright.

“We have crafted a national policy agenda within the context of MDGs attainment…all of the themes captured by the MDG framework have in fact  been placed at the centre of our national policy agenda  with the aim of accelerating attainment of the MDGs,” Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh said.

He was speaking at an engagement on Thursday with the media at the Georgetown Club, hosted by the United Nations team in Guyana, on the role the media plays in highlighting MDG issues and sustaining the momentum in reaching the goals especially with the UN’s current acceleration action plan termed ‘MDG Momentum-1000 Days of Action’.

Dr. Ashni Singh
Dr. Ashni Singh

The eight MDGs, inaugurated in 2000, represent a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and improve the health and welfare of the world’s poorest people by setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. They are: Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; Achieving universal primary education; Promoting gender equality and empowering women; Reducing child mortality; Improving maternal health; Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Ensuring environmental sustainability; and Developing a global partnership.

The UN panel at the event comprised Resident Co-ordinator, Khadijah Musa, Dr. Adrianus Vlugman of WHO, Angela Alleyne of the FAO, Marianne Flach of UNICEF, Rui Oliveira Reis of the International Organisation for Migration, Babsy Persaud-Giddings of UNFPA, Roberto Campos of UNAIDS and Deputy Resident Coordinator Chisa Mikami.

Singh updating the media on Guyana’s position on MDG attainment thus far referred to the 2011 Progress report which had been compiled and pointed out Guyana’s attainment of MDG Goal 2 (universal primary education) and bright prospects on reaching others.

The report states that “Guyana’s progress towards the attainment of the MDGs has been substantial….Guyana has already met the targets for nutrition and child health, and is on track to achieve the goals relating to education, water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS. However, it is important to note that some targets, such as those relating to maternal health, still require more effort in the years to come”.

Acknowledging Guyana’s progress, the UN Resident Coordinator, Musa stated that although there are just 800 days remaining to the 2015 deadline there was still much the media can do to assist in the country’s attainment of the goals.

“The support of the media …is essential, really absolutely essential in helping to accelerate progress and ensuring that key issues…remain in the forefront of public consciousness,” she said.

“It can also be an avenue for encouraging the participation of society as a whole  in shaping the way forward… giving a voice to those groups that are most vulnerable”, she added.

The problem with the media’s lack of access to data and information from the respective ministries and agencies of government was pointed out by Stabroek News’ Editor-in- Chief Anand Persaud.  Citing maternal and child mortality in particular, he said “The media has a very, very hard time trying to get access to information…  I think the problem is that there is a lack of information from the agencies that should be engaging the media”.

Persaud stressed the role of the media as an intermediary which brings the issues of people to the centre and said that the withholding or lack of data to bring awareness of MDG issues defeats its purpose.

As he bemoaned the slothfulness of the Ministry of Health in particular as it relates to information on MDGs 4 and 5 he said “For example as it pertains to MDGs four and five  there is not enough information… when we talk about targets we talk about the macro level when we should be addressing the micro”.

Pointing to maternity deaths that have occurred, he said that families which have lost loved ones are frequently left in the dark about the causes and what steps are being taken to ensure that the issues that led to the deaths do not recur.

“Certainly those are the cases that we can find out what went wrong where we go from there and plan accordingly…. unfortunately the family and the people affected are completely at sea …unfortunately we see it happening over and over,” he added.

Other media representatives pointed out that with MDGs 5 and 6 being areas that Guyana seems to be lagging behind,  the respective government agencies should have available statistics and personnel to answer questions where needs be.

Singh in his response said that looking at MDGs from a micro perspective might seem gloomy but that the aggregated numbers reflect a country that has shown significant improvements over the years.

Speaking specifically to maternal mortality he said that the numerous “good works” of the respective personnel are often drowned out by the deaths of a few and asked that there be balanced reporting. “I have no difficulty with the media identifying the one incident that occurred, with the media asking government what is being done to ensure that we have no such incident …but at the same time there should be some recognition of the fact that there has been a reduction in the macro indicator,” he said.

He said nevertheless that maternal mortality will see accelerated attention in light of the current problems being faced and this was something that Cabinet was paying attention to.

The UN representatives gave updates in their respective areas on the country’s progress towards the 2015 MDG deadline. They reported that apart from one section of MDG five, relating to maternal mortality, the country seems poised to meet most of the goals. For a developing country Guyana was commended but urged not to be complacent in the poverty alleviation acceleration drives.

Areas such as funding and the country’s logistics were reported as challenges in reaching MDG goals but the Finance Minister pledged that government will continue the campaign. “We will not tire; we will continue… We remain firmly committed to making the necessary investment that is required to achieve the MDGs,” he said.


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