by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, 28 Jun 2000 -- When the time comes to submit accounts, it is not easy. And when more than 150 governments get together to take stock of progress made on commitments they made, chaos must not be ruled out.

[The normal problems of such UN gatherings with so many delegates and civil society organizations, and business groups, have been accentuated by some heavy-handed security, out of proportion to the number of dignitaries present and to be protected.]

But under this veneer of chaos at the Special UN Session on Social Development - with burdensome and ham-handed security, restricted media access to working group meetings, and unpalatable reports - a more fundamental change seems to be underway.

The fabric of international development cooperation, which for long has been moving along with numerous stitches, could well be in the process of being torn apart. There are many reasons to believe that this may indeed be the reality.

At Copenhagen, 117 heads of State or Government showed up - in sharp contrast to barely 20 in Geneva - with only two from the developed world - one from Denmark and the other from Norway. It is clear that leaders from both sides of the South-North divide have shied away.

Yet, world leaders had set out their commitment to change human society for the better through 10 broad commitments. At the start of the Geneva Summit, the President of the Special Session of the UN General Assembly, Dr. Ben-Theo Gurirab said these 10 commitments were not to be revised.

What is being negotiated, however, is the way forward. And here the most contentious of all is the language being used to draft these negotiated texts. The developed countries would like to see the motors of globalization, from which they benefit the most, humming away into the future.

In contrast, much of the developing world, which is groaning under its “cut-throat” inequity, would like to see globalisation spin-off much greater benefits and at a faster pace to the billions of marginalized people.

“Five years after Copenhagen, we are still looking for the human face of ‘globalization,’ said Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt, in her address to the Special Session. “In our new globalizing world of accelerating change, the forces of unrestrained free markets have exposed large numbers of people to uncertainties unimagined by previous generations.”

The Egyptian First Lady called for a fundamental change in the rules of the game. “Today, third world countries are expected to implement reforms at a fraction of the time it took first world countries to absorb change. We have a new revolution on our hands where ‘transformation’ and ‘transition’ have become the buzzwords for progress.

“We are all subject to the pressures and risks of globalization, yet we do not share equally - neither in its burdens nor in its benefits.  Globalization, and its attendant, the so-called ‘open’ market which is not friendly to the poor, the weak or the vulnerable gives an extra edge to those individuals and groups who have the initial advantage of wealth, knowledge and networks, they are controlled by powerful interest groups.”

In his address to the Special Session, the Indian Minister for Planning, Mr K. C. Pant said that “India would favour any move to channel as much as possible of the gains of globalization into time bound poverty eradication initiatives. What is of central concern to the poor of the world is that the spin-offs from globalization must translate into social benefits.”

Describing poverty as a “stigma on the face of all humanity and not just of a particular region or nation,” Pant urged developed countries to remove restrictions to the free movement of labour. “While we welcome the flow of capital, the developed countries must seriously consider the disadvantages imposed on developing countries by restrictions on mobility of labour.”

Mrs. Mubarak also expressed disappointment at the role of the transnational corporations, the 200 most important of whom have sales that surpass the combined economies of 182 countries. “We were led to believe that transnational companies will replace our failing public enterprises in generating investments, employment and exports. And yet, their activity is increasingly concentrated in the few countries and regions that were able to make an early transition and are backed with strong political support from OECD countries.”

“The role played by national governments in the area of social policy is undermined by donor requirements to reduce government intervention,” she added. “Social responsibility requires regulation and closer monitoring by the relevant national government, to ensure that market actors such as transnational and local entrepreneurs balance the desire for profit-maximization with the duty, and I repeat ‘the duty’ to serve the public good.”

But much of big business is relied on to obey their own voluntary discipline to become ‘good corporate citizens.’ In fact, even the “global compact’ that the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan entered into with big business corporations, relies essentially on their ‘self-regulation.’ The woes of globalization are also well documented in background documents prepared by the United Nations for the Geneva Summit.

The Dutch Minister for Development Co-operation, Mrs. Evelien Herfkens, while addressing the “Parliamentarians for Global Action Forum,” here Tuesday, made some rather critical observations while speaking on globalisation and poverty. “Although rich countries preach liberalization, they are selective in how they practise it,” she said.

“Import duties, tariff escalation, export subsidies, anti-dumping measures and other forms of protectionism continue to exist. The protectionist measures taken by OECD countries in agriculture alone cost developing countries $20 billion in income every year,” the Dutch Minister said.

“I call on parliamentarians in industrialised countries to have the guts to challenge their governments’ trade policies, even if this occasionally means going against certain short-term national interests,” Herfkens said. “Many northern MPs pay a lot of lip-service to the issue of banning child labour, for instance in the textile industry in South Asia. However: how many of them effectively advocate increased market access for textile products from these countries - which would increase the resources to enable them to effectively combat child labour - by increasing wages for their parents and expanding primary education?” she asked.

The same applies to debt, Herfkens said. “The G-7 countries constantly promise debt relief, but they refuse to foot the bill. The US Congress last week made available a miserable $75 million for the debt initiative; 1/3 of what the Netherlands already disbursed for this purpose, and just a fraction of the one billion the US Administration pledged last fall.”

On global governance, the Dutch Minister noted that unfortunately, it had lagged far behind the globalisation of markets. “Relations on these global markets are highly unequal, and this needs to be taken into account in setting international rules. Developing countries will have to be given a genuine opportunity to participate in the international negotiations on the rules that govern the global marketplace.”

More important than accepting the responsibility for past failures - which, incidentally few are willing to accept - will be the resolve and arrangements entered into for correcting those failures. “In today’s global village, peace and sustainable development will ultimately rest on our sensitivity to each other’s concerns,” the Indian Planning Minister told the Special Session.

“In lots of areas of the Mideast, Africa and Latin America, we can expect real turbulence if present national and global policies continue and the problems they cause are not resolved,” noted Dharam Ghai, ex-director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development while participating in the Geneva 2000 Forum. He told the Earth Times that “basic changes in how the global economy functions” is needed and that failure to act would lead to “violence and fundamentalist movements of all types....”

The former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin said here Monday that electoral abstention and political apathy almost everywhere are hard evidence of the peoples’ loss of confidence in democracy and political representatives in Parliament. “Civil society is increasingly under control from economic and financial powers which also control the mass media. Every day trade unions and professional guilds become weaker and weaker,” he told Terra Viva.

Yet, the one-way push for “democracy, good governance and human rights” appears to be the mantra adopted by the powerful Bretton Woods Institutions in trying to assist developing countries.

In contrast, the imbalances on those same accounts at the international level - within multilateral institutions - appear to be easily glossed over, and the rich controlling these institutions have made clear they would brook no moves to democratise the governance of these institutions.-SUNS4697

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