Viewpoint by Nelsy Lizarazo, for InDepthNews.
I visited to San Pablo 15 years ago and it was clearly the poorest neighbourhood of Portoviejo, the regional capital of Manabí Province.
Then, there was no drinking water. Families could not even imagine the possibility of free basic education for all, and secondary education even less. You could not walk on the streets after 5 in the evening and the health centre had neither sufficient medical staff nor medicine to cover the neighbourhood’s needs.
I returned to San Pablo at the beginning of September this year.
There I met Monica, a 29-year-old single mother of an 8-year-old daughter. Six months earlier – and against all macho traditions – she won the presidency of the neighbourhood council. Today she is Madam President and works tirelessly day in and day out for her neighbours.
With total conviction, she told me: “Without the progress over the last ten years, we wouldn’t have achieved access to education for our boys and girls, we wouldn’t have the medical attention that we have, we wouldn’t have obtained drinking water for the entire area, or the attention and opportunities for the disabled that they deserve.
“I don’t have to tell you that our lives have changed: you only have to come to San Pablo to see for yourself.”
Monica knows that her life and that of the large majority of her neighbours has changed. Maybe she does not know that behind these changes there have been clear decisions to prioritise social policies, particularly in the fields of health and education.
She probably does not know either that these social policies were linked to the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs – that were adopted by Ecuador and integrated over the last 12 years into the bigger picture for the country’s public policy strategy: the National Good Living Plan.
It is thanks to that political decision, reflected in social investment, concrete programmes and action that Ecuador managed to present indicators that more than surpassed the goals in 20 of the 21 MDGs “ahead of time and to a standard greater than agreed”, in the words of President Rafael Correa during his speech to the Sustainable Development Summit convened by the United Nations in September 2015.
Likewise, the government committed itself to achieving 68 percent of the only goal not yet achieved – reduction in maternal mortality – by the end of the year.
Monica certainly does not know all these details, but she is experiencing what these achievements means to her people every day.
That Rafael Correa’s government can present such positive results with regard to the MDGs would seem to be a paradox. This is the same government that in Correa’s presidential acceptance speech in 2007 strongly criticised these objectives, affirming that there had been no discussion at all of the enormous and historical, social and economic asymmetry on the planet.
This point was repeated time and time again in different international fora and by different official government spokespersons of the so-called “Citizen’s Revolution”.
One of these was Pabel Muñoz, who was National Secretary for Planning until very recently. He is on record as saying the MDGs “were set as targets by the North for the South and did not involve local stakeholders, be they governments, civil society organisations or citizens of the country’s regions”.
Today this critical position on the MDGs has turned into acceptance and optimism regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to official government representatives, a clear regard for action linked to the redistribution of income and wealth have now been incorporated into these goals. Indeed, speaking at the Sustainable Development Summit, the same Pabel Muñoz said that the SDGs and their aims “are consistent with our [Ecuadorian] development plan.”
In fact, the SDGs incorporate issues and goals that have been contemplated and served as key to the country’s National Good Living Plan for 2013-2017: poverty reduction, gender equality and climate change, for example.
For her part, the former minister for social development coordination, Cecilia Vaca Jones, has explained how nine of the 17 SDGs are directly related to social policy and, unlike the MDGs, are closely related to the achievement of equality and equity, which she understands as meaning a closer focus on the development proposal that underpins the country’s public policy.
On defining the country’s priorities with regard to the SDGs and clearly reflecting them in the budget for 2016, Vaca Jones said that every effort aimed at guaranteeing quality education (SDG 4) will be maintained and deepened to ensure the criteria of inclusion and equity.
Moreover, as has been shown in previous years, a central issue is the eradication of poverty in all its forms (SDG 1) and this will continue to be an issue for the current government. In addition, the already-started task of ensuring sustainable consumption and production, as set out in SDG 12, will continue.
In several official speeches, government spokespersons have highlighted the country’s interest in progressing towards the achievement of all goals linked to the environment, in line with the country’s Constitution and recognition of the “rights of nature”.
How the country will advance towards achievement of the SDGs is an interesting question and the answer can be built around four central elements which are those that were applied in the last decade to obtain the results that have already been achieved.
Firstly, a firm and clear fiscal policy. Social contracts are not possible without fiscal contracts and a large part of the social investment that has been done in the country has been possible thanks to the collection of taxes.
This policy must be sustained and deepened, working continuously to raise public awareness. It is essential that the people understand clearly that the payment of taxes is positively reflected in reduction of the gaps and inequity that still exists in the country.
Secondly, so-called anti-cyclic policies. In critical moments of the economic cycle, social investment should not be reduced. These policies are based on the principle that the greater the social investment, the greater the possibility for productivity, growth and exit from the crisis.
Thirdly, the strengthening of work in local areas and working directly with groups that have been historically excluded and with groups in need of priority attention.
Finally, a concept that has guided public administration over the last decade: namely, supporting human beings and their capacities as the primary and main resource for development.
The key to achieve the aims proposed in the SDGs lies in supporting the capacities of people like Monica, the residents of San Pablo, and communities across the country.