Parliamentary Roundtable on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan, March 10, 2022:

The Parliamentary Taskforce on Sustainable Development Goals at the National Assembly of Pakistan in collaboration with the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) organized a Parliamentary Roundtable on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan on March 10, 2022. The roundtable aimed to provide an opportunity to review the efforts of the country in implementing SDGs amongst the august galaxy of Honorable Members of Parliament from UK and Pakistan as well as area experts for each SDG. H.E. Stephen Twigg, Secretary General, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and H. E. Ian Lidell-Grainger MP UK House of Commons and the Acting Chair CPA graced the occasion as Guests of Honor while the final session was chaired by Hon. Mr. Riaz Fatyana, MNA and Convener, National Parliamentary SDGs Taskforce. The roundtable was attended by more than 45 participants comprising of Honorable Members of the Senate and the National Assembly from the National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs, members of civil society organizations, academicians and experts on SDGs. Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services launched 2nd edition of data book on SDGs. Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, Director General (Research) PIPS, moderated the session. The proceedings commenced with the recitation of verses of the Holy Quran by Qari Anees-ur-Rehman.

Honorable Ms. Shandana Gulzar Khan, MNA/ Member of National SDGs taskforce/ Chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, acknowledged PIPS support in organizing such roundtables and termed it as the brain of the National Assembly that provides technical & research assistance for informed decisions by the MPs. She recognized that the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Ayaz Sadiq, MNA, and Ms. Marriyum Aurangzeb, MNA, former Convener of the National SDGs Taskforce, deserve appreciation for establishing the SDGs Secretariat in the National Assembly with UNDP support in 2014-15. She informed that we have established provincial SDGs Secretariats in each province, and that the federal SDGs Secretariat is based in ICT. She stated that the taskforce is working with the IPU, CPA, and almost every stakeholder because the Secretariat has cross-party representation, different genders and different religions, but it still overcomes these differences for the benefit of the people of Pakistan. She stated that the SDGs secretariat was able to produce the most legislation on SDG 16, SDG 08, SDG 04, SDG 07, SDG 12, SDG 13, 14 and 15. She stated that the SDGs Secretariat has crossed many of the goals that it set. She suggested that if the CPA may have small branches or units, there must be a way for the SDGs Secretariat in Pakistan to communicate with the CPA Secretariat, given that only eight years have been left to achieve these goals. She also praised the CPA for its excellent service to all Commonwealth countries. Honorable Dr. Nafisa Shah, MNA/ Member National SDGs Taskforce/ Former Vice President, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, expressed her thoughts on the topic “Women at the Center of Pakistan’s Development Agenda.” She stressed that women must be central to development agenda, both as targets as they remain far behind in all development indicators, but also as active agents. She said that despite our endorsement of SDGs and other international covenants and instruments, and our own fundamental vision committing equal rights, we remain very far from achieving these goals. To achieve these, robust efforts, commitments and interventions are needed in women’s strategic rights, such as end to violence against women, and physical rights where we ensure as a state policy to make women central in development agenda. This requires major policy initiatives and changes.  She also shared some examples focusing on women as central to poverty alleviation by making them the pivots on which social security programs rest. She informed that in 2002, 60 women entered the Pakistani Parliament and transformed the character, the culture and the performance of the Parliament to add to 272 mostly male members. Similar numbers included in the Provincial Assemblies. This led to a radical transformation in the performance of the Parliament at the national and provincial levels with the 20 percent women contributing to nearly 50 percent of the parliamentary business including questions, motions and legislation. She said that today we have also succeeded in convincing political parties to nominate a minimum number of seats to women to contest elections so as to increase this number further and electoral reforms law makes it mandatory.  Pakistani women parliamentarians pioneered a special committee for the Millennium Development Goals and now more recently, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution adopting the SDGs Agenda as its own national development agenda. The establishment of Parliamentary Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Secretariat, in the National Assembly of Pakistan is unique. The Secretariat enables the legislators to have access to Human Development Index (HDI) data, conduct evidence-based legislation and helps provide effective oversight in the Parliament. She stressed that the biggest challenge is an ideological one, where as a nation we must decide whether women will be partners in development or a patrimonial object. Political will naturally follow once we are able to see women as equal partners and the gaps in the indexes will begin to close fast enough. Honorable Dr. Aisha Ghuas Pasha, MNA/Member of National SDGs Taskforce, while speaking on the topic “Financing for SDGs and integrating SDGs into national policies” said that the amount of funding required to meet the SDGs is currently beyond our limits. “We are, unfortunately, in the midst of an IMF programme. While they are estimating all of these good numbers for us so that we know how much we need to spend, they are also a part of the programme. And while we are meeting the IMF’s performance requirement, we also have a budget deficit. We are also cutting our expenditures. She asked the participants that how are we going to meet our financial obligations? Hence, there is an inherent contradiction in the way they interact with us.” She argued that the government cannot achieve the 17 goals and 169 targets, both financially and in terms of capacity. She suggested that the government should reprioritize spending in the right areas so that SDGs can be put forward and budget can be utilized effectively. Furthermore, more resources must be mobilized to support the SDGs. Honorable Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha stated that meeting the SDGs by 2030 is impossible under these conditions, given the country’s severe lack of funding. She suggested that the UN reconsider shifting the deadline for meeting the SDGs from 2030 to 2035. Only then will there be a chance of achieving the SDGs, as the COVID-19 has set the world back 2-3 years in terms of progress on the SDGs. This could be the time for the global community to reconsider the time frame and make it more realistic. She concluded, “Let’s just think among ourselves whether we should really go and push for a bigger, larger time frame for the SDGs.” Mr. Ali Kamal, Chief SDGs, Federal SDGs Section, Ministry of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives, shared the measures taken by the Government to ensure national monitoring and support monitoring of SDG progress in Pakistan. He stated that the SDGs Units are operating at national and provincial levels to monitor the progress on SDGs. Recently these units have also been established in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir. He stated that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, a national statistical organization in Pakistan, covers 69 indicators in total, the majority of which come from administrative sources.He informed the participants that the government has selected 194 indicators for reporting until 2030, which will be approved by the National Economic Council. He also informed the participants that the Ministry is preparing to launch SDGs dashboard to display national data. H.E. Stephen Twigg, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), expressed satisfaction with Pakistan’s focus on the SDGs. He expressed keen interest in extending the SDGs deadline from 2030 to 2035, and stated that the CPA will pursue this further with the UN and other organizations. His only reservation was that this extension must not become an excuse for some countries to lose focus.  He stated that the CPA identified six cross-cutting themes, including gender, disability and youth, sustainable development, and climate change, and it was very focused on the SDGs and their importance when developing their new strategic plan. He also stated that the CPA Academy is developing a course to support MPs in their work on the SDGs as well as looking into other ways in which information can be provided centrally on some sort of portal that would share information with MPs and Parliaments all over the world. He commended the Honorable Members of Parliament from Pakistan for focusing women and people with disabilities, and indicated that one of the major tests of any SDG is what difference it will make for people with disabilities because disabled people face some of the most significant financial barriers, stigma and discrimination in countries all over the world. He also stated that the COVID crisis and its impact have made an already-tall mountain even taller. He appreciated Honorable Senator Sania Nishtar for her role in providing social protection to Pakistanis by leading the Ehsaas programme in Pakistan and representing the region at the CPA’s Working Group on Human Rights. He also appreciated the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services for developing a comprehensive publication on SDGs. H.E. Ian Lidell, Grainger MP, Acting Chair, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, statedthat the CPA’s entire work has centered around sustainability. He said that the CPA is a family of 54 nations with approximately 180 Parliaments that work closely together to support, understand, listen to, and help parliamentarians and parliaments all over the world. He congratulated Team PIPS for remarkable piece of work in the form of a publication on SDGs that he believed is essential technical assistance to the MPs and the taskforce. He stated that one of the most difficult challenges is that the GDP required meeting each of these targets. He said that it makes no difference if you are from the world’s largest economy or one of the smaller ones, the country must decide which bits it has and the most important goals that it wishes to achieve. He stated that one of the country’s major problems is a lack of investment. Yet he expressed the hope that as the world has digitalized, many new avenues of communication have opened up. He believed that trade can be used to generate GDP. Pakistan has a large economy that is well-suited for inward investment. It is a stable country and its people are well respected around the world. He stated that the Pakistani community has built extensive infrastructure in the United Kingdom. He suggested that the Pakistani embassy can play a role in persuading people to invest in Pakistan. He stated that COVID-19 has had an impact on all economies around the world. It has made things much more difficult and the recovery period may be much longer than we anticipated.

This inaugural session was followed by a roundtable discussion and presentation of set of recommendations and suggestions by the participants:

Key Recommendations:

  1. Global Community to reconsider the deadline for meeting SDGs: UN should reconsider shifting the deadline for meeting the SDGs from 2030 to 2035. Only then will there be a chance of achieving the SDGs, as the COVID-19 has set the world back 2-3 years in terms of progress on the SDGs. This could be the time for the global community to reconsider the time frame and make it more realistic.
  2. CPA Branches/ Units dedicated to SDGs should be developed: CPA should establish small SDGs Units/ branches so that SDGs Secretariat in the Pakistan can liaise to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. prioritize spending viz-aviz SDGs: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SDG progress has stalled for the past 2-3 years. Therefore, the government must reprioritize spending in the right areas so that the SDGs can be put in place and the budget can be utilized effectively. More resources must also be mobilized to support the SDGs.
  4. Increased access to livelihood and employment opportunities:  Out of all the SDGs the well-being and the livelihoods and employment opportunities for the people should remain the focus of the Government. The international community should support Pakistan in its efforts to create job opportunities and livelihoods, so that once there is economic prosperity and less inequity, the people will get their basic rights and flourish, and the SDGs mission will be successful.
  5. Inclusion of IT related Skills in Skill development programs: The vast majority of Pakistanis own high-tech cell phones and have the ability to learn IT-related skills. Therefore, IT-related skills should be included in skill development programmes. This will not only increase job opportunities, but will also help to improve people’s economic condition.
  6. Creation of a framework for the social inclusion of micro-businesses into the national economy: Microbusinesses and workers who do not require training, such as tile makers, potters, artists, and so on, should be included in the national economy. For social inclusion, the government must bring them together through various channels and organizations and develop a framework through which they can be channeled in order to increase exports and economic growth.
  7. Utilization of innovation and technology to ramp up social safety net: Penetration of technology has grown tremendously in Pakistan, and if the targeting is correct and a lot of access to social safety nets is through technology, then technology can address issues of empowerment and access to entitlements through social safety nets, as well as more opportunities and financing for education. 
  8. Emphasizing on Education Financing Innovation: Education financing should be far more innovative than it is now, with the government focusing on public-private partnerships. Such collaborations provide governments with a variety of innovative mechanisms for increasing access to education while also improving the quality and efficiency of education at all levels.
  9. Implementing existing SDG 12 plans and policies: There is a document on the National Action Plan for Sustainable Consumption and Production Goal (12). In addition, the Ministry of Climate Change has produced a curriculum to integrate sustainable consumption and production into graduate-level curricula. The government should disseminate and implement them on the ground. Through the august forum of Members of the SDGs Taskforce, the government can pilot some projects in the socioeconomic sector using resource efficiency methods and showcase Pakistan’s success in a few selected areas.
  10. Establishing a baseline for SDG targets and indicators: One participant asserted that, with the exception of 6.3.1, the baseline for the goal and the indicators are lacking. A baseline is required to understand where things are starting, as well as at least one other data point to assess progress. He stated that the UN University has developed a tool known as the policy support system “PSS,” which they are using to establish a baseline as well as aspirational and realistic targets for all six indicators. However, the country should prioritize establishing a baseline for each target in order to track progress toward each goal.
  11. Increasing Revenue Generation Efforts: In Pakistan, the tax-to-GDP ratio remains around 9%, and has even fallen below 9% in recent years. The government will not be able to meet the SDG targets unless it increases its revenue generation efforts within the country, and the international community can support in this regard.
  12.  Introducing structural reforms in government Institutions: A lack of structural reforms is one of the reasons the government has been unable to raise revenues. Centralization of powers remains one of the major challenges, and even after 12 years since the 18th constitutional amendment, federal ministries such as education and health exist at the federal level for no reason, implying that the government is spending resources that should not be spent. The structure of the section in a British-inherited ministry is nearly unchanged, with one person supported by six others. Therefore, authority within the Ministry should be devolved in such a way that a matter can be resolved in two steps, with one officer investigating the matter and the other disposing of it.
  13.  Decentralizing the development agenda and increase local government autonomy: There is not a single local government in place anywhere in the country, and while KP elections have been held, those governments are still not functional for a variety of reasons. Many of the SDGs’ subjects are now under the jurisdiction of local governments and should be devolved. Furthermore, the autonomy of the local government system should be increased so that spending priorities can be planned and executed precisely, resulting in better public services for citizens.
  14. Creating a market mechanism for a competitive private sector: The government should create a market mechanism for a competitive private sector because it is the private sector that can engage the youth. The government should not be the provider of employment, but rather the facilitator of employment opportunities.
  15. Enforcing workplace decency laws: Legislation such as the Industrial Relations Act and Provincial Acts are in place; these must be enforced. in terms of minimum wage rates, formal agreements and work-related injuries, etc.
  16. Focusing on trade to generate GDP: One of the country’s major problems is a lack of investment, and as the world has digitalized, many new avenues of communication have opened up. Trade can be one of the ways to generate GDP. Pakistan has a large economy that is well-suited for inward investment. It is a stable country, and its people are well respected all over the world. Pakistani embassies in other countries can help to persuade people to invest in Pakistan.

CONCLUSION: In his concluding remarks, Honorable Mr. Riaz Fatyana, MNA/Convener, National Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs, thanked the Honorable Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger, Acting Chair CPA, and Honorable Mr. Stephen Twigg, Secretary General CPA for visiting Pakistan on behalf of the Hon Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan Mr. Asad Qaiser and all Members of the cross-party Sustainable Development Goals Task Force at the National Parliament of Pakistan. He stated that the Commonwealth is a big family and that we can learn from each other’s experiences, and that we should strengthen our cooperation amongst ourselves in relation to our own efforts to implement the SDGs in Pakistan. He mentioned that the SDGs Parliamentary Taskforce has constituted various Goal-wise committees that have managed to engage with stakeholders to promote SDGs as part of the national narrative. The Ministry of Planning, as well as its counterparts in the provinces, have now established sections tasked with implementing the SDGs throughout the country. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the functioning of parliaments all over the world, and that Pakistan’s Parliament has also experienced periods of lockdown. He informed that the SDGs Secretariat is planning to organize the third Asian Parliamentary Seminar on the SDGs at the end of September 2022. He commended the professional services of team PIPS as well as staff members of SDG taskforce for organizing such a high-level discussion on SDGs in such a short period of time.

Mr Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director PIPS, presented the Institute’s Mementoes to the Hon MPs from CPA along with recent set of PIPS publications including the SDGs Databook 2022 to all participants.The second edition of the PIPS databook on SDGs was officially launched at the event. Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, DG (Research), acknowledged the learned experts who contributed chapters on each of the SDG goal. He informed the Honorable Members that the first edition of the book was utilized and quoted at the United Nations once Pakistan presented its country report. He specially recognized Ms. Tehseen Khalid (Director Research) for her unmitigated resolve in leading the initiative of preparation of the book. He also appreciated all members of Team Research comprising Mr. Muhammad Hanif Khan (Deputy Director Research), Ms. Fakiha Mehmood (Deputy Director Research), Mr. Jimshaid Asghar (Assistant Director Research), Mr. Muhammad Rizwan Manzoor (Assistant Director Research), Ms. Laraib Kiani, Mr. Areeb Shirazi & Ms. Adeela Shahzadi (Young Parliamentary Officers, PIPS) for their untiring efforts in data collection and editing of the publication, which took around five months. Honorable MPs from the United Kingdom and Pakistan lauded the efforts of all leading experts and the PIPS Research Wing in compiling the comprehensive data and analysis pack for MPs. The roundtable concluded with a group photo of all participants.

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