Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator: Keynote Address at the 12th High Level Round Table Meeting Vientiane, Lao PDR

Nov 27, 2015

Your Excellency Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong

Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith

Excellencies and Ambassadors,

Development Partners,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be back in Lao PDR to open this 12th High Level Round Table Meeting with the Prime Minister.

It has been five years since my last visit to this beautiful country, and this is my fourth visit since 1998.  I know Lao PDR as a country of great cultural and environmental richness, and I know how hard it is working to meet its national development aspirations and the internationally agreed development goals.

This High Level Round Table Meeting is a very important forum for the Government of Laos and a growing range of stakeholders, including development partners, to engage directly in policy discussion and consensus building around Lao PDR’s development strategies.  Here we can:

  • discuss how to link global and regional agendas to the national agenda;
  • take stock of the work being done in each major development sector;     
  • examine together the tangible development results being achieved; and
  • align the combined resources and energies of partners around the priorities of the Government’s 8th National Social and Economic Development Plan (NSEDP). 

I am especially encouraged to see the broad spectrum of stakeholders gathered, including senior government policy and decision makers, senior representatives from development partners and international organizations, colleagues from across the UN family, and - important for enriching our discussions – representatives from the business community and civil society.    

Lao PDR’s Leadership and Progress on the MDGs

Over the past fifteen years Lao PDR has been a champion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Through successive National Social and Economic Development Plans, Lao PDR’s commitment to the MDGs has been strong. His Excellency President Choummaly Sayasone has contributed to meetings of the United Nations General Assembly on global development, most recently in September this year.            

The country achieved many MDG targets ahead of schedule. Significant development gains have been demonstrated in education, child health, maternal health, gender equality, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.              

Looking at Lao PDR’s progress from 1992, beginning from a position of being one of the poorest nations in Asia, Lao PDR had reduced its national poverty rate by half, from 46 per cent to 23 per cent by 2012, thereby achieving the MDG poverty target.

Over the same period Lao PDR sustained strong economic growth averaging above 7 per cent per annum. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita reached US$ 1,600 in 2014, and is expected to exceed US$ 2,400 by the end of the decade.

The Government gave strong leadership on the MDG agenda, fully integrating the goals and targets in its national plans and programmes. The United Nation’s MDG acceleration framework is being used on the food and nutrition target under MDG 1.  Development partners have been consistently supportive of MDG progress.           

The designation of an “MDG 9” on the clearance of cluster munitions by Lao PDR was an important national innovation.  It highlighted an additional formidable challenge which the country faces - that of an estimated 8.7 million hectares of land contaminated by unexploded ordinance (UXO).  I understand that the Government has recently adopted a new methodology for locating and clearing bombs which is expected to make UXO clearance operations more effective.  I encourage all development partners to accelerate efforts to support Lao PDR on this life and death matter, and commend the country on its global leadership in support of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  

A key driver of prosperity for a landlocked country is regional integration.  I am pleased to see this continue to feature prominently in the Lao PDR’s agenda.  This country is a keen member of ASEAN and can benefit from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN’s new Community Vision 2025.  Lao PDR assumes the Chair of ASEAN for 2016. UNDP stands ready to support the Government any way it can during its year as Chair of this vibrant regional community.       

While Lao PDR can report many positive development results, it is also refreshing to observe that the Government is the first to acknowledge that there is unfinished business associated with the MDGs. Not all targets were able to be met.  Rising inequalities are a key challenge for Laos, as they are for a great many other countries. Child nutrition and environmental sustainability are also areas needing continued focus.

Lao PDR is intent on tackling its economic, social, and environmental vulnerabilities, which will be necessary for achieving its aim of   graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status.  The 8th five-year national plan (2016-2020) is rightly directed towards more balanced, broad-based, inclusive and sustainable growth and development.   As UN partners, we stand ready to support Government in the implementation of this plan, to help meet the unfinished business of the MDGs, and to assist in securing a smooth transition from LDC status upon graduation.


Agenda 2030: what it means for Lao PDR.

This brings me to the new global development framework, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and what they mean for countries like Lao PDR.

The process of formulating Agenda 2030 and the seventeen SDGs was highly inclusive.  Three years of consultations and public outreach preceded its launch in September. Input was received from 8.5 million people around the world through the MyWorld survey, and many thousands of people participated directly in the 88 national consultations.

I am most grateful to Lao PDR for playing a full part in the design of the new agenda.  The national consultation in Lao PDR helped not only to obtain the views of government, but also those of civil society, the private sector, and citizens from across the country.

This new agenda is universal, applying to all countries, and it is premised on the principle of leaving no one behind.  Eradicating poverty within the context of sustainable development is its core purpose.

Building on the MDGs, the new agenda is bold and ambitious. It is sub-titled ‘Transforming Our World’, and recognizes the need for whole of government approaches across the three strands of sustainable development – the economic, social, and environmental. This requires “whole-of-government” co-ordination, and requires well co-ordinated UN Country Teams and development partners too.

In this regard, the 8th National Social and Economic Development Plan is a very important document which comes at a pivotal time. If implemented successfully, it will drive graduation from LDC status, complete Lao PDR’s unfinished MDG business, and deliver early progress on the SDGs.

I commend the Government for formulating the 8th NSEDP through a consultative process, and for adopting a results and outcome based approach to its national plan for the first time.  This has helped to reduce the number of targets and indicators needed to monitor progress.    The efforts made to integrate the new Sustainable Development Goals into the fabric of the plan, its major programmes and monitoring framework, is very encouraging.    

Given the scope and scale of the new global agenda, we need partnerships for development which are more diverse and inclusive than ever before. The role of the private sector and of civil society will be vital alongside those of governments and development partners.

The “Vientiane Declaration on Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation” helps to break the mold of the traditional donor-recipient approach. It seeks to build a more diverse partnership, which can also expand the envelope of resources available for development.

The core provisions of the Vientiane Declaration are aligned with elements of the new SDG 16 on building peaceful and inclusive societies and with SDG 17 on partnerships. It includes references to ensuring:

stronger linkages between planning and budgeting;

  • a transparent national budget;
  • ensuring that traditional ODA is invested well to achieve maximum impact;
  • alignment and harmonization of assistance to national priorities;
  • deepening of inclusive partnerships;
  • greater transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in general;
  • capitalizing on increased South-South Co-operation, knowledge, and technology transfer; and
  • energizing reforms which will enable more effective mobilization of domestic resources for reinvestment in the social sectors. 

This last point, the generation of adequate domestic revenues, provides a pathway to long term financial self-sufficiency.  Domestic revenues are the primary source of investment in development, including in education, skills training, and health services. Investment in these drives the human development on which inclusive and sustainable growth depends.  Lao PDR has clearly indicated that it wishes to go in this direction in its new national plan. 


UNDP’s experience and UN offer on SDG implementation

As we move to implement the new global development agenda, allow me to share a few insights from UNDP’s experience over fifteen years working with the MDGs.         

Progress on one MDG target always had implications for progress on others, but work on the MDGs was often done in silos. That was a problem which the MDG Acceleration Framework, applied in over fifty countries from 2010 on, sought to overcome.

Now, as countries prepare to tackle the SDGs, the explicit interconnectedness of the new goals and targets needs to be reflected in the design and implementation of policies and initiatives, and also in the institutional relationships which drive and oversee them.  As this development round table proceeds through its respective economic, social and environmental segments, it will be important to realize the policy linkages between these.

For example, in the last two decades, the key drivers of economic growth in Lao PDR have been hydropower, minerals, and forestry – essentially deriving from the environment and natural resources sector.  Being predominantly capital intensive, these sectors have not always delivered sufficient or timely gains for human development as might have been originally hoped for.  Nor have the benefits which have accrued been shared widely enough. 

As well, as Agenda 2030 states, we need to better recognize the interdependence of human wellbeing and healthy ecosystems, and strike the right balance between people and planet.  In this respect there are grounds for concern about the rate of deforestation and the threat to biodiversity in Lao PDR.

The report of accomplishments and lessons learned from implementation of the 7th National Social and Economic Development Plan itself takes stock of the need to strike a balance across the dimensions of sustainable development.  The principle of rebalancing ‘people, profits and planet’ fits well with the integrated economic, social, and environmental objectives of the 8th national plan.

Nowhere in the world is economic growth alone a guarantee of substantial poverty reduction. The quality of growth and of public policy settings matter in delivering human and sustainable development. Development partners present here today are well placed to step up their policy and technical advice to assist the Government to achieve increasingly higher quality and more inclusive growth in future.

On economic transformation the 8th NSEDP calls for:

  • creating conditions which will enable the private sector to flourish;
  • transformation of the agricultural sector (which currently employs the majority of the national workforce);
  • effecting a gradual shift to an industrialized, knowledge-based economy;
  • pursuit of greater economic diversification;
  • moving from seeing the country as land-locked to seeing it as land-linked with the opportunities that brings;
  • engaging in higher value-added productive activity;
  • all of these need to be underpinned by an increasingly skilled labour force. 

The evolution and strengthening of the partnership for development with the private sector will be critical for achieving the aims of the 8th national plan.

In the social section of the Round Table Meeting agenda today, there will be particular interest in the progress being made on food security and nutrition.  This was fundamental in progressing MDG 1, and is now critical for reaching the new SDGs 1, 2 and 3. 

In this case, initiatives across the agriculture sector, rural development (in particular in remote communities), energy and infrastructure, health, education, water, irrigation and sanitation are all interlinked.  This challenges institutions and partnerships to identify the barriers to progress and find effective and lasting solutions.  Services need to be versatile, linked and local, in order to reach the last mile to the communities they serve.

In this respect we admire the ‘convergence approach’ being pursued by the Government, in which relevant ministries are co-ordinating closely to tackle this priority in integrated ways at the national and provincial levels, and are supported by development partners.  This is the kind of institutional innovation and partnership which will be required to progress the SDGs.  The learning generated from the convergence approach can help inform approaches in other critical areas.

Another challenge which cuts across the economic, social, and environmental spectrum is climate change.  SDG 13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.  Lao PDR already has a well-developed climate change strategy, and has completed both its first and second national communications to the UNFCCC ahead of time.  The country is also strengthening its institutional arrangements to ensure a ‘whole of government’ response to climate change.

There is tremendous optimism and hope that COP 21 in Paris will deliver a new global climate agreement.  As United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon has said, "Ours is the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

Climate change is intensifying the impacts of weather-related natural disasters.  Laos is located in the most disaster prone region in the world – the Asia Pacific.  I encourage the efforts Lao PDR is making to implement the outcome of the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan in March this year.  The bottom line here is that ‘if development is not risk informed, it is not sustainable development’.


Prime Minister,

Let me confirm that the UN system stands ready to support the Government and its development partners with the full implementation of the 8th national plan and the Vientiane Partnership Declaration, and to support the full integration of the SDGs into the national development agenda. 

The UN Development Group has already developed elements of a common approach to SDG implementation called ‘MAPS’, which stands for Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support.

‘Mainstreaming’, refers to the support we can give governments as they incorporate the agenda in their national and local strategies, plans, and budgets, and strengthen their data systems. This will require intensive outreach to national stakeholders about the new agenda, and, where appropriate, strengthening the capacities of stakeholders to contribute.

‘Acceleration’ will entail supporting countries to identify obstacles and bottlenecks standing in the way of making progress on the SDGs, and identifying actions which can remove them.

‘Policy support’ will make co-ordinated policy and technical support available from the UN system to countries on request, drawing on our extensive expertise and programming experience.

MAPS is an approach which can be readily adjusted to the development context, challenges, and opportunities here in Lao PDR.  Supporting partnerships, the availability of quality data and analysis, and accountability, are themes which cut across all three components of our approach to implementation.

In closing, let me underline that sustainable development is not something which happens to somebody else, somewhere else. We all have a stake in it, and Lao PDR, like every country, has work to do to progress towards it. There are challenges in the new Sustainable Development Goals for every country on earth.

The good news is that our world has more wealth, more knowledge, more technologies and stronger partnerships at its disposal than ever before. The challenges we face are mostly human induced. We can tackle them, but not if we keep doing business as usual and expecting different results.

Ours is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate change as the UN Secretary-General has said, and the first generation with the wealth and knowledge to eradicate poverty.  For this, leadership from us all is needed. 

If the international community is prepared to step up collectively to the challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, then there’s a chance of achieving sustainable development – and with it of transforming prospects for people and planet.

It is for this reason that I am so pleased to attend this forum in Lao PDR, to see the global vision which has been crafted for the future of humanity and our planet being turned into action at the national level.


I sincerely wish you all every success in your discussions.  

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