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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the Policy Forum on Ethnic Minority Development

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Date: 9th December 2015
Event: Policy Forum on Ethnic Minority Development
Venue: Sheraton Hotel, 11 Xuan Dieu Road, Hanoi

Mr. Danh Ut, Vice Chairman of National Assembly, Ethnic Council
Mr. Son Phuoc Hoan, Vice Chairman of CEMA  
Excellency Ms. Cait Moran, Ambassador of Ireland
Representatives of the Ministries, Development Partner agencies and the Media

Good morning and a warm welcome to the Ethnic Minority Policy Forum for 2015. This has been the year marked by the adoption of the global Sustainable Development Goals, under which UN Member States have committed to achieving a future which is prosperous and sustainable, but crucially  also where no one is left behind. This is an especially important consideration for minority populations suffering from deprivations.  

Inception of the SDGs also marks the final year of the MDGs. It has been an incredible journey - both globally and in here in Viet Nam. So much has been achieved here over the past 15 years. I want to take this opportunity to once again whole heartedly congratulate the Government and the Vietnamese people, for the transformational progress they have made in so short a time. This also reflects the strength of wider development progress in Viet Nam in the post-Doi Moi period which was based on pro-poor growth and equitable public service provision.  

While all of Vietnam’s citizens have seen progress, we have to also recognize that some areas and population groups, specifically ethnic minorities and people living in mountainous areas, have lagged behind.  Strikingly, income poverty levels for the ethnic minorities are more than three and half times the national average. Moreover, disparities between ethnic minorities and the majority population are very high for many of the other MDGs also, and the challenges are often interlocking and self-reinforcing. To reference just a few - literacy rates, weight-for-age malnutrition rates for under-5s and households access to sanitary toilets all show major differences. This comparative lack of progress among EM groups indicates that there remains much to do to eliminate poverty and other key deprivations.  This must form part of Viet Nam’s efforts to complete its MDG agenda. Without new and innovative actions, a vicious cycle of poverty may set in. Addressing the challenge of interlocking and intergenerational deprivation should be the first priority for SDG implementation.

Actions speak louder than words. It is inspiring to see how quickly the Government of Vietnam has moved to take action to address the unfinished MDG agenda and to localize the SDGs. The recent approval of Decision 1557 – the MDG Action Plan for Ethnic Minorities and its implementation and the Government’s incorporation of multi-dimensional poverty is especially noteworthy. It is important, as mentioned by the leaders of Ethnic Council and CEMA, that the localized SGDs and the concrete targets given within the approved MAP-EM and MDP Master Plan are integrated into the SEDP and sectoral and local Socio-Economic Development Plans. It is vital that a clear framework for monitoring and holding the key actors to account for achieving the targets is developed and implemented.

I hope the policy discussions today will allow all stakeholders to share views, including a framework to cooperate in the MAP-EM implementation process. I would like to contribute here some recommendations.  

Firstly, people are at the centre of the SDGs. This is especially important in the context of the ethnic minorities. Their diverse culture is a great asset to Viet Nam and action should be built on this to empower people to be agents of change, to voice their concerns and to actively participate in the development process. This would require creating opportunities for them to self-organize and to articulate in their language.

Second, the comprehensive aim of SDGs is not only to end poverty in all its forms but also to reduce inequalities, between and within groups. This specifically includes tackling gender inequality and unlocking the potential that women can make to delivering transformative change. Promoting more inclusive growth by enhancing the opportunities for EM people as active participants should be addressed in the up-coming SEDP and the ethnic minority policy framework. While expanding employment opportunities via formulation of regional plans that build on local comparative advantages, it is important to enhance ethnic minority people’s capacity so they can take advantage of created opportunities. This will include expanding vocational training, farming extension services and other production and marketing support. This must also include enabling environment for EM peoples to organize and establish their own groups and small businesses. International experience shows that such support is most effective if based on principles of self-reliance community spirit, community empowerment and community ownership.

Third, I call for the new SEDP process to re-think the institutional set-up and reorientation of policy planning versus service delivery functions to ensure equal access to affordable quality social services and social protection for all. Expansion of socialization of public services by transitioning state schools, clinics and hospitals to “public service providing enterprises” raises major equity issues. Drawing on international experience, this may lead to commercialization and privatization of public service provision, posing risks in terms of both low efficiency and a series of inequities. Increased out-of-pocket payments and management devolution, in context of regulation and declining budgets will inevitably impact on the poor and those with low incomes. Equally, Ethnic minority communities themselves must be empowered by the institutional arrangements that are in place for managing local development. Serious consideration should be given to the devolution of authority and resources via a system of block grants to minority communities themselves, who are best placed to identify and meet their own local priorities, appropriate to their culture and traditions.
    
Fourth, we must recognize that Vietnam is one of the countries that is most affected by climate change. Climate change will increase the risk of loss and damage as climate extremes become more intense and variable, challenging the limits of our human ability to adapt. Ethnic minority communities are located in some of the most challenged areas. They also have  limited capacities to respond to climate change due to general underdevelopment and their difficult social and living conditions. It is very inspiring to see that in Vietnam, there were separate consultation with EMs on climate change in preparation for COP 21 in Paris. These considerations should also be incorporate in the SEDP. At the same time, innovative solutions such as ICT based early warning communication applications for crops or evacuation using mobile and smart technologies, need to be examined. With effective integration into the national targeted programs, innovations and new ways of working can help reduce losses and speed up recovery when disasters strike.

Finally, a monitoring and accountability framework with clear targets and indicators is vital if we are to ensure effective SEDP implementation. At the same time, it better informs Vietnam’s follow up of recommendations from international human rights instruments like the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Convention on Eradication of discrimination of all forms (CERD) process. Moving toward result-based management and strengthening oversight by both GOVN agencies - leading by CEMA, National Assembly and local people’s elected bodies, civil societies and people themselves are also recommended to better reflect the ethnic minority rights in development.

To close, I reaffirm that the UN and DPs in the EMPWG stand, as strong partners with Government, ready to support your efforts in localizing SDGs and furthering the achievements of the unfinished agenda for ethnic minorities. I am confident that Government of Vietnam with its commitments and rich experiences in delivering effective poverty reduction and MDG implementation, will successfully implement the SDGs and “no one will be “left behind”.

Xin cam on va Chuc suc khoe.