Sunday, July 01, 2007

Can Growth Ever Be Pro-Poor?

Zofeen Ebrahim

Inter Press Service News Agency, Sunday, July 01, 2007

GENEVA, Jun 30 (IPS) - ‘Pro-poor Growth’ sounded impressive as the title for a plenary at a major civil society meet here, but after the idea was explored, toyed with, taken apart and viewed from every possible angle it seemed as distant as ever from addressing poverty in the world.

Martin Khor, director of Malaysia-based Third World Network, said phrases such as these were in danger of losing their meaning unless given a human face. While not against growth per se, Khor confessed to being wary of "overgrown" countries from the developed world that needed to "trim down and lose their fat" or "decelerate" their growth to give the "malnourished" a chance.

Delivering the keynote address at the Jun. 28-30 Civil Society Development Forum, organised by the Conference of Non-governmental Organisations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) and co-hosted by the U.N. Millennium Campaign, Khor and other civil society leaders never tired of bringing home the point that the situation called for a paradigm shift in redefining pro-poor growth.

The solutions given were: correcting rising inequality; world’s wealth shared equitably; distribution of incomes through the growth processes favouring the poor; and striking the right balance between growth and pro-poor inequality relationship.

Ramesh Singh, chief executive of Action Aid, has already begun to see the effect of economic development with the increase in he "categories of the poor" around the world.

"The mining rush is taking thousands of kilometres of land and forest away from the poor, urban renewal and infrastructural development and special economic zones have not only evicted tens of thousands of people to make way for world class cities, but destroyed their livelihood."

"Clearly growth is not working for poor people," said Singh. "The neo-liberal and corporation centric growth is not about eradicating poverty. The dominant pro-poor growth approach means it is fine to have a certain proportion, say 10 -15 percent of population, to always remain poor who need looking after. In this model, growth is only supposed to trickle down. We need poor and excluded people to participate in the growth not just benefit from it," he added.

Refusing to subscribe to growth that focuses solely on "economic growth and prioritises individual over community; corporations over citizens; private over public and promotes accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of few individuals, corporations and countries," he called for a "new narrative".

This meant bringing the growth discourse into the folds of social justice, ecological justice and the human rights arena in a manner that "celebrates this convergence" while cutting across generational and geographical differences.

Calling for more empowering economic policies for the poor, both at the macro and micro levels, Khor said these should be tailored to mobilise domestic savings which in turn would reduce dependence on aid. Policies should be formulated that help social sectors, particularly health and education, promote a harmonious blend of public-private partnerships where both the government and the private sector invests wisely and efficiently; but most of all those that "empower" people.

Richard Newfarmer of the World Bank in Geneva added his own wish list of policies such as keeping inflation under control, protecting basic property rights and improving institutions that are most conducive to growth. "Inflation is the worst tax on the poor and the poor cannot defend themselves from it as the rich can."

Khor called for civil society to play its part by lending its voice against projects that are carried out in the name of development but only cause misery for the poor. He was optimistic that the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) could be pressured into reviewing and reforming if the former lent its "muscle" to it to bring about changes in "policies that lead to human displacement, evictions, deforestations, big dams built, small farmers and fisherfolk deprived of their livelihood.’’ (END/2007)

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