OPENING REMARKS: Theme 1: Macro-Fiscal Framework and Financing for Sustainable Development, Multi-Stakeholder Taskforce to study the impact of COVID-19 to support a Determination of the 9th NSEDP and SDG Localization in Lao PDR
08 ຕຸລາ 2020
Excellency Dr. Bounleua Sinxayvoravong, Vice Minister of Finance,
Esteemed partners from line ministries and Government agencies,
Distinguished Ambassadors and representatives of Development Partners,
Dear UN Colleagues,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is an honour to welcome you to this first thematic policy dialogue under the Multi-stakeholder Taskforce to examine the implications of COVID-19 for Lao PDR, with a view to supporting a determination of the 9th NSEDP, and the achievement of the SDGs.
It is by now abundantly clear that many of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to play out over years rather than months. There will be no quick return to the situation before the crisis, to continue as if nothing happened.
Rather, as in every context around the world, we will need to adjust our expectations to the new circumstances in which we find now ourselves and find ways to maintain progress towards our development goals in spite of it.
Lao PDR is fully committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which we can see in the effort that has gone into the development of a set of fully nationally owned SDG indicators.
We have already seen how the pandemic threatens progress toward the SDGs at a global level, with this year marking the first time on record that progress on the Human Development Index has gone into reverse. As the HDI is an aggregate of local conditions, this will necessarily speak to the progress in countries too.
Lao PDR was part-way through the development of the 9th NSEDP when the scale of the implications of COVID-19 became clear. In response, MPI took the step to request the support of a Taskforce to provide advice on necessary adjustments to plans whilst they are being developed.
This Taskforce has been convened in response to that request, and as you will find in the ToRs, we are charged with:
Working to identify a set of core assumptions about how the development context for Lao PDR will change over the coming 5 years- what we can expect, and therefore what needs to be planned for; and
Developing a clear set of strategic policy recommendations for consideration by the relevant Ministries and Sector Working Groups in the development of the NSEDP.
I emphasize the word ‘strategic’ here. As I said in the initial Taskforce inception meeting, our purpose here is not to duplicate the work of the NSEDP drafting process, or the Sector Working Groups with their crucial knowledge and technical expertise.
Rather, it is to look acrosskey sectors and ask critical questions about whatthe implications of COVID-19 are, and against these changing parameters, discuss and agree on the key strategic direction that can help institutions determine how policies and priorities will now need to be adapted, across sectors, in a coherent way.
We need to take into account the interactions among economic, social and environmental areas with a view to addressing complementarities and trade-offs among the multiple dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced manner.
So, in light of initial consultations, we landed on the 5 workstreams that you will find in the ToRs:
Macro-Fiscal Framework and Financing for Sustainable Development;
Trade and private sector, value chains and tourism;
Green growth, resilience and risk management;
Manage changes and enhance policy preparedness for decent work; and
Human capital, including health and education.
From the beginning of our discussions with MPI about priorities for the Taskforce, it was clear that consideration of the macroeconomic context and the challenges of financing development priorities would be crucial. The slowdown in growth globally, regionally, and nationally will have important implications for the volume of resources we have available to realize priorities.
The decline in government revenue, private investment, and the availability of international aid, combined with increased spending-needs as a direct result of the pandemic, will sharply tighten the financing constraint, on top of what was already a challenging financial outlook. As we will all have seen from the recent news, finding sustainable ways of financing national development, and ensuring that out plans are rooted in credible financing strategies is critical to maintaining progress, and COVID-19 is making it ever harder.
You have all been invited here today because of your specific expertise and roles in designing policy responses to help cope with challenges such as these. Much detailed analytical work has already been done by many of your institutions, we hope today will build on that through a genuine conversation about what our analysis means - and what policy decisions should follow, that will deliver the best progress through the next 5-year period till 2025.
I do not think anybody here expects easy answers. We may not be able to agree on the solutions to financing development in the course of an afternoon.
What we hope however, is for an open conversation, that can help us move towards a shared understanding of the key issues, and the direction of sensible responses that could help guide the finalisation of the NSEDP.
I know Vice-Minister Kikeo, who unfortunately could not be with us today, will be looking closely at the outcome of our discussion. We are counting on you for your active, candid participation to make this work. Ask questions. Debate. We do not need to agree on every point discussed, but we cannot afford to miss the opportunity we now have to engage in a discussion that will inform decisions with development consequences for years to come.
I thank you all for taking the time to be here today, and I look forward to a fruitful discussion over the coming hours, that can genuinely be useful to MPI as they work to build a national plan under immense uncertainty, and with mounting challenges, and that can truly deliver progress for all Laotians.