Opening of the meeting of the Standing Committee on Social and Cultural Affairs of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly. 31st August – 2nd September, 2017, Bhutan. Gerald Daly , Resident Coordinator, UN Bhutan

Aug 31, 2017

Kuzumbola,

Salam Ali Cum,

 

Your Excellency the Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dasho Tshering Tobgay

Honorable Speaker of National Assembly Jigme Zangpo

Honorable Speaker of the National Council,

Honorable Dr. Mohammad Reza MAJIDI, Secretary General, Asian Parliamentary Assembly

Honorable President of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly

Honorable Members of Parliament from APA countries

Distinguished Lyonpos, Ambassadors and Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am fortunate to be part of this important meeting of the Standing Committee on Social and Cultural Affairs of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly. In a World awash with data and information – we rely on parliaments – to emphasize a dialogue of knowledge and insights that bring us to the space of wisdom.

To paraphrase the Honorable Speaker of Bhutan, a Parliament is the “embodiment” of a nation’s democratic future. So too, you, are the embodiment of Asia’s democratic future.

You are no doubt aware that you have arrived on the cusp of a most significant moment in the country’s history. Next year, Bhutan will celebrate its first decade of democracy – a remarkable achievement.

Since the 1970s, Bhutan has been inspired by the vision of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure by which to judge national progress, a vision that has translated into concrete governance agendas and policy planning tools, and has given rise to a set of robust metrics designed to measure Bhutan’s development progress.

Bhutan’s experience inspired policy makers and policy frameworks around the world, including Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), signed in September 2015 by 193 world leaders, including the nations you represent from Asia.

Just like GNH, the SDGs conceptualize “sustainable development” in terms much broader than a limited focus on GDP. Both frameworks recognized the role of inclusive, democratic governance, with responsive institutions, and access to justice for all as paramount. Both frameworks focus on the importance of reducing vulnerabilities. This is a key objective in Bhutan’s planning and implementation frameworks and I am confident it is in your respective nations agendii, so as to ensure no-one is left behind. Speaking personally, I believe the measure of a great country is how it looks after its most vulnerable.

Yet, while recognizing the ambition, scope and opportunity that the SDGs represent, one of the critiques of the SDGs by nations including Bhutan is that the framework of goals is not sufficiently strong on culture -- something that features most strongly in GNH.

It is most fitting, therefore, that in welcoming its first Asian Parliamentary Assembly gathering, Bhutan should host the Standing Committee on Social and Cultural Affairs. I look forward to learning the results of your deliberations on measures to promote cultural diversity and protect cultural heritage in Asia. Your discussions here will add value to how the SDGs are grounded and strengthened not only here in Asia but equally importantly in the wider world.

For each of the areas you will discuss over the coming days – be it health equity, information and communication technologies, the protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights, gender equality or illicit trafficking – I would encourage you to study the Global Goals, their targets and their indicators, such that your engagement feeds directly into progress towards achieving those Global Goals.

In this context I would like to commend and congratulate the National Assembly Secretariat of Bhutan for taking up the role of hosting the Committee’s deliberations, which the UN in Bhutan is privileged to support.

The role of parliaments in achieving the SDGs

The Hanoi Declaration during the International Parliamentary Union Assembly in 2015 pledged that parliamentarians must hold governments accountable for the Global Goals, and to make sure that enabling laws are passed and budgets adopted.

I would like to touch on three key points on the role of Parliaments as powerful agents of change for the SDGs:

  1.  First, the legislative role: Ensuring a pro-poor, gender sensitive, human rights-based enabling environment for SDGs implementation is a critical step. Parliament have the power to make legislations and approve international agreements. Parliaments should use this ability to facilitate the implementation of the SDGs, reviewing existing legislation, proposing amendments, or where necessary drafting new legislation as required to meet the Goals. Some of the Goals articulate specific requirements related to legislation such as Goal 16 on Governance.
  2. Second: Oversight functions: parliamentary oversight mechanisms can be very effective in focusing attention on progress and/or obstacles to progress. Here in Bhutan, the Parliament in their last session passed a motion that the National Assembly would oversee the implementation of the SDGs, and every Parliament Session would have one day allotted for deliberations on the SDGs. I commend Bhutan’s legislators for this foresighted action which shifts the focus to the needs of future generations.
  3. Third, the representational role: MPs can both generate political will and leverage space for a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society, women and youth, and vulnerable and marginalized groups to be engaged in the decisions that affect their lives.

I wish to highlight some examples from the above functions from the nations represented here today.

In Bangladesh as a result of a sustained, strategic advocacy and lobbying campaign by parliamentarians, who had formed a cross-party Climate Parliament Group in 2012, the Bangladesh Government announced budgetary provisions for the advancement of renewable energy in June 2014, including the establishment of a US $50 million Renewable Energy Fund. In so doing, the Government put in place the building blocks to achieve SDG 7 on renewable energy.

In India, the Committee on the Empowerment of Women was established with the authority to examine the Government’s record in working towards women’s equality and women’s representation in legislative bodies and other fields. They have taken up enquires in line with SDG 5 on gender equality the areas of women’s health care, women in detention, protecting women from domestic violence, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

In Pakistan, following the adoption of the SDGs, the National Assembly established a cross-party group from all major political parties, with the dual objectives of providing information on SDGs and the role of parliamentarians in their implementation, and creating a venue to coordinate SDG implementation.

Finally here in Bhutan, the Parliament, with support from the UNDP, has put in place a system of ‘Virtual Zomdu’ – fiber-optic based videoconferencing facilities connecting 92 Community Centres (CC) and 45 constituencies across Bhutan with their member of Parliament here in Thimphu.

Through this technology, Parliamentarians can connect face-to-face with their constituencies to understand and better represent their needs, even if there are mountains standing in the way. Given the geography of this country this is an important and connecting innovation which actively links people and parliament.

We the UN have also supported parliament and their support staff on capacity development – including advocacy on child rights. In this regard the Parliamentarians for Children meetings – with support from UNICEF, links younger citizens to the parliaments that are serving them: their young voices are not to be left behind.

Distinguished Participants,

I am mindful of his Majesty’s recent advice at the 12th Convocation of the Royal University of Bhutan where he spoke of the 5 extraordinary qualities that define the Bhutanese, these being Sincerity, Mindfulness, Astuteness, Resilience, and being Timeless.

In this regard, I am also reminded of the words of that great Indian Statesman, Philosopher, and former President of India, S. Radhakrishnan who opined on the importance of relating ‘the present to the past and the future, to live in time as well as eternity’.

These also are the qualities that motivate and underpin the work of the UN here in Bhutan and I find these qualities to be particularly relevant to this Standing Committee of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly. Today we live in particularly fast-moving rivers, especially of information. Because of the speed of change and information exchange (sometimes of a distorted nature) we are invited into the highest levels of mindfulness, astuteness and awareness of the needs of the generations that follow after us.

On behalf of the United Nations, I wish you successful deliberations, as you Build the Future learning from the Past and the Present.

Thank you and Tashi Delek.

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