When goals are egalitarian, society should pursue them with a loving heart. Some countries are making rapid progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and others are not. Practicalities aside, the fundamental reason is that some countries are fully committed to the SDGs, while others are not. Unfortunately, Pakistan appears to have fallen into the second category.
Societal ownership of the SDGs seems inappropriate. There are no socio-economic policies in place to progress towards achieving the goals. The reallocation of resources necessary to achieve the SDGs is not at the heart of economic policies. Certain policies for better documentation such as the digitization of financial transactions, financial inclusion, electronic commerce and electronic banking are being pursued. By extension, these policies can also contribute to the empowerment of women and the eradication of poverty and hunger through the promotion of micro and small enterprises.
But the SDG-centric outcome of these policies cannot be achieved in the absence of e-governance policies that still remain a dream. The reason is that our hybrid political system and oversized state institutions have an aversion to transparency and accountability for all and the unambiguous separation of authority and accountability. This keeps the whole political push for the SDGs mindless.
The coordination of fiscal and monetary policies exists. But its focus keeps shifting to suit short-term interests – sometimes pro-political like what we saw in the previous PML-N regime and sometimes to fit the International Monetary Fund terms as we now see it. .
The SDG-focused results of these policies cannot be achieved. The reason is that our hybrid political system and oversized state institutions have an aversion to transparency and accountability.
This is understandable given the fragility of our democracy and the resulting inability of the political class to use fiscal and monetary coordination as a backbone to promote the SDGs.
But the SDGs are about our society and its future. They cannot be left at the mercy of the status quo, political or otherwise. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken various societies, including our own. Now we see that societal ownership of state anti-pandemic measures is growing rapidly.
Pakistan will need to demonstrate similar societal ownership of the SDGs. There can be no other way to achieve such ambitious goals as eradicating poverty and hunger, ensuring quality education, health and well-being services for all and achieving gender equality, to name a few on the list of 17.
At the end of 2020, only 14.5 million bank accounts in Pakistan belonged to women – and 38.7 million to men
Even when the SDGs are held at the societal level, policies will be needed to achieve the targets. Since the 17 SDGs are intertwined, the best approach to achieve them might be to find the connectivity of various political, social and economic policies. In the area of economic policies, the challenge Pakistan faces is how to weave a network of policies promoting the SDGs using new initiatives and reshaping or improving existing ones.
For example, policies on domestic and foreign trade and investment, policies on skills development and higher education, and policies on energy and environment, etc. must be so aligned with each other that positive results from one policy can create ripples of positive results in other policies as well. It is a great challenge and meeting it requires not only expertise but a National Will.
“Women’s ownership or control of land is essential for their economic empowerment,” says the SDG 2021 report. Banks and financial institutions can help women gain ownership or control of land through agricultural loans favorable to women. Unfortunately, this is not happening in Pakistan.
To add insult to injury, even women’s financial inclusion is not progressing well. At the end of 2020, only 14.5 million bank accounts in Pakistan belonged to women and 38.7 million to men.
It was only recently that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) launched Banking on Equality, a policy aimed at reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion. The policy should ensure that by 2023 the number of active bank accounts held by women will reach the target of 20 million.
Customers’ Digital Onboarding Framework, another initiative recently launched by the SBP, is expected to provide further impetus to achieve this goal. This initiative is designed to help all citizens to instantly open bank accounts without physically going to bank branches.
Narrowing the gender gap in financial inclusion can only meaningfully contribute to the SDGs if women actually benefit from improved access to bank finance and insurance facilities. But the problem is that even in agriculture, where female labor participation is highest, funds made available through bank accounts officially owned by women go to male family members or worse, large landowners. for which they work.
This issue can only be addressed if the country’s political system identifies it as an obstacle to the SDGs, discovers and presents its socio-economic solutions. This requires an overhaul of resource allocations at the federal and provincial levels and a revitalization of third-level governance. SBP policies for financial inclusion can produce results that can give us digital evidence of women’s empowerment.
But beneath such digital evidence may lie buried several ugly facts of the status quo. The SDGs aim to change these horrific facts for the better. And, this goal cannot be achieved with the policy of a central bank or for that matter the policy of any institution alone.
The same goes for applicants for small loans in the agriculture and service sector. The increase in volumes offered to micro, small and medium enterprises can paint a rosy picture of financial inclusion. But if such loans come with rising energy costs, can we expect MSMEs to play their rightful role in eradicating hunger and poverty?
Posted in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 27, 2021