Issues for debate: Agenda2030, a lens to discuss Albanian priorities during election season

Monday, 29 May, 2017

Op Ed

Brian J. Williams, UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative & the UN Country Team in Albania

Last week, a critical political agreement was reached, enabling a more inclusive election.  This clears the way for evidence-based discussions about the right priorities for the people of Albania. Agenda2030, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, offers an excellent framework for this debate.

In committing their nations to achieve Agenda 2030, the world’s leaders outlined a global ambition that requires citizens, governments and the private sector to work in harmony.  This collaboration will be productive, however, only in environments ruled reliably by law, governed by accountable institutions. Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls for precisely this. In Albania, now that some of the critical decisions have been made for justice reform, what actions will make all citizens feel like they will have a fair and equal chance in front of the law?

On this foundation of law, the SDGs provide a lens for citizens and their leaders to examine the full range of social priorities. 

For example, should Albania's public resources – however great or small – be used to clean river watersheds, manage municipal waste, and result in cleaner mountains and beaches for more tourism, and for future generations?  Or should more be rather invested in better education – training teachers on the latest student-competency based approaches, improving school buildings and buying equipment, and expanding vocational training? Or on national connectivity, rural infrastructure, and agricultural development? What impacts would these investments have on inequality, or on migration from town to city?  What are the critical steps to ensure that the 'new' municipalities –mayors, councils and communities– become robust centers of democratic development, protecting human rights and promoting inclusion?

There are no right answers to the eternal dilemma of too-much-to-do with not enough resources. But voters should be able to have a say about priorities, and understand what some of the trade-offs are.

Any Albanian political party that aspires to a prosperous, sustainable and just society should be fluent with the Goals – commonly referred to as the #SDGs.

For example: how quickly can Albania eliminate poverty (SDG 1 No poverty) which currently stands at 14.3%.( 2012 data). Or respond to the needs of vulnerable groups including children in remote areas, still at risk of insufficient nutrition and food insecurity (SDG 2)? What is your party’s understanding of who is being left behind in Albania?

How will SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and SDG 4 (Quality Education) be achieved?  When does Albania expect to achieve the OECD average of 6% of GDP expenditure on each when current investments in education and health are at 3% of the GDP?

Today, the women of Albania are poorer than the men, are less likely to have a formal sector job (especially on farms), and too many still require permission from husbands or male relatives to go about their lives. More than half of Albanian women (aged 15-49) have experienced at least one form of domestic violence in their lifetime. To address these human rights challenges, what is your party proposing for Government action – not just at the central level but at all levels, including in Municipalities – to achieve gender equality (SDG 5)? 

Collectively, the #SDGs lay out the full panorama of what every United Nations Member State on the planet – 193 Governments representing 7.5 billion people with an unimaginable spread of governance styles, cultures, religions and resources –consider, despite their diversity, to be essential. 

Albanian citizens should have clean water (SDG 6) and clean energy (SDG 7).  Wide-spread employment opportunities (SDG 8), especially for youth (youth unemployment is still 30 %), should be linked to innovative private companies (SDG 9) and growth policies should strive to reduce inequalities, not enrich the wealthy at the price of exclusion of others (SDG 10).  What policies would your party prioritize to do that?

And in a moment of global foresight, UN Member States drafted #SDGs that require all nations to plan for a planet that can be enjoyed by our kids, and our kids’ kids.  As the planet migrates towards cities, urban centers need to be planned sustainably (SDG 11), benefiting from sustainable production and recycling (SDG 12).  Nations – as Albania has exemplified through commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 11.5% -- need to think about the climate (SDG 13), as well as protect its sea-based (SDG 14) and land-based (SDG 15) natural resources, especially in national parks where biodiversity may be threatened by infrastructure development. 

Albania has launched many fundamental reforms in recent years, but also continues to face many deep challenges.  But in this election season, leaders must put people and planet back at the center of debate.  Describing how an Albanian Government would aim to achieve the #SDGs will help Albanian citizens – all of them, whether rich or poor, urban or rural, Roma or Egyptian, male or female – believe that public leaders are putting their interests first.