Deputy Head of UNDP Africa at conference on Sao Tome

Oct 15, 2015

Remarks by Ms. Ruby Sandhu-Rojon
Deputy Regional Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa
São Tomé e Príncipe International Conference for Public Development Partners, London 15th October 2015

Excellency, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé e Principe,
The Representative of the African Development Bank,
The Representative of the International Monetary Fund,
The Representative of the World Bank,
The Representative of the Government of Great Britain,
Distinguished Ambassadors, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and Representatives of international and inter-African organizations,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me immense pleasure to be among you for “STeP 2015”, which happens to be the first international conference hosted by Sao Tome e Principe for private investors and public development partners.

Excellency, Prime Minister, please allow me to thank you, on behalf of Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa whom I am representing today, for having given UNDP the opportunity to be here with you today.

This gathering is a sign of Sao Tome e Principe’s colossal progress in recent years, and of its potential to become both a service hub and a development success story in Africa. Once a tiny speck on the world map, the two-island nation, with its population of 186,000, is now a lower Middle Income Country with high ambitions for the future. Il faut oser, as one would say in French, and STP is indeed aiming high. In 2013, the economy grew by 4.0 percent. The following year, growth increased to 4.9 percent and that positive trend is expected to continue in 2015 with projections showing 5.1 percent growth. 

The government’s recent economic reforms have played an important role in that growth, helping to improve macroeconomic indicators and to create favorable conditions for private investors. STP’s most effective measures include the elimination of minimum capital requirements for businesses to obtain commercial licenses, creation of an investment code and the launch of a “taxpayer inclusion project” that has expanded the country’s tax base and boosted domestic resource mobilization efforts.

These efforts are paying off. In 2015, according to the World Bank, Sao Tome and Principe jumped from 130th to 23rd place in the world on the ease of starting a business.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to observe that STP did not wait for the extraction of oil and already has its eyes on an ambitious, long-term economic growth strategy. A reappraisal of the country’s immense human potential, compatible with the protection of its sizeable but fragile natural resources, is underway. STP is investing in raising agricultural productivity, in a drive to increase food security and generate jobs for all. STP has also been exploring the possibility of using its natural resources and biodiversity to promote high-end tourism, which would help to boost foreign exchange earnings and benefit the local economy. Further, efforts are on-going to turn STP into a maritime and aviation hub for the Gulf of Guinea, which will diversify, modernize and integrate the economy with the rest of the world.

Sao Tome e Principe has continuously made good governance a high priority. The government’s track record on promoting the Rule of Law, holding inclusive and credible elections and tackling corruption has continuously improved. The country now ranks 13th out of 54 countries on the 2015 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance and comes at the top of the list in Central Africa. UNDP, together with the European Union, assisted the country with the organization of its 2014 elections, and is building the capacities of national planning institutions and the national assembly to bolster public sector effectiveness, accountability and transparency. In addition, with UNDP’s support, STP and Timor Leste are now sharing valuable information and experiences in the area of justice reform, with the aim of promoting a fair, efficient and effective justice system for all, and improving access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged.

STP is now on track to meet the MDGs on universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other diseases by 2015:

•    The country has reached the target of achieving universal primary education and gone as far as to exceed parity in primary school enrolment.
•    Infant and under-five mortality have significantly declined.
•    Sao Tome e Principe is one of the three countries in Central Africa to have reached and even exceeded the 30 per cent target for women in parliament.
•    In 2014, malaria deaths plunged to zero, thanks to the widespread use of mosquito nets and insecticides. In order to strengthen and maintain these results, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has awarded nearly US$11 million for the project managed by UNDP, specifically targeting pregnant women and children under five.
•    Finally, the country is among the best performers for reducing their consumption of Ozone-depleting substances, in line with its strategy of promoting environmentally-sustainable development paths.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a recent youth forum, the UN Secretary-General pointed out that "2015 is not just another year, it is a chance to change the course of history”. That history is now officially in the making with the adoption by UN Member States last month, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 new goals will guide development efforts for the next fifteen years, offering a chance to meet the world’s aspirations for a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future. The SDGs are designed to be more universal, comprehensive and inclusive, and are consistent with the six pillars of the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda: (i) structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; (ii) science, technology and innovation; (iii) people-centered development; (iv) environmental sustainability natural resources management, and disaster risk management; (v) peace and security; and (vi) finance and partnerships.

These objectives are also consistent with STP’s agenda for social cohesion, peace and prosperity. The Government’s Vision 2030 and Transformation Strategy, coupled with a plan Action for 2016-2019, aim to boost good governance and public sector reform; promote sustainable and inclusive growth; strengthen human capital and social service delivery; and bolster social cohesion and social protection.

The United Nations System in São Tomé e Principe is preparing a new programming cycle which will lead to a new United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2017 to 2021. This plan will take into account the priorities of the Sao Tome and Principe 2030 transformation strategy, the SDGs and the SIDS Samoa Pathway.

Allow me to focus in on a few fundamental issues for the coming years. First, the Government’s ownership of the new goals, as well as its continued vision and leadership, will be key to implementing the new development framework. As has been shown in recent years, coherence and coordination in STP’s efforts to achieve the MDGs have clearly paid off. Given the breadth, depth and complexity of the SDGs, the government will continue to set priorities, while seeking creative solutions to mobilize new funding and partnerships in support of the new development agenda.  

Second, the challenge is to consolidate these gains and ensure economic growth is more evenly shared, generates increased public revenue, promotes SMEs and raises standards of living for all citizens, and especially for the youth who represent the future of this country. No one must be left behind. These efforts should go hand in hand with a renewed priority on giving youth, women and marginalized populations a public voice. UNDP’s 2014 National Human Development Report on Sao Tome e Principe calls for the inclusion of youths and women in politics and civil society and argues that such a move would go a long way towards consolidating the country’s political stability, as well as building robust development strategies and a healthy, cohesive open society.

Third, development must be risk informed. Despite those remarkable achievements, the country is rated a Fragile State as assessed using the Multilateral Development Bank measurement, which is based mainly on the country’s economic vulnerability and insularity. STP continues to face considerable challenges to overcome vulnerability to natural shocks and climate change, while agriculture remains the single biggest source of income for rural families across the country, generating 70% of rural employment and about 80% of export revenues. Fresh new efforts will be required to invest in building the resilience of its population, shielding households and communities from international price fluctuations and severe and dangerous weather conditions.  An ongoing UNDP project, in partnership with the Ministry of Public Works and the National Meteorological Institute, is helping to develop more reliable early warning systems to monitor these increasingly severe hydro-meteorological conditions.

UNDP stands ready to support STP as it embraces the exciting, new development agenda for 2030. UNDP has developed a regional programme to support the domestication of the SDGs at the national and regional levels. STP has already received support from UNDP to organize its First National Dialogue and its First Economists forum on the post-2015 development agenda.

Our global presence is helping to support experience sharing across the global South. Hand in hand with the UN Development Group, our role will be to assist Sao Tome to mainstream the SDGs in development plans, to eliminate the bottlenecks in their implementation and to ensure the skills and expertise of the UN are made available to you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the world’s new agenda for sustainable development should be seen as a second wind for STP, a country which, I am convinced, will become a shining new example of growth, inclusion and prosperity. I wish you a fruitful meeting and thank you again for your time.

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