Iodine Global Network (IGN)

Statement "Good Policy Makes Good Politics"

Opening statement PAMM training course, 1995, ATLANTA, GEORGIA, USA

March 11, 1995

It is a distinct privilege for me to be able to greet you this afternoon and to welcome you to this training center in Atlanta. You have already accomplished a good deal in your own positions at home or you would not have been selected to participation in this international course. What you now embark upon is a marvelous adventure in national planning in nutrition and it is my hope that you look at the future work of eliminating micronutrient malnutrition in that way: as an adventure!

My title for this afternoon is simply stated. It is not so simple to get good policy into good practice and have it supported as good politics..... and it is on those inter relationships that I would like to dwell a little this afternoon. I have also been asked to speak to these same issues in more detail tomorrow and Wednesday, so what I should like to do today is set the stage.

Let me attempt to put this course into a context. At first blush, the context which I outline may seem ambitious; or pretentious; but I hope to convince you that it is neither. I hope to indicate to you that when good policies have been presented to national leadership in sensible and practical ways, they have become good politics. In so doing they have become implemented. I hope that you will believe that I accept the proposition that not all policies get implemented! I hope also that you will accept that I believe that the reason for that is usually a combination of simply expressed factors :

  • The inability of the expert designing the policy to understand the political environment in which the policy had to be accepted and supported.
  • The inability of the expert designing the policy to use effectively the modern communications networks and systems to effect positive consideration of the proposal or plan.
  • The inability or unwillingness of the expert designing the policy to create supportive alliances for the policy.
  • The inability of the expert designing the policy to comprehend the matter of timing in national life.

I shall revert to these points, but at this stage, I should like to remind us all of the provenance of PAMM and this course.

There is little doubt, at least in my mind, that timing is a key factor in relationships, in management, in policy formulation, and in political commitment. In the subject at hand today, it is required for us to understand when the time is ripe for the idea and the policy. In my view, the question of the elimination of micronutrient malnutrition is an idea whose time has come. There is widespread evidence to support this, but it is up to the practioners of the activities to ensure that the time is not wasted on the fringe issues; or the turf issues; or is not wasted by making the issue more complex that it needs to be for full understanding and to create a climate of commitment.

A momentum for social change is noticeable in many countries. It is certainly noticeable in the growing "cottage industry" of international meetings. Please not that in this decade alone (5 years) we have held global sessions on: children in 1990; on the environment in 1992; on human rights in 1993; on population and development in 1994; and as we speak the Global Summit on Social Development and Poverty is being held in Copenhagen. In September, we shall have the global meeting on women. Your course is part of that momentum and is a direct descendent of the Global Summit on Children, which was followed by the Montreal Meeting on Ending Hidden Hunger. These led (in good part) to the founding PAMM and its predecessor and forms part of an international effort to join forces to work on elimination of MNM in national plans of development.

We all understand that the promises made at such meetings can evaporate as quickly as the morning mist. But, I for one, believe that such evaporation is preventable by intelligent action at the national level in each country. For instance, we must accept that the global meetings are not organized on whims or caprice. Much work goes into the formulation of the idea on which to meet; on the preparation of the discussions on the subjects to be treated; on the formulation of national policy papers to feed into the system and on the resulting recommendations from the meetings. This entails a spectrum of professional talent and national organizations, both official and private. But let us focus on the issues of MNM and the professionals associated with those problems.

Much of their work is called for in formulating the national position paper to be considered prior to the participation of the national delegation at the global meeting. Thus, it is a learning time for the political leadership as well as the scientific leadership to reach a sensible position on the issue. It is at this point that the need for improved communications comes into play. On the one hand, the scientists formulating the position from that perspective need to understand three essential points:

(a) that the proposition must make political sense. Most often the definition or determination of that is not in the hands of the scientists : so they must learn about that while process;

(b) that the people to act on the proposals are professionals also and are equal partners in this national venture, thus ownership of it must be shared as equals; and,

(c) that in the cases of MNM, the roles of the government and the private productive sector are equally important, but for different reasons, and communications strategies need to be designed to assure the collaboration of both.

All of our present planning and thinking about national strategies for the elimination of MNM are also affected by the environment in which we now work..... which is much different than every before..... and which is different even than when PAMM began its work.

The guidelines for between nation collaboration which government aid transfers for 50 years have melted with the disappearance of the Cold War. During the Cold War, a good percentage of the population lived in a system which imploded in recent years. The other part of the world worked in a system with a different set of rules to guide it and to influence relationships between the national entities and between the two giant polar groups. Now, both groups must cope with rules for living and doing business that have altered as never before. As we come to grips with understanding these changes, there will be enormous problems for all of us. But the world does not adjust to such matter how shattering or consequential... in isolation or in a vacuum.

While these adjustments are taking their toll.... for good and grief equally..... we are all at work developing a global economy for the very first time in human history. We are putting into place a communications network... or networks... unheralded in human history. The transport system to support and encourage both has been in place, but not as interlinked as is now happening everywhere. All of these things have an enormous impact on our manner of thinking; on our approaches to planning our work and our societies; and on on ways in which to address the problems about which we are most concerned: micronutrient malnutrition.

For the past 50 years we have lived in a world dominated by military power of a two giant struggle. Now we are entering one in which both are attempting to come to grips with our to adjust and rid ourselves of some of that hardware and it is not an easy task or one done without strain. If one doubts this proposition, please read the newspapers here in Atlanta as the US Government comes to grips with its own form of Perestroika.

The rules of engagement on social development issues is altering as we speak. The question of development transfers is under serious scrutiny in many countries: in so-called donor nations, the issues are "aid fatigue", national economic development, readjustment of priorities, and frank analysis of the changed position of transfers since the collapse of the cold war strategy.

In the so-called "recipient" nations, the issues are similar as national priorities are adjusted;, as more questions are asked about how national resources are allocated; about acceptance of some responsibility for aid mis-use, abuse and graft; and as the economies adjust, or are affected by the global shifts in trade, commerce, and economic development.

A key issue in all of this, as these national discussions and internal rearrangements take place, is this : Both face serious and sustained influence from the advocates of the issues debated in the global summit and other sessions I cited earlier. Simultaneously, ..... and this makes a good bit of difference in these discussions today more than it did, say a decade or so ago, as both sets of leaders are pressured from the massive communications networks through which information on social issues now flows.

It is on this point that we ought to spend more time in our discussions during your course. We need to grasp the opportunity of combining the knowledge we now have on practical, "doable" propositions in dietary change; fortification (especially); and supplementation with a communications strategy designed to create and to sustain public demand for improvement with political comm- itment to improve. In addition, we need to grasp the opportunity of pulling together the leaders in government and the productive private sector on MNM.

The flow of nation to nation aid is under serious review. It is likely that the major "donors" will retrench and reconsider not only the amount, but the manner of application. No longer is it necessary to contribute to efforts as part of the cold war. It is also likely that, in part, the priorities for such assistance will shift and more will go into human development than before.

But this has its implications. For us and our friends and allies, it implies that we need to know more about the decision making process involved so that we have the opportunity to exert some influence on it. This influence cannot be comprised of the same tired old arguments nor the weary and tiresome defense of pet ideas of institutions, universities, or practicioners with influence. It also has another implication, and that is that the receiving countries must readjust as well.

If it is expected that rich industrialized countries will continue to see that it good business to have large allocations of resources for transfer to other nations less industrialized, and if the proportion of that assistance is to increase toward development of human resources and services, then the receiving nations must also adjust.

For instance, why should rich countries support poor ones whose major expenditures are in guns and tanks? National development budgets than continue to allocate less than 20% of all resources to education, nutrition, health and human services should be reviewed and adjusted to give greater priority to these issues.

And this is an opportunity for us and our allies as well. We need to be alert to the need for preparation of sensible, practical, "doable" national endeavors on eliminating micronutrient malnutrition and work on ways by which these can be inserted into the national development plans.

In short, the idea of micronutrient malnutrition elimination programmes as vertical schemes unrelated to national development planning, permanence, and political commitment is, in my view, misguided. The potential for blending the actions of the public and private sectors in this field of work is enormous, and until now not as exploited or explored as it should be. The revolution in development thinking and in national economic readjustment, is not one of violence, but of communications and the dawning recognition of the economic consequences of putting people first. It is a revolution of communications in which as workers in nutrition we are only now beginning to see potential for change and empowerment.