By Andrés Navas Beteta, ASIES Guatemala
Guatemalans like to say that our country is the land of eternal spring. We know it is a land with a lot of potential, but we also know that the current situation is not as it should be. Poverty has increased from 51% in 2006 to 59% in 2014. Even more, extreme poverty jumped from 15% to 23%. The Gini coefficient for 2014 was estimated in 0.53, a variable that decreased from its last measurement, but contrasts with the increase of general poverty. From the total population of 17 million people, 11.2 million are the total work force. However, the economically active population of Guatemala is of only 6 million people. This situation leaves almost half of the people capable to work without opportunities.
The contradiction is that macroeconomic indicators are stable, if not booming. Nevertheless, in Guatemala, economic growth does not mean economic development. We still lack a mechanism that will assure economic prosperity translates to well being of all the population. Social indicator, such as school assistance and education quality, number of financial credits granted for investment and quantity of medicines per sick population (to name a few), have negative ratings if one compares it with the necessities of the country.
But things are changing. In the last two years, we have seen the beginning of a political and cultural transformation. In the year 2015, accusations of corruption caused the resignation of the President and Vice President. Guatemalans gained through that political period a sense of self-awareness about the political situation and the importance of participating actively in public administration. Also, there are new civil society movements that are actively participating in the decision-making processes, rather than staying silent whenever the actions of the government, business sector or society are at odds with their interests.
Currently, Guatemalans are discussing what even just a few years ago was not considered as relevant or acceptable. For example, we are considering the importance of intermediate cities and how to deconcentrate capital and labour accumulation outside the capital. We are also discussing matters such as the reduction of pollution and contamination of water supplies, mechanisms to promote efficient production and strategies to strengthen investment for future generations.
As a result, this year, the government, the economic agents and members of the civil society in general have agreed to the necessity of a unified vision for the country, in order for everyone to reach better life conditions.
In ASIES, a think tank based in Guatemala, we champion two ideas to make sure prosperity reaches all. First, we need to reinforce the national budgets tax revenue and second, improve the planning and organization of the public budget.
The new government administration is taking the right approach by having workshops to publicly discuss the National Budget within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In these workshops, the civil society (represented though various organizations and groups) and government have a dialogue about the main concerns that should be prior in the budget assignation for the next fiscal year.
As a result, there are three priority actions for public policy. First, is the relevance of human development (related with the SDG’s 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8). The government plans to enhance two main topics about this priority. First, guarantee the quality and coverage in education and second, to prevent sickness and grant health access. For the public budget project of 2018, there is a notorious, increase in the public expenditure of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Public Health, and areas as human development in the rural area of the country.
The second priority is the dynamism of the economy. We need a strategy to get prosperity for the whole population (SDGs 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12). There are actions needed to strengthen investment in entrepreneurship and access to credit, also road network construction and maintenance, to have a competitive environment for business and investment.
The last priority, highlighted as one of the most important is national security and public justice activities (SDG 16). On one hand, there needs to guarantee the security for citizens, because violence has been the main issue concerning the development of our cities. On the other hand there must be continuity in the investigations of cases related with corruption in the public administration, so the residents keep on gaining confidence in the government actions.
We think that this dialogue is a strong first step to achieve the SDGs. Now we need to make sure that the agreements materialize in the next National Budget Law.