Experiencing the Role of United Nations (UN) in the Development of Malaysia

Nov 29, 2013

Professional Talk


Michelle Gyles-McDonnough
United Nations Resident Coordinator,
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei

National Library, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Raslin bin Abu Bakar, Director General, National Library of Malaysia;

Ms. Nasifah Ahmad, Deputy Director General, National Library of Malaysia;

Officials and members of the National Library;

Ladies and gentlemen,

Selamat Pagi and a very good morning!

It is truly my pleasure and a delight to be here this morning to share with you a little bit about the United Nations development system and what we do here in Malaysia.

First, please allow me to express my utmost appreciation to Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Raslin Abu Bakar, Director General of the National Library, and other officials of the National Library, especially Ms. Nasifah Ahmad and Mr. Lai Sow Woon, for  organising this event and for inviting me to speak today as part of the National Library’s efforts to promote greater awareness and understanding of the United Nations system and our work here in Malaysia.

Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations made his inaugural visit to Malaysia in March 2012. Of course, it is not the first visit of a UN Secretary-General to Malaysia, given the UN’s long relationship with Malaysia since independence. But in this recent visit, Secretary-General Ban had this to say: “Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country. Promoting unity among diversity, promoting one Malaysia among Malaysians is a great vision, not only for the Malaysian people, [but also] for the region. This is exactly what the United Nations tries to promote worldwide.”

This is the challenge of both nation building, and of building a cohesive global community. And so, with this well-framed backdrop of the tapestry that is Malaysia, as I reviewed the pamphlet prepared by the National Library for this talk, the caption “Malaysia – Better Nation” – caught my eye. It caught my eye because this goal so concisely captures what the United Nations strives to do in Malaysia and in all the other countries where the UN is present - to support member states in achieving their national development visions with strategies, advice and programmes that are suited to their own unique contexts. In the end, in each country, the tapestry is woven differently, with different threads and different styles, to produce a well-balanced work that pulls together all the assets and resources of the country in a way that all the citizens can see themselves in it and share in its beauty, security, andbenefits. As we repeatedly assert in the work of the UN development system, no one size fits all.

For those of you who may not be aware, the United Nations is present on the ground in over 177 countries and territories around the world, in least developed and middle and upper income countries alike. At the country level, the UN development system is represented by different combinations of UN agencies depending on the specific needs of the country, forming a United Nations Country Team (UNCT), with the United Nations Development Programme, which also leads the coordination of the work of all the UN development agencies, being present in all 177 member states. In all these countries, our primary objective is to support national efforts to fully make the transition to a developed nation status where governments can fairly and equitably provide for the needs of all their citizens in safe societies and thriving economies that draw upon our planet’s rich resources in a sustainable way, respecting our planetary boundaries.

As can be seen in the United Nations in Malaysia pamphlet that has been distributed to you, the United Nations Country Team in Malaysia is made up of 10 resident agencies and 5 non-resident agencies of the UN development system. They are UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations University - International Institute for Global Health (UNUIIGH), and the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS), which are based here in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjaya, and Subang; as well as UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), which support Malaysia’s development efforts from their regional bases in Bangkok.

The work of the UN Country Team is guided by Malaysia’s national development plan, currently the 10th Malaysia Plan, as well as its sectoral plans and policies, and international development targets to which Malaysia has committed itself, captured in the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals. As many of you would be aware, the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs form the current blueprint for global development, and were agreed by all member states of the United Nations in 2000.

The MDGs were a landmark achievement because, for the first time, they set time-bound and quantified development goals and targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions - income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion - while promoting genderequality, education, and   environmental sustainability. These are also basic human rights - the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security. These targets are to be met by the end of 2015.

Some may say MDGs are not relevant in an upper middle income country like Malaysia. But we must remember that development is about progress for all, and while Malaysia has indeed experienced significant achievements, we must ensure all citizens can benefit from the nation’s prosperity. The MDG targets were therefore not an end game, but set clear expectations of reasonable achievements by all countries by 2015 to improve human well-being. In the case of the Malaysia, some of these targets would have been modified to build progress from Malaysia’s own starting point when the global targets were set in 2000 to ensure continued improvement in the standard of living and well-being of Malaysians.

Poverty and inequality remain stubborn problems in middle income countries as we see the emergence of a north in the south and a south in the north. We must be reminded that as of 2012, an estimated 960 million poor people, 72 per cent of the world’s poor, live in middle-income countries. And, in developed and developing countries alike, the gap between rich and poor unfortunately is widening. Inequality is becoming starker, and the societal challenges that come with high inequality are holding back countries’ progress and human development for all. As Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate, points out in his recent book, “The Price of Inequality”, high inequality creates volatility, fuelling crises, undermining productivity and retarding growth. Just as discrimination results in the failure of a nation to make the best use of all its citizens, Stiglitz warns that inequality, when it leads to inadequate schooling, housing and neighbourhood conditions for large numbers of people, acts in a similarly destructive fashion.

Many of these development challenges just described remain challenges also for Malaysia. In response to these remaining challenges, allow me to highlight the main areas in which the UN system has served and continues serving the people of Malaysia through the many valuable partnerships we have formed in the country.

The United Nations, over the years and now, have supported Malaysia’s efforts in reducing poverty and inequality; strengthening national institutions and governance; improving access to, and the quality of, education; and ensuring a healthy population, which is critical for national development, including helping in the sustained fight against HIV and AIDS. The UN has supported Malaysia’s efforts towards gender equality and the empowerment of Malaysia’s women and girls; and also efforts to empower and be more inclusive of indigenous people in the development process. The UN in Malaysia contributes to the promotion of human
rights, including those of children, the differently-abled, migrant workers and refugees; to the protection of the environment and conservation of biodiversity; and to promoting business and trade.

To give some specific examples of the work of UN agencies in the country, UNDP is now working with the Government on Malaysia’s first national human development report on Inclusive Growth, which will also serve as input into the 11th Malaysia Plan and help find strategies so no Malaysian is left behind in Malaysia’s transition to a developed country; and implements programmes to protect the natural assets and better manage its use for development in this mega biodiversity country. Malaysia is one of the 12 megabiodiversity countries in the world – an incredible resource but which also comes with a significant global responsibility for its protection. UNFPA has focussed efforts on advocating and providing advice to hopefully soon achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights; and also implements programmes for improved maternal health and focuses on improving the lives of youths and women. Only yesterday, we launched the 2013 State of World Population Report: Motherhood in Childhood, which provides recommendations to government for improving the life chances of our young girls and their potential to contribute as productive citizens to society. UNHCR provides humanitarian support and assists refugees in Malaysia, including through the provision of education and health support for refugees, as well as finding long-term solutions for them.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been working hard with the private sector to promote child-focused Corporate Social Responsibility, which includes mainstreaming children’s rights into business principles to improve development results for Malaysia’s children.

The United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health carries out research and development and builds capacity on global health issues including the impact of climate change on health and disease profiles to benefit Malaysia and other countries around the world. The World Food Programme, with the support of the government of Malaysia, established the first United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in Asia here in Subang, and presently is fully engaged in supporting the UN humanitarian response in Tacloban through the humanitarian depot here in Malaysia, as well as from other supply points in and near the region.

WHO provides government and other partners with policy advice and technical support in development and strengthening of the health system and health policy; and for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases and major risk factors. ILO’s work includes the ILO TRIANGLE project to protect migrant workers.
ILO also provides capacity building and facilitates social dialogue in relation to labour law, minimum wages, green jobs and social security schemes. IOM has developedprogrammes to respond to migration trends and needs in Malaysia. UNAIDS provides technical support to NGOs, CSOs and government in relation to HIV/AIDS including for the mid-term review of the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS.

The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) leads efforts to integrate a human rights approach in the work of the UN system. UNESCO and the Government of Malaysia have established the Malaysia-UNESCO Funds-In-Trust, whereby the government will provide financial contribution for supporting the implementation through UNESCO, of projects jointly selected under the Malaysia-UNESCO Cooperation Programme to improve results in education, the sciences, and culture. Malaysia now has four world heritage sites recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage List (these are the historic cities of Melaka and George Town, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Kinabalu Park in Sabah, and the latest being the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley (AHLV) in Perak. And as we saw recently, the Government of Malaysia is actively campaigning to be a member of UNESCO’s Executive Board for the term 2015 to 2019.

The UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) supports the government in promoting sustainable industrialisation. UN Women provides support for the full adoption and implementation of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

As befits its fast improving development status, at the same time it provides development support, the UN also partners with the government of Malaysia in responding to global and regional needs such as humanitarian response and assistance, peace keeping and development cooperation. Malaysia has considered important its own global good citizenship and Malaysia’s contributions to building capacity for development in countries less advanced than itself through South-South Cooperation over the last 30 years through its 50 national training institutions have been substantial. The United Nations is also deeply appreciative of the many soldiers – men and women of Malaysia – who have and continue serving as UN peacekeepers around the world. And the recent appointment by the UN Secretary-General of Yang Berbahagia Datuk Seri Zakri Abdul Hamid to the Scientific Advisory Board of the United Nations Secretary General is also recognition of Malaysia’s assets and ability to contribute significantly to the international community.

As you can see from the programmes I have just describes, the scope of the UN’s relationship with Malaysia is wide and varied. And my talk has only addressed the our partnership for development and has not touched on the foreign policy profile and interests of Malaysia at the United Nations, as that would be a whole other talk in itself.

Important though, is that the UN remains a trusted development partner of government because the United Nations is the only organisation that is able to bring together governments, civil society, NGOs, the private sector and individuals -- on a platform that is impartial and neutral – to both shape and act together for a more safe, secure, and prosperous world. The UN has no vested interest. Our main priority is the well-being and dignity of the human person, the continued sustainability of the planet earth through equitable use of its resources to satisfy reasonable, shared human consumption demand, and the sustainable development
of nations large and small.

Building on the work we have done over the years and more recently, and looking to the end of the MDG framework, the question is where do we go from here in securing the aspirations of Malaysians and people around the world.

The Millennium Development Goals mark only the beginning and not the end of such global consensus to development. We have a long way to go and much more needs to be done. Pursuant to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20 that took place in Brazil in June 2012, member states decided to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs that will build upon the MDGs and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. The key guiding principle of sustainable development is to ensure that in meeting the needs of the present, the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is not jeopardized. This will require determined and integrated action across three pillars which are economic development, social development and environmental protection. And tackling poverty and inequality must remain our top priority.

In order to develop the global development agenda beyond 2015, the United Nations has since last year embarked on an ambitious effort to hear the voices of peoples from around the world especially of those whose voices are often unheard or even drowned by the voices of the more able and more visible. And we count on you to make your voices heard. If you click on “World We Want 2015” button on the UN Malaysia website, you will find the “World We Want” link where you can participate in the ongoing Global Online Discussion and provide your inputs for the future that you want for Malaysia and for the world.

The MDGs were essentially the first set of global development goals and these were crafted by the United Nations. And the goals were set such that they could be relevant and applied in countries that were in various stages of development. Now, with the valuable experiences gained from implementing these goals and working to meet the MDG targets, it is the countries and their peoples who are best positioned to make recommendations for the global agenda moving forward. The post-2015 consultations therefore, seek to hear from governments, academia, experts, civil society and ordinary citizens.

The UN in Malaysia will be organising national consultations in 2014 to bring the voices of Malaysians into the process. This is an opportunity for Malaysia – Government and citizens - to help shape the global development agenda; for Malaysia to weigh in and ensure that the global development agenda complements
and supports its own ambitious plans to accelerate the pace towards developed nation status by 2020. These national level consultations, pioneered by UNDP for the Rio+20 Conference, for the first time have afforded a mechanism to truly bring “we the people” into global decision making.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I do hope that in the past twenty minutes or so, I managed to provide you with a glimpse of the multifaceted role of the United Nations in Malaysia. I once again thank the management of the National Library for their great effort and initiative in organising such a programme to bring the United Nations a little bit closer to you.
And I thank you for your attention and hope you enjoy finding out more about the work of the United Nations funds, programmes and agencies and explore how you can contribute and provide your inputs to build a future that we all want!

Thank you.

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