The mantra of our president and ministers has become “radical economic transformation”, making it imperative that we pay attention to lessons from Ecuador’s experiment in radical economic transformation.
It is ironic that when the Ecuadorian ruling party won the national elections two weeks ago, ushering in a successor to the progressive leader Rafael Correa Delgado, SA failed to offer congratulations, when countries around the world wasted no time in doing so. Even countries that may have attempted to undermine the Ecuadorian Citizen Revolution sent congratulatory messages - including the US the EU.
All the Latin American governments congratulated Lenin Moreno on the victory of the movement Alianza Pais. But not SA - despite the fact that what we are trying to achieve here in terms of pro-poor policies is largely the same as the agenda of the Alianza Pais.
The past 10 years in Ecuador have been dubbed “the decade gained” as Alianza Pais ushered in a period of deep transformation that has been remarkably successful in reducing poverty and inequality.
All social indicators were improved, including basic education, health, housing, basic services and investments in infrastructure. Employment levels improved both in quality and quantity, and access to higher education was democratised.
What Ecuador did in 2008 following Correa’s government coming to power in 2007 was to change the constitution, giving more rights to the people. This proved to have immediate benefits for the masses.
Around 2002, domestic workers in Ecuador used to spend 12 to 14 hours a day cleaning houses with no overtime pay, pension or social security. Legislation was passed stipulating rights to overtime pay for work over eight hours a day, a pension and a minimum wage.
The minimum monthly salary of a domestic worker before the Citizen Revolution was $160, whereas it is now $370 (R5000). Employers must also provide social security and transport. This is far in excess of what employers in SA are expected to provide.
The Correa government introduced “Schools of the Millennium” which took thousands of children off the streets. The enrolment rate in basic education rose from 92% to 96% in just eight years.
Ecuador has invested more in higher education than any other Latin America country.
In the health sector over one decade the government established 21 new hospitals and ensured a drastic improvement in the number of consultations - from 16 million in 2006 to 38 million in 2015.
Ecuador has managed to achieve the lowest rate of unemployment in Latin America, and is considered to be one of the countries on the continent to have most reduced levels of inequality.
One of the most significant aspects of the Citizen Revolution is stability and economic growth. Despite the crisis of world capitalism, Ecuador’s GDP grew at an average of 3.9% from 2007 to 2015, compared with 2.9% in Latin America. This has allowed the government to allocate 9% of its GDP to public investment.
It is not only at home that Ecuador is pursuing progressive policies, but in global forums as well. It has drafted a treaty for the UN Human Rights Council on human rights and transnationals, which SA is supporting. Ecuador will present the draft of what is to be a legally binding treaty to the UN in October.
At a time when SA should give its full support to Ecuador’s Citizen Revolution, the lack of an embassy in the country has meant that we are not on top of developments.
Worse, SA has an Ecuadorian honorary consul in the capital Quito, Rene Ortiz, who has criticised the Ecuadorian government. Ortiz recently wrote in a newspaper article that “the Ecuadorian state will not comply with the agreement reached within the framework of Opec and the negotiation was not the most appropriate”.
The government reacted strongly, saying “Ortiz’s comments do not respond to reality, and do not conform to the courtesy and respect that a diplomatic agent must have for the national authorities”.
The Ecuadorian government stated it prides itself on fully complying with its international commitments.
In the name of South-South co-operation, SA must ensure that it provides unwavering solidarity with a country that has proven it is there to serve its people.
* Ebrahim is Independent Group Foreign Editor
The Sunday Inependent