The Committee of Experts on Public Administration held its nineteenth session through a combination of written consultations and informal meetings convened on 13, 15, 18, 21, 27 and 28 May 2020, using a virtual platform. The overall theme was “Promoting effective governance and institutional reform to accelerate delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals”, with particular reference to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response and recovery.
One of the key messages of the Committee was that many countries might not be prepared to implement the Goals at the desired scale and speed because of a general undervaluing of the public sector in economic theories of past decades and a disregard for the contribution the sector can make to society when equipped with adequate capacity and the appropriate skills and mindsets. Combatting corruption also remained a crucial precondition of effective governance for accelerating the implementation of the 2030Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Committee observed that the pandemic had exposed risks and vulnerabilities of Governments, for example, in terms of their unpreparedness for crises, inadequacies in public infrastructure and investment, including in health systems, and imbalances in economic and social development. Implementation of the Goals could be impeded by the pandemic, in particular in situations in which awareness of them was lacking. Social inequalities had been further exposed by the pandemic, with vulnerable groups and those left furthest behind being the most affected, including in relation to employment and social protection.
The Committee recommended that action be taken to recognize essential workers in the public sector, strengthen public sector capabilities for the Goals, invest in the future public sector workforce, expand the use of digital technologies and address digital divides. The Committee stressed the importance of strengthening the capacity of State institutions and of re-establishing credible governance and public administration institutions in countries affected by conflict.
Another key message was that Governments should not simply aim to return to pre-existing procedures and institutional cultures in seeking to respond to the pandemic and in planning for recovery. The pandemic presented a unique opportunity to reimagine the role of institutions and policymaking, promote new governance norms and shift from past practices to transformative pathways that strengthened resilience and accelerated action to achieve the Goals. With bold action, transformative changes were possible on a scale and at a speed far beyond what could have been imagined before.
The Committee noted that the principles of effective governance for sustainable development had been put to the test and had proved useful as a guide to analysing complex governance challenges and to building strong institutions towards realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, at all levels and in both developed and developing country contexts.
The Committee further underscored that achievement of the Goals could be accelerated if the Goals were embedded in national and subnational budgets and if these are effectively executed. However, budgeting for the Goals was still in its infancy in most countries. Such challenges were exacerbated by limited opportunities for citizens to participate in budgeting and limited capacities of oversight institutions to effectively audit budget performance.
The Committee reiterated the important role of subnational governments in delivering the Goals. As demonstrated in the current fight against the pandemic, state, provincial and municipal governments were often the first-level providers in delivering the Goals. Expanded efforts were needed to strengthen local government finance and financial management to that end, including through a concerted global effort to address severe budgetary challenges and financial risks that Governments were currently facing at the subnational level.
The Committee adopted a draft resolution and a draft decision for the consideration of the Economic and Social Council. The Committee also reaffirmed its contribution to the 2020 high-level political forum on sustainable development with regard to promoting effective governance and institutional reform to accelerate the delivery of the Goals.