The Committee of Experts on Public Administration held its twenty-first session at UN Headquarters in New York from 4 to 8 April 2022. The session took place in a hybrid format with a majority of members participating in person. The overall theme of the session was “Transforming institutions and governance to build forward better towards 2030”.
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A key message of the Committee was that to build forward from the COVID-19 pandemic and advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, governments should strengthen their public institutions and their social, physical, and technological infrastructure, while making their economies more resilient and agile to be better prepared to manage potential future economic, social, and environmental shocks. This called, inter alia, for political will, a change of mindsets and the sound management of public resources.
None of the institutional-building objectives to support the SDGs could be attained without ensuring that COVID-19 had been well-contained while addressing in particular the plight of the poor and other vulnerable groups, supporting the weakest countries and leaving no one behind. To these ends, Governments should effectively cooperate, including on data- and information-sharing, digitalization, widespread vaccination, testing, and access to medication, education, and training. The exchange of lessons learned from the pandemic would be crucial.
Another key message was that climate change mitigation and adaptation called for technical and programmatic shifts as well as reform of institutional structures, cultures, and capacities. The fragmentation of responsibility for combating climate change and for the sustainable management, protection and restoration of natural resources were found to be major institutional barriers to the achievement of SDGs 13, 14 and 15. Governments were encouraged to prioritize the establishment or strengthening of mechanisms for policy coherence, inter alia, through the promotion of ecosystem management and territorial development approaches within and across administrative boundaries. Simplified regulatory frameworks and a clear distribution of responsibilities across all levels of government were part of the solution.
Regarding the private sector, policy processes and regulation could be supported by a more effective mix of taxes and subsidies. Environmental accounting was key for creating such market-based incentives and promoting transparency and accountability. Metrics were required to measure natural capital, paired with effective monitoring mechanisms. Adaptation and international coordination of standards would be required to account for the uneven playing field for developed and developing countries. Improved access to international climate finance, public-private partnerships and private sector resource mobilization by subnational governments were also seen as important enablers.
The Committee stressed that building strong institutions for sustainable development remained a crucial challenge in conflict-affected settings. Progress was often hampered by an emphasis on the short-term need for security, political interests, and external dependency. Peacebuilding and sustaining peace depended on long-term engagement in institution-building by all stakeholders that was consistent with local norms and political realities. This could include, among others, bottom-up approaches that took into account the root causes of conflict, strengthening of tax collection systems, increased risk assessment and conflict prevention measures.
Reviewing the application of the principles of effective governance for sustainable development at the subnational level, the Committee found subsidiarity, integrity, oversight, and participation to be among the more salient elements. Effective multi-level governance was key. Ongoing reforms might be needed in this area to better support achievement of the Goals, alongside further efforts to strengthen subnational governments and promote whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, while enhancing fiscal capacity and financial management systems.
Regarding the public sector workforce, the Committee noted a disconnect between people and government, for example due to partisan polarization, authoritarian populism, and the propagation of false or misleading information which was endangering the legitimacy of institutions. Building responsive and resilient institutions called for more creative, flexible, and integrated ways of working, focused on the needs of people, as well as an adequate stock of competencies and resources. To this end, governments could be encouraged to further promote professionalization of the public sector workforce, invest in digital skills, update competency frameworks for implementation of the SDGs, and address inequalities within the public sector workforce as well as social inequities in the design and delivery of public services at both national and subnational levels.
The Committee underscored that digitalization of government and society continued to offer immense opportunities to leapfrog development, improve public service delivery, combat corruption, reduce inequalities and improve state-citizen relations provided it was managed in a fair, ethical and people-centred manner. Efforts to address digital divides were urgently needed if the digital transformation was to achieve its full potential, alongside improved data governance and greater attention to the mitigation of risks arising from ICTs, such as artificial intelligence and social media, through new policy and regulatory regimes and standards.
Returning to the question of participatory and transparent budgeting, the Committee reiterated that open and inclusive public financial management was essential to ensuring government accountability and legitimacy. The crucial factor was political will, paired with sufficient public sector capacities, resources and incentives. Embedding the SDGs in national and subnational budgets, for example through budget tagging, could accelerate their achievement. Fiscal sustainability, oversight, and budget credibility were to be enhanced, and off-budget spending reduced. These matters called for closer study. Expanded efforts to develop and adopt international norms and standards on managing fiscal stimulus packages and fiscal policy in times of crisis could also be valuable.
Finally, the Committee engaged in a dedicated consultation with observers, including youth, and in a dialogue with voluntary national review countries and voluntary local review cities with the objective of promoting interaction on institutional aspects of SDG 16. Italy, Morocco, Mexico City and the city of Shah Alam presented concrete experiences for discussion. While discussing the use of peer exchange platforms, members and observers agreed on the potential merits of a voluntary Committee-led peer exchange platform on institutional aspects of Goal 16.
The Committee concluded its session by adopting a draft resolution and a draft decision for the consideration of the Economic and Social Council. The Committee also reaffirmed its contribution to the 2022 high-level political forum on sustainable development.