Department of Economic and Social Affairs Public Institutions
Public procurement as the source of resources to cope with future socio-economic crisis

Sunday, 24 May 2020

 

Most experts are predicting that CIVID-19 pandemic will not only cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, but also lead to deep socio-economic crises, with declining economic performance and millions of people in new needs for help.


The domestic mobilisation of resources seems to be the most effective tool to cope with decreased revenues and increased expenditure needs in the coming period. According to unofficial estimates, in less developed countries better functioning of the national public procurement systems may save up to 5 % of GDP (more in wealthier, but highly corrupted countries). What changes are necessary?


The “reforms” should focus both on effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is not directly covered by many public procurement systems, where national procurement legislation does not include the planning phase. In such a case, the need to deal with ex-ante effectiveness evaluations before starting the process should be a “must”. Any decision about the purchase (especially of more expensive) goods, works or services should be based on relevant form of feasibility analysis (what and why do we need?). In more developed countries such mechanisms already exist and reflect Value for Money principle; however, in less developed countries these systems are either missing or are not well functional (some countries request ex-ante approval of more expensive purchases from a supervising body, but such a body normally does not have sufficient analytical capacity to decide correctly).


The “tough” task is to evaluate real efficiency/economy of governmental purchases (did we get best price?). Most statistics calculate the difference between the forecasted and the final price. However such an approach does not work at all, as more experienced contracting authorities all prefer to overestimate forecasted price to be safe (passive waste). Direct comparison of prices is possible only for homogeneous goods – this means in very few procurement cases. However, effective benchmarking can be the solution. Well-established benchmarking not only shows differences in purchasing prices for commodities, but also requests explanations and elaborations. Most purchases of goods and almost all purchases of services and works are non-homogeneous, so the difference can appear; it just needs to be explained and elaborated on. 


The well functional systems of ex-ante evaluation of procurement needs and of ex-post benchmarking of results have great potential to help to save resources and could be promoted as an effective procurement tool by CEPA. 

Juraj Nemec, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

How to incorporate SDGs into national budgeting systems

Sunday, 24 May 2020

 

The report “Emerging issues in public financial management and budgeting for the SDGs” states that “the budgeting for the SDGs as a practice is still in its infancy. Several countries have announced, through voluntary national reviews, the intention to reflect the Goals in budgetary processes but few have specified why it would be relevant to do so or how the practice could be made operational”.


For most countries the simplest and potentially fast solution is to re-organise the national system of program-performance budgeting (for countries without program-performance budgeting sub-system, the task may be even simpler – with the commitment or existing matching plan to connect finances to SDGs, these countries can build effective, new system, directly in a new form).

 
According to academic analyses, current systems of program-performance budgeting in less developed countries do not meet the expected goals of such a system. This give rise to the need to re-design national budgeting systems, to make them more effective in terms of transparency, accountability and efficiency. Such re-design would allow for incorporating relevant SDGs into national development plans, as well as indicators and targets at the national level and subsequently on lower levels. Such an approach could be recommended to all countries by UN bodies as immediate solution.


The more comprehensive (and longer-term) approach might be to develop specific SDGs-related expenditure classification level, which needs further discussions and represents longer-term alternative. Because SDGs do not cover all functional COFOG areas (COFOG = functional budget classification), simple replacement of COFOG by SDG classification is not feasible (or even may be not possible). This means that two options could be discussed – to set a third extra level of budget classification (SDGs budgeting classification) or to redesign COFOG to serve also as the tool of making SDGs-related expenditures more visible). Both approaches are technically possible; however the decision about optimum solution needs comprehensive discussions with all stakeholders. CEPA may recommend to UN bodies starting to think about launching such discussions.


Juraj Nemec, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

Covid-19 budgeting for SDGs note Postscript

Saturday, 23 May 2020

 

The Budgeting for SDGs Note was written, when we could not know how extraordinary important, probably more than ever, both the achievement of SDGs and the budgeting for this achievement would soon become. For the governments, the pandemics suddenly means decreased budget revenues and increased budget expenditures. For the citizens, it might mean life or death, i.e. drastic changes in access to health, jobs, education, welfare, security and numerous other public services. 


Governments are stepping in, undertaking various pandemic related measures both at national and subnational government levels - direct transfers, tax expenditures, etc. The policy tracker, summarizing the key economic responses, governments of 193 countries are taking to limit the human and economic impact of the pandemic is daily updated at IMF. How will all these funds be spent, to whom they will be directed, who will benefit, etc. are the questions that might be answered only if governments (both national and subnational) will be completely transparent and fully disclose all the data and information. Only the full disclosure would enable public participation and scrutiny over these funds and their impact on achieving SDGs.

 
Although there are governments (as elaborated in the Note) that have been already transparently budgeting for SDGs and as  there are governments that could be expected to transparently budget for the pandemics, majority of countries have low levels even of the overall budget transparency (BT). The most recent, 2019 Open Budget Survey (OBS) of the International Budget Partnership (IBP), which assesses the state and trends in BT, opportunities for public participation in budget processes and roles of oversight institutions shows that the global average BT score of 117 surveyed countries is just 45 out of 100. That means that global BT is insufficient, as a score of 61 is considered the minimum threshold for the informed public debate on budgets and only 26% of surveyed countries meets this benchmark. Few countries provide meaningful opportunities for public participation and only quarter of them scores at adequate levels of oversight by both the legislature and supreme audit institutions. 


While the average global BT score is insufficient, the scores for some of the questions particularly important in the times of pandemic are unfortunately even much worse. For example, 85% of surveyed countries is not – in their executive budget proposals nor in any supporting budget documentation – presenting information on tax expenditures (exceptions or other preferences in the tax code provided for specified entities, individuals, or activities, with a statement of purpose or policy rationale, a listing of the intended beneficiaries and an estimate of the revenue foregone) (Q45). Or, 70% is not – in their executive budget proposals nor in any supporting budget documentation – presenting information on quasi-fiscal activities for at least the budget year (with a statement of purpose or policy rationale for the quasi-fiscal activity, i.e., the reason for engaging in this activity and the identification of intended beneficiaries) (Q38).


Particularly worrying is, that almost 70% of countries is not presenting alternative displays of expenditures (such as by gender, by age, by income, or by region) to illustrate the financial impact of policies on different groups of citizens, for at least the budget year in their executive budget proposals (Q36) nor are they presenting the differences between the enacted level of funds for policies (both new proposals and existing policies) that are intended to benefit directly the country’s most impoverished populations and the actual outcome in their year-end reports (Q94).


However, despite these poor overall results, good examples are found in nearly all parts of the world and the top-tier countries – New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Mexico, Georgia and Brazil – which are releasing extensive budget information (scoring 81 or higher), are not necessarily the richest nor most developed ones. The same holds for e.g. Guatemala, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic and Ukraine which all rapidly improved in relatively short time (reaching threshold of 61). 


As shown in the IBP’s, “How Transparent are Governments When it Comes to Their Budget’s Impact on Poverty and Inequality?” there are good examples to follow, e.g.: 


- Bangladesh’s 2017-18 Budget includes a detailed supplementary Gender Budgeting Report, presenting the spending dedicated to advancing women across various departments; 
- The UK’s 2017 Budget provided a distributional analysis of the budget by households in different income groups;
- South Africa’s 2017 Budget Review’s presentation of intergovernmental transfers, discusses the redistribution resulting from national revenue flowing to the provinces and municipalities and presents the allocations on a per capita basis
- Pakistan’s 2017-18 Budget Proposal provides a detailed breakdown of pro-poor expenditure. The government sets out policy priorities, expected outputs, and estimates of past and future spending for several programs aimed at poverty alleviation and provides a comprehensive overview of ongoing policies, including a chapter on social safety nets, covering both financial and performance information of poverty alleviation schemes over a period of eight years


Transparent management of public funds has been a constant requirement, but in times of Covid-19 affected budget deviations, i.e. decreasing revenue and increasing expenditure, it has to be even more pronounced. The extraordinary circumstances in which decisions sometimes should be made over the night cannot be an excuse for the lack of transparency. These decisions may affect the efficiency and equity of revenue and expenditure, the economic, social and political circumstances and consequently the wellbeing of citizens, particularly of the marginal and excluded ones. Demands for SDGs BT should be complemented with demands for Covid-19 BT. All governments’ budgetary decisions’ information and data – including and particularly emphasizing those related to the achievement of SDGs and those related to Covid-19 – have to be fully transparent to all parts and sectors of governments, parliaments, oversight institutions and general public. 

 

Katarina Ott, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

 

The importance of subnational governments

Saturday, 23 May 2020

 

In most countries around the world, subnational governments (SNGs) are on the front lines in implementing programs to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The subnational governments are the primary level of government responsible for delivering education, clean water, sanitation, basic health care, sustainable cities, basic infrastructure and many other aspects of the SDGs. Across the world, SNGs are responsible for ensuring their population’s public health, safety, and social protection. On average, SNGs are responsible for 55% of a country’s expenditure on public order and safety, 38% of expenditure on health, and 15% of expenditure on social protection (OECD).

 

These subnational governments derive their revenues from a combination of intergovernmental transfers and own-source income, such as local user charges. As the world grapples with the fallout from COVID-19, the SNGs are facing severe budgetary challenges. In most cases, national governments are reducing budgetary transfers.  Many typical sources of own-source revenues (for example, hotel surcharges, tolls, parking fines, industry contributions) have been drastically curtailed. Subnationals who borrow directly will also find it more difficult and costly to access capital and will likely have to defer or curtail capital spending. 

 

At the same time, the SNGs require greater resources to mitigate the virus, address the health crisis and support vulnerable populations – while still providing vital basic services like trash collection and electricity. In many countries, SNGs are also responsible for countercyclical income replacement programs, such as unemployment insurance, that are further increasing their spending. Such costly mitigation efforts threaten to undermine the financial balance of SNGs as their expenditures rise sharply and revenues collapse leading to possible liquidity crises and long-term revenue shortfalls. 

 

Many SNGs have embraced the SDGs and have incorporated key elements of these goals into their local finances, or were on a path to do so prior to the outbreak of COVID19. Efforts in a diverse set of countries including Argentina, Japan, Brazil, Belgium and ranged from participatory budgeting to digitized initiatives to using SDG targets as a budget framework, and such efforts were set to expand over the next decade. The current fiscal shortfalls mean that regional and local governments will have far fewer resources at a time of huge and immediate need, thus threatening the capacity of subnational governments to ensure public health in the short-term and provide essential services in the long term. 

 

During the immediate crisis, the subnational governments need to take on a leading role, in several respects that are vital to social welfare and the functioning of communities. These will likely include (but are not limited to):

•    Communications: Communicating accurate health information to the population 
•    Implementing new containment measures (testing, tracing, isolating, population monitoring, coordinating, ensuring compliance, forecasting, eventually administering vaccines). 
•    Supporting local businesses
•    Supporting local institutions (schools, hospitals, clinics, parks, museums, etc.).
•    Ensuring food supplies and distribution, especially to the elderly and vulnerable
•    Ensuring basic income support is disbursed properly
•    Organizing the efforts of community and local civil society organizations

 

In the current circumstances, the SNGs will be forced to make painful spending cuts and layoff public sector workers which may further exacerbate the economic downturn. Often SNGs are large employers who make up a significant percentage of their country's workforce (OECD). If SNGs are able to retain their personnel, they may be able to reduce the severity of an economic recession while providing stable employment and services for their populations. 

 

In short, in most countries, it is essential for local governments to function well and it is impossible to achieve progress on the SDGs if these governments are destabilized.  Not only are the subnational governments facing the worst budgetary environment in decades, but in this case, they are at the mercy of what happens in neighboring communities and regions, where outbreaks and mismanagement may undermine their own efforts.  

 

Thus, an addendum to the paper on SDG budgeting is that there needs to be a concerted global effort to support the subnational levels of government.  This effort could include IMF and World Bank lending facilities to ensure liquidity in the subnational borrowing sector, as well as direct assistance for subnational spending on essential services, subsidies for public sector salaries, and targeted grants to enable the SNGs to carry out the communication, testing, and program implementation to mitigate the impact of the virus on public health.

 

Linda Bilmes, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

Africa, SDG budgeting and Covid-19: to suspend the ongoing reforms is not the best decision

Saturday, 23 May 2020

 

Prior to Covid-19, the SDGs were gaining traction among African governments as a framework to focus policy on inclusion, equity, economic growth, and sustainability. Some African countries have presented their progress reports on the SDGs in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). From 2016-2020, the African Group has conducted or planned for 2020 44 VNRs.

 

Then came the current crisis causing a shift in the focus of policymaking from the SDG long-term agenda to the Covid-19 short term emergency.  If short term emergency actions are not appropriated balanced with SDG long-tern agenda, this shift might result in an endless recovery affecting dramatically Africa’s SDG agenda.  UN CEPA members strongly believe that keeping and reinforcing the ongoing SDG budgeting reforms is the way to go in terms of managing this tradeoff.

 

SDG Budgeting a recognized key success factor. After 5 years into SDG implementation efforts, one aspect is becoming quite clear in the African policymaking arena: the achievement of the SDGs requires strong political will to allocate enough budgetary resources towards the sectors contributing to their achievement. The MDGs lessons cannot be forgotten. As shown by MDGs, the inclusion of the SDGs in long-term development plans is not enough. It is crucial, not to say determinant, that the State budget takes the SDGs as their main matrix. SDG budgeting has become instrumental as well as one of the key success factors for effective governance. In fact, in some recent policy briefs, SDG budgeting is clearly linked to SDG financing. African policymakers are realizing that SDG budgeting being a source of transparency, accountability, policy integration, budget coherence, budget performance evaluation, and credibility is emerging as an important piece of development finance. 

 

On the other hand, we all also recognized that SDG budgeting reforms in Africa are in their preliminary stages. The reality still be a de-link between SDG policy frameworks, development planning, and budgeting, which translates in weak transition of SDG policies into strategic budget decisions. As a result, African budgets lack reporting on SDGs’ expenditures and consequently poor accountability over SDG implementation. However, we all also know that national budgets have a crucial role to play in SDG financing. According to UNDP estimates, national budgets can finance the SDGs between 25% and 75% of the total financing needs. If indeed this is the case, SDG planning-budgeting-monitoring-evaluating- reporting is an avoidable matter.

 

All this rational has pushed for an increased, although slow, adoption, among African countries, of contextualized SDG Budgeting reforms, on a doing-learning approach taking into account that there is no universal methodology.  In this context, UN CEPA 11 principles of effective governance and the associated 62 strategies grounded on effectiveness, accountability, and inclusion should be considered, among others, by African policymakers as a good conceptual framework for the implementation of SDG budgeting.

 

We all have to come together, policymakers, civil society, the private sector, and the UN System, to keep the SDG budgeting reforms as a priority despite Covid-19 disruptions.

 

Covid-19 and the reset of budget priorities. The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated social and economic crises have delayed, even more, Africa’s chances to achieve the SDGs by 2030 – unless African policymakers spot the root of the challenges, the opportunities of leapfrogging, and respond rapidly with a comprehensive and integrated intervention. The global economy is going through turmoil. Investors moved around US$90 billion out of emerging markets, the largest outflow ever recorded. IMF projected for 2020 a fall of -3 percent in global growth. The current crisis is the worst recession since the great depression and much worse than during the 2008-09 financial crisis. 

 

In Africa, for a couple of reasons, the worst of the pandemic is expected later.  By that time, the social and economic impact will add to pandemic’s effects on global trade and commodity prices, which are already badly hitting African economies. According to UNECA (2020), the negative economic impact of adopting lockdowns as a containing measure is exacerbating the humanitarian dimension and threatening livelihoods: a slowdown in growth from 3.2 percent to as low as -2.6 percent, 5-29 million pushed into extreme poverty, 19 million jobs lost, vulnerable employment up at least by 10 percent, 17 percent of households affected by Covid-19 face at least transient poverty.

 

As Africa seizes to address the virus as well as its negative impacts, budget priorities and associated resources have been reset to save lives and livelihoods, which was the correct thing to do. However, Covid-19 response and recovery are absorbing resources and turning attention away from realizing the SDGs. But what African policymaking cannot afford to do, even in these difficult times, is taking resources away from SDG actions. The responses to the current crises as well as the recovery cannot be de-linked from the SDGs. Africa must not lose sight that the deep negative impact of the current crisis reflects the fact that MDGs are unfinished business, particularly those related to human capital: poverty, health and education. The MDGs legacy felt short: 34 African countries spend less than USD 200 per capita annually on health care with very low levels of efficiency and 5 countries spend less than USD 50. Today’s reality is that medical testing equipment, ventilators, medical supplies, sanitation and water are in chronic shortage.

 

This is the time to recognize how crucial it has become the achievement of SDGs and how instrumental, for this achievement, SDG budgeting is.

 

Africa’s Covid-19 recovery must be organized around SDG principles: inclusion, growth, equity, and sustainability. Therefore, SDG budgeting is an avoidable matter. A strong Covid call in terms of financial support is out there. A group of African ministers has requested financial support, including a debt relief in the amount of $44 billion. UNECA (2020) has estimated Africa’s financial needs not only to cope with the short term pandemic issues but also with the recovery: i) USD 100 billion African health and social safety net fund, for the most vulnerable; and ii) USD 100 billion for Africa’s economic stimulus. The amounts are huge. The exceptional increase in budget resources to cope with the Covid-19 crises challenges budget transparency, credibility, and accountability as well as budget effectiveness to respond to the social and economic crises. If mobilized resources are not strictly channeled to the most negatively impacted, being people or SMEs, with a balanced view between short term emergency and long term agenda, the humanitarian crisis will be prolonged. Africa faces the current crisis not in good shape. With high debt levels, increasing fiscal deficits, increasing borrowing costs, and depreciating currencies, fiscal discipline has become strategic in addressing successfully the current crises. Facing the possibility of managing an exceptional amount of resources and consequently facing a higher risk of mismanaging these resources, SDG Budgeting is imperative as a mitigant. 

 

This is not the time to abandon the ongoing SDG budgeting reforms. As well said by UNECA (2020), African youth will not forgive the misappropriation of Covid-19 funds.

 

Cristina Duarte, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

Post-conflict environments and Covid-19

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

 

The establishment of a viable public administration is a key part of State-building in the aftermath of conflict and of supporting long-term peacebuilding. In previous sessions CEPA has discussed issues facing many governments and groups who exist within a precarious state of post-conflict where threats of insecurity and violence and legacies of injustice and mistrust make government extremely difficult. To these issues we can now add Covid-19 and the potentially devastating effects on already vulnerable populations and groups.
I have argued previously that discussion of government and governance in such situations is not, in principle, any different to discussing government in general, it is just that post-conflict environments represent an extreme case and the various strands of SDG 16 can be united by the principles of effective governance, and indeed the application of our principles may be more important in situations where they seem to be so far from being achieved.  

 

The paper associated with this discussion links statebuilding as an activity to peacebuilding as a long-term underlying aspect of good governance. It emphasises the role of multiple layers of government, pointing out that local government is frequently ignored in most statebuilding programmes and yet, Covid-19 as a crisis has again emphasised the important role of local government in crisis management.

 

This links to the need for a balanced approach to governance in post-conflict and post-pandemic environments in the sense of balancing short-term security or health measures with long-term consequences of taking specific decisions. There is much speculation about immediate policies but equally critical are longer-term considerations of conflict prevention, community inclusion, multitrack diplomacy and local capacity development. 

 

Public institutions are critical in promoting integrated approaches to achieve long-term development goals in the face of immediate challenges. The principles of effective governance for sustainable development need to act as an important guide in balancing short-term needs with long-term sustainable development.
Covid-19 presents us with a set of challenges and opportunities related to governance in general and these are very acute within post-conflict and fragile environments. The pandemic has exposed a series of political and institutional weaknesses as well as structural biases – for example, where populations may be vulnerable, alienated or isolated – and these are particularly acute in contexts where governance is already hard and where poor or weak governance could lead to violence. The virtual CEPA meeting on 21 May 2020 will examine the relationship between conflict and Covid around three questions:


1.            What is the future for statebuilding and peacebuilding in a post-pandemic world and how might Governments cope with disrupted aid flows?
2.            How could fragile and conflict-affected countries manage post-pandemic public sector recovery effectively in situations where there may be contested sovereignty or weak oversight of responses to the pandemic?
3.            Post-conflict countries contain some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. How might countries adapt their approaches to institutional effectiveness and leaving no one behind given the effects of the pandemic and evolving prospects for the next decade of action?

 

Paul Jackson, member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration

 

COVID-19 Makes Effective Governance for Sustainable Development More Urgent Than Ever

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

 

The full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on a common understanding of the basic principles of effective governance for sustainable development. Adherence to these tenets of governance underpins progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the manner in which we deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

 
Achieving SDG 16 would reduce the chances that future situations turn into crises, and when such crises do occur, that their impact will be mitigated. This would be due not least to strengthened institutional capacity to foresee and reduce risks, as well as respond quickly and effectively to emerging threats to public well-being. While COVID-19 response and recovery will absorb resources and may turn attention away from realizing the SDGs, we must not lose sight of the fact that delivering the SDGs will help us to get a better handle on global threats that may await. Strong institutions for sustainable development are crucial to these efforts.


The UN CEPA principles of effective governance are grounded in effectiveness, accountability and inclusion. In the spirit of SDG 16, and as COVID-19 starkly shows, inclusion is crucial. There must be a focus especially on the needs of the most vulnerable and furthest behind, particularly women and children, as well as Planet Earth, whose development conditions the future of humankind. This calls for major changes in governance, in the spirit of multilateralism and solidarity, and in resource allocation towards sustainable development goals, a matter that may be more difficult as countries deal with domestic responses to COVID-19. 


Importantly, governments must recalibrate budgets that may have been channeled disproportionately to the top 10 per cent of the world's population and towards purposes contributing to the perpetuation of endless wars. The reality of COVID-19 calls for a review of public finances and particularly allocations to health budgets, as well as the need to revisit education and training. SDG 16 and the role of the state have grown in importance, yet again, with the hope that it is not a passing fancy linked to stimulus packages for the here and now.

 

In the period between the 18th session in April 2019 and 19th session of the Committee in May 2020, CEPA members and the Secretariat have been working with governments, regional organizations and UN system entities to promote operationalization of the principles of effective governance. One concrete output of a joint UN DESA-African Union workshop, which took place in Pretoria from 30 October to 1 November 2019, has been the initial development of a monitoring and evaluation tool for Africa which is built on the principles. This tool could constitute a baseline for the region. At the invitation of OECD, the Committee also commented on a draft policy framework on sound public governance with a view to promoting coherence between the global and the regional levels, strengthening the linkages with the SDGs and addressing both governance successes and governance failures.
Importantly, CEPA has identified 62 strategies, each associated with one of the 11 principles of effective governance. The process of coordinating the preparation of the technical guidance notes on these strategies for use by government advisers and practitioners is underway, based on global expert advice. Five of have been prepared as early drafts for comment and are available as inputs to the 19th session.


On 15 May 2020, during the virtual 19th session, the Committee will follow up its intersessional work by examining four main questions:
•    Given the ongoing cooperation with the APRM and OECD, taking into account different regional needs and mechanisms, what specific opportunities are there for collaborating with regional organizations going forward?
•    What data and indicators are needed to support the Committee’s analytical work and policy advice on effective governance for sustainable development?
•    Are there any specific observations on the relevance and utility of the strategy guidance notes to government advisers and practitioners? Do the early draft notes and overall framework provide a sufficient proof of concept for further work?
•    Does the COVID-19 pandemic change anything where operationalization of the principles is concerned?
We are living through a challenging time and as Francis Fukuyama says: “The crucial determinant in performance will not be the type of regime, but the state’s capacity and, above all, trust in government.” We engage as a Committee of Experts with the view that this trust in government is realized through the implementation of the governance principles.

 

Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Mr. Geert Bouckaert, members of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

 

The Comeback of Large Governments

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

 

As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, governments have come under pressure to establish response plans that would alleviate the impact of the crisis on people, economies and societies. Speaking at a high-level SDG Business Forum event in September 2019, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General reminded participants that as the global GDP contracts and the financing gap widens by an additional US$ 2.5 trillion, between 400-700 million people find themselves sinking below the poverty line, and turning to their governments for their very survival.
Challenges posed by the rapid expansion of the State
In many parts of the world, COVID-19 is bringing about the largest expansion of State power in generations, often in contradiction with SDG targets such as SDG-16 target 16.6, “develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels”. With no determined financial policy or institutional frameworks for intervention, this trend, which is taking place too quickly with almost no time for debate, will produce enduring changes in a country’s politics.
In their justifiable efforts to rescue the economy, workers, and an overwhelmed healthcare system, governments will increase healthcare spending and safety net programs. Alongside OECD guidance, governments are also intervening by delivering billions in bailouts to distressed industries, slashing interest rates in emergency actions, putting up stimulus packages that ensure the survival of SMEs, cushioning the present and future economic impact, and rapidly mobilizing vast resources.
While many of these steps are welcomed, a vast expansion of governments has implications for public debt, the economy, and also for human rights and privacy. Government intervention has to be a) financially sustainable and efficient, b) constitutional and in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the first, it is an exceptional opportunity to reiterate and renew our support to all efforts at combating tax evasion and illicit financial flows, flows that drain economies and funnel funding away from public hospitals and intensive care units.
It is also required that we design intervention frameworks and strategies that are in line with the principles of smart sustainable governance: regressive subsidies and tax evasion will have to be crunched, recruitment plans have to be reconfigured to prioritize public healthcare at the expense of bureaucracy, otherwise public debts may become unsustainable.
Challenges to Human Rights and the Right to Privacy
Asides financial sustainability, history suggests that crises lead to a permanently bigger State with many more powers and responsibilities. The threat to liberty and to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is real. According to CNET News, some governments have already began exploiting their unique power to monitor people’s movements and manage prices and requisition goods, with questionable results related to the efficiency of such apps.
Another article from Newsroom notes that as technology and AI are used to manage the spread of the disease, deliver food and other essential items to those most in need, invasive data collection and processing is spreading, despite the need for clear regulation regarding such use. This includes routine access to peoples’ movements, electronic records including medical records, and other unrelated data. The responsibility of governments to be better prepared and equipped cannot be relegated to citizens.
As countries struggle to repair the damage done to their lives and livelihoods, more fundamental questions about the size and power of governments are likely to emerge.
What risks do the new challenges bring to SDG 16 implementation? To what extent they would impact the three pillars on which the principles for sustainable governance are built namely effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness?
For advocates of sustainable governance and human rights, COVID-19 has to mean greater audacity and better regulatory frameworks.

Lamia Moubayed Bissat, Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

 

Public-Sector Workforce of the Future: Observation Drawn from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

 

Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated over the past months the crucial need on the part of governments to accelerate innovative breakthroughs and digitalisation to respond to the crisis, it has also revealed the vital importance of the public-sector workforce in essential fields. In all countries, this pandemic has brought back into the limelight the public-sector personnel that remain indispensable to save lives and provide basic services to the confined population, i.e. nurses and hospital workers, public health personnel, transportation operators, sanitation workers, nursing homes employees, cleaners, home assistants for the elderly, etc.

More than ever, their dedication and continuous presence has been of the essence to maintain not only the public health services necessary to fight the pandemic and reduce the mortality, but also to preserve the minimum community services needed by the most vulnerable people and the solidarity due by governments to the communities that risked being left behind.

It has shown that keeping communities together was part of an effective governance in times of crisis and that the most humble tasks performed by public sector employees at the lowest level were critical.

This category of public sector workers (so-called “street-level bureaucrats”) has sometimes been identified as a possible victim of future technological innovation. The fight against COVID-19 has demonstrated that their jobs will not disappear. On the contrary, technological improvements will need to be accompanied by human assistance from dedicated people who will perform these humble tasks needed to assist in particular the most vulnerable communities. It would be ironic to cut the services most needed to resist in times of crisis, whether it is in the public health, security or transport sectors.

In many countries today, the public-sector employees needed to maintain the basic services used by the population are the less paid and the attractiveness of their jobs is losing ground. They generally don’t receive financially the recognition that the population has often been keen to offer them in singing and waving at windows during the pandemic. Governments will thus have to deal with the necessity to reconsider the way these public servants are recruited and paid, their careers managed and their vital contribution to an effective public sector appraised.

One necessity unveiled by the pandemic could well be for governments to review the situation of the lower level public servants. The scale value of the indispensable workforce used in times of crisis might have to be changed. The merits of the less qualified pubic-sector workforce will have to be recognized and the public-sector workforce of the future will need to include and acknowledge the true value of the core public jobs.

 

Emmanuelle d’Achon, Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration
 

How could COVID-19 shape institutional reforms and creation of a public-sector workforce of the future that accelerates delivery of the SDGs?

Sunday, 10 May 2020

 

On 13 May 2020, the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) starts its 19th session with a virtual meeting that combines two topical agenda items: Promoting effective governance and institutional reform to accelerate delivery of the SDGs [item 4], and Government and public sector workforce of the future [item 7]. Both themes are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and action on them will play a key role in the recovery.

 
What lessons can be drawn with respect to building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels from the unprecedented measures taken in response to the pandemic?

 

The Committee has looked at the central theme of the 2020 HLPF on accelerated action and transformative pathways from a governance and public administration perspective (E/C.16/2020/2). Its contribution to the HLPF, which will be formally endorsed during the meeting, recommends that accelerated action to achieve the SDGs calls for ‘fast-track’ reform initiatives based on innovative breakthroughs, combined with incremental reforms that target long-term, cumulative results. Accepting the need to innovate means the willingness to take risks – and benefit from the consequences.
Another transformative pathway to sustainable development concerns budgeting for the SDGs. Integrating the SGDs in budgeting may benefit from a shift towards performance-based budgeting, particularly since traditional budget structures or "line item budgets” may thwart, or at least not encourage, SDG implementation efforts.
At the same time, the Committee recalls that leaving no one behind will often require avoiding top-down approaches to local development and the establishment of focal points within communities to assess the extent of possible decentralization, value optimization and impact of national-local transfers. Last but not least, combatting corruption is a precondition of effective governance for the acceleration of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


What are the risks to implementation of SDG 16 from these measures? Is the strong government paradigm harmful to efforts to leave no one behind? Could investment in digital government serve to counter any negative effects?


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the ability of many governments to take extraordinary steps quickly with a potentially transformational impact. It has also exposed the fact that the effectiveness of government has been eroded by privatization – for example of health systems. We might learn from this for the huge task of attaining the SDGs: only a strong government can work effectively with the private sector and civil society to make sustainability a reality.
Investment in digitalization was already a strategic priority before COVID-19 and will be even more important during the recovery phase. Artificial intelligence can be a powerful means to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as well as to monitor progress towards all of the SDGs. It also brings about societal threats which have yet to be fully explored. The Committee’s paper on government and public sector workforce management in the digital era (E/C.16/2020/4) underscores that digital technology is transforming governments, government-citizen relations and public management. During this pandemic we are witnessing a faster rate of adoption of digital technology among some government agencies. It is crucial to maintain this pace so that services are more equitable, efficient, and effective.


What lessons can be drawn in shaping the public sector workforce of the future?


Governments are embracing digital technologies to achieve better governance. New practices enabled by information and communications technology are rapidly reshaping public sector workforce management. During this pandemic, many governments are practicing work-from-home policies and have issued flexible working hours. This reflects the ability to adapt and be agile for some governments but not for all. A handful of governments have responded well to the pandemic with the use of technology such as for tracking systems, information dissemination, and health services. 
While the COVID-19 crisis has shown many positive impacts of digitalization, it also revealed where improvements are needed most. In some ways, inequality has increased between pockets of society, as well as between countries. In general, challenges remain on data security, privacy and the definition of property rights. These are issues that relate to democracy, human rights and the future of government. It should be ensured that no one is left behind and that such technological shifts are geared towards accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
 

Louis Meuleman and Ora-orn Poocharoen, members of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Budgeting for the Sustainable Development Goals

Thursday, 6 February 2020

 

As government budgets significantly influence people’s lives and well-being while also providing opportunities to address societies’ most pressing needs, transparent, inclusive and credible budgets become key policy objectives. Moreover, the achievement of the SDGs depends on the ability of governments to execute budgets as intended and in line with national development objectives and needs. That said, opaque budget-making practices and unbalanced budget compositions, with underspending in sectors that may be critical to sustainable development, and overspending in others, continue to plague public financial management systems.  Such problems are exacerbated by limited opportunities for citizens to participate in budgeting as well as other challenges, such as limited capacity of oversight institutions to scrutinize budgets.

 

Better budgeting within the context of the 2030 Agenda means explicit and measurable presentation of SDG targets in budget allocations and reports as well as in other elements of the budget cycle. It entails informing legislatures, audit institutions and the public about SDG-related budget policies and execution. It requires engaging them throughout the budget cycle in accountable manners. There is thus a need for inclusive dialogues on how to improve budget transparency and enhance budget credibility, bringing together governments, civil society and all other relevant actors.

 

An SDG-oriented budget is one that is organized according to the SDGs, SDG targets and indicators. The benefits of SDG budgeting are many. These include improved budget coherence, enhanced accountability and comparability of national budgets. When done appropriately, the mapping and tracking of budgetary contributions to each SDG can also improve budget performance evaluation. Governments typically link their national objectives to the SDGs and adapt the latter to national contexts prior to adopting key performance indicators for monitoring national development. SDG budgeting can also be used to justify budget proposals and negotiate for greater allocations to priority programmes, particularly during the drafting phase of the budget.

 

SDG budgeting as a practice is still in its infancy. Several countries have announced, through the voluntary national reviews, an intention to reflect the SDGs in budgetary processes but few have specified why it would be relevant to do so or how the practice could be operationalized.

 

Experience has shown that the SDGs can be more easily linked to programme budgets if there is already a plan or strategy in place that sets out national priorities. The active involvement of finance ministries is also important. A sense of ownership of budgetary processes by all stakeholders, such as civil society, parliaments and supreme audit institutions, is key as these actors hold government to account regarding commitments to the 2030 Agenda. Among the most important enablers of successful SDG budgeting are discussions on how governments can track public resources allocated to achievement of the SDGs. An SDG budget classification system and use of performance budgeting methods are also useful.

 

For more information on budgeting for SDGs, please follow expert discussion at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), at:: publicadministration.un.org/en/CEPA

 

The blog is based on the paper prepared by Committee members Katarina Ott and Juraj Nemec in collaboration with Linda Bilmes, Cristina Duarte, Lamia Moubayed Bissat and Geert Bouckaert, for the upcoming 19th session of CEPA.

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations

Monday 6 January 2020

 

There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2

 

The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.
 

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.
 

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.
 

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.
 

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.
 

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.
 

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.
 

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.
 

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 
 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at: publicadministration.un.org/en/CEPA

 

1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.

 

Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member

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Friday 27 December 2019

Stories on Public Sector Innovation – Preventing child marriage and empowering girls through education in India

 

 

Public sector transformation is critical component in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the ways the Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs promotes transformation is through recognizing successful public sector innovations around the globe through its flagship activity United Nations Public Service Awards (UNPSA). The annual programme rewards the achievements and contributions of public institutions and highlights good practices for inspiration and possible replication in other countries.

 

We followed up with the past UNPSA winners to share the updates on their initiatives.

 

2017 UNPSA Winner: Kanyashree Prakalpa, Department of Women, Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal, India

 

India’s Constitution guarantees its citizens the fundamental rights to equality, freedom, and education, and the right against exploitation. The reality however was that for the majority of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country, such rights remained out of reach with child marriage and other gender-discriminatory practices common.

 

In October 2013, the Government of West Bengal, India, launched Kanyashree Prakalpa, a conditional cash transfer scheme that provides a safety net for those vulnerable families who are forced, by tradition, social compulsion or poverty, to truncate the education of their daughters and contract them to wholly illegal and dangerous marriages. Kanyashree’s strategy directly strikes at the inter-linked issues of child marriage and female school dropouts. The Scheme provides every adolescent girl between the age of 13 and 18 with an annual scholarship, and a one-time grant when she graduates from the scheme at age 18. The stipulation being, of course, that participating girls are in school and unmarried at the time of getting the benefits. To reinforce the positive impact of increased education and delayed marriages, the scheme also works to enhance the social power and self-esteem of girls through a range of “cash plus” interventions.

 

Kanyashree girls report feeling empowered - it is not just the prospect of receiving a grant y that empowers them, but that they receive it in bank accounts that are opened in their own names. It has put on hold their parents’ quest for a suitable groom. Many girls have grasped the opportunity to start a new dialogue with their parents, a dialogue in which they dare to speak of their future identities forged through continued education and professional training, identities that may or may not include marriage.

 

In 2017, when the Scheme was awarded the UN Public Service Awards the category “Reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive services and participation”, it had covered 4 million adolescent girls, with almost 1 million having reached age 18 with a complete school education, and without child marriage. Two and a half years later, the numbers have doubled. The Scheme has covered over 6 million girls since its launch in 2013, with 2.3 million girls graduating from it at age 18. The government has increased the annual scholarship amount, and removed the income ceiling, effectively universalizing the scheme for all adolescent girls who comply with its core message: “Say YES to education and NO to child marriage”.

 

In 2017, Kanyashree’s “cash plus” interventions were pilot initiatives implemented in select locations. Today, the Government of West Bengal implements a state-wide integrated set of schemes for adolescent girls that reaches them through both school and community platforms and provides them with a range of services and linkages to facilitate their all-round development. This programme is described in the graphic below.

 

Figure: Schemes for Adolescent Girls in West Bengal, India

 

The Kanyashree journey however, has just begun. Across the world it is acknowledged that young people are an important demographic whose time has come. Kanyashree girls are at the age when they are establishing their individuality and their own voice. Given adequate support, they have the ability to articulate their needs and desires, demand their rights and make their own choices. More important – they have tremendous potential as drivers for change.

 

However, the entire responsibility of transformation should not rest on the shoulders of the girls. Several systems – educational, health, social and commercial - need to work towards creating an environment in which girls aspire to become whatever they desire, including leaders, professionals or entrepreneurs. We must not lose sight of the fact that Kanyashree girls’ bank accounts are just a tool; true financial inclusion will be when these bank accounts see regular deposits and withdrawals that signify healthy, productive and happy lives.

 

For West Bengal to reap the benefits of its investment in its adolescent girls, policy makers need to see beyond the economic dividend of preventing child marriage to building a cohort of confident, responsible and active citizens, girls and boys, men and and women, whose values and actions contribute towards a more equitable, violence-free society and sustainable development.

 

For more information on Kanyashree Prakalpa and other winning initiatives, visit the UN Public Service Innovation Hub

 

 

Kanyashree Prakalpa, Department of Women, Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal, India (2017 UN Public Service Award Winner on the category on Reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive service and partnership)

 

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Friday 22 November 2019

UN DESA and African Union Join Forces to Accelerate Action for Integrating the Principles of Effective Governance in Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda

 

 

The African Regional Workshop on Effective Governance for Sustainable Development: Putting Principles into Practice took place in Pretoria, South Africa from 30 October to 1 November. Organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the African Union/African Peer Review Mechanism in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the workshop constituted a clear milestone in Africa’s sustainable development journey. 84 senior public officials, close to half of them female, from twenty APRM member states including eleven Least Developed Countries, engaged in vibrant discussions. The focus was how to operationalize the ECOSOC-endorsed Principles of effective governance for sustainable development on the continent.

 

Developed by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) to help interested countries, on a voluntary basis, the principles aim to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. They apply to all public institutions. Their promulgation in Africa, through APRM’s support in its capacity as a regional mechanism for SDG16 follow up, can be a game-changer. The principles can not only concretize SDG16, but they can also strengthen the synergies between Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the global 2030 Agenda.

 

Principles are not recipes but helpful guidelines. As such, they shaped the core strength of the workshop, which transpired in two of its defining attributes. First, its collective approach. English, French and Portuguese speakers joined each other in one common language of human development. Civil society, research institutes, international organisations across Africa and beyond including the European Union participated. Ecuador presented inter-regional comparative perspectives from the Latin American and Caribbean region. Second, its evidence-based core. Participants agreed on a handful of concrete decisions that can put Africa’s imprint on the sustainability map for generations to come.

 

One such concrete output of the workshop was a joint CEPA, UN DESA, APRM and AU SDG16 monitoring and evaluation tool for Africa. Built on the Principles of effective governance, this tool could constitute a baseline for the region, and could potentially be launched at the 2020/2021 African Union Summit.

 

Workshop also culminated in several mutually supportive ideas to accelerate action towards sustainable development. For instance, conducting qualitative citizen reviews of public services, separate from and in addition to quantitative citizen satisfaction surveys, were proposed. Drawing on non-official data sources related to the Aspirations of Agenda 2063 and the Goals of the 2030 was encouraged. Workshop participants urged for creating spaces around contextualizing and localizing indicators such as those by g7+ on evaluating fragility and access to informal institutions of justice.

 

The most exciting development of it all, however, was Africa’s resolve to tackle its challenges through African solutions. The integration of the principles of effective governance into the African governance landscape and institutional frameworks will surely strengthen regional and national SDG implementation thereby opening the way for the principles and their collaborative applications to reinvigorate global processes such as the Voluntary National Reviews of the High-level political forum.

 

 

Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, CEPA Chairperson

 

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Friday 22 November 2019

The Focus of HLPF 2020, the How Question in Public Administration, and the ECOSOC Endorsed Principles of Effective Governance

 

 

 

 

 

As the High-level political forum of 2020 adopts its main theme of 'Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development', public sector reform takes the central stage in sustainable development praxis. A glaring example comes from the recent African Regional Workshop: Effective Governance for Sustainable Development: Putting Principles into Practice, organized by the UN DESA in partnership with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in Pretoria, South Africa.

 

In Pretoria, participating governments, UN agencies, civil society, academia and others seemed to have a decent grasp of what should be done to leave no one behind--they were rather clear on which policies and what models of sustainability to contemplate. Yet, what they seemed to crave for was a set of possible answers to the how question. How do we reform public administration and governance if we want to achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030?

 

This is not a straightforward question. The tremendous governance challenges we are confronting today are largely the upshots of what has gone wrong in the first place. Myriad obstacles within public administrations in many countries, and this despite the hard work of public officials and civil servants, are at the root of our developmental malaise. Einstein’s famous words are telling here: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

 

Then again, how?

 

Promoting the SDG-related transformations in our public administration systems and processes requires readiness on many fronts in public institutions.

 

For starters, accepting and internalizing the fact that effective governance requires adaptation to its specific context could take us a long way. A broad definition of governance is the crux of the matter here. Governance is the way by which public administration organisations and other stakeholders develop solutions and opportunities for societal challenges, and this includes steering, incentivizing and collaboration mechanisms. Defining governance narrowly, for example as being only about stakeholder involvement while neglecting rule of law, is one cause of governance failures.

 

Second, contextuality is not detached from values and belief systems, including those associated with different public administration models. Are policy makers stimulated to think outside the box? Are career systems rewarding or punishing officials for innovative approaches? These questions are essential. They should be posed more often in broaching the how question.

 

Thirdly, speed of reform should be considered, as the latter often operates in correlation with the quality of reform. For instance, routine collaboration among levels of administration is slow and subpar. This is related to the trade-off between being reliable and predictable, but not solely. Speeding up decision making processes for implementation of the SDGs is necessary, but this should not take place at the expense of strategic foresight, back-casting or impact analysis.

 

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: How can we balance soundness with completeness? How can we weigh flexibility against stability and predictability? And how can we accelerate urgent transformation through ‘real-time’ multi-level governance?

 

The how question entails contextually feasible ways to increase governmental capacity by partnering with all relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to civil society and business. It necessitates the bridging of the gap between the ‘wicked’ problems underlying our policy challenges and the preconditions for effective governance. It requires pitting competence against financing, and calibrating coordination and coherence. We will need to do so vertically and horizontally while subscribing to whole-of-society approaches.

 

We need to be fully cognizant that the width of the gap between the what and the how differs across countries and through time. Some countries have well-functioning and flexible public administration, but others are not yet there and work in silos. Still others have malfunctioning and/or fragile administrations. In addition, many countries may have a well-functioning public administration in, say, planning but not in other arenas, like implementation. Others that have transformed their public administration into lean and efficient operations may have caused conditions that chip away at their overall effectiveness.

 

All these trends were apparent in the African Regional Workshop. Its conclusions emphasized that there is no one perfect institutional schema of governing. Inter-institutional communication and collaboration, multisectoral partnerships, coherent and sound policy making are as important as are innovations and adaptability, SDG awareness raising, research and training, not to mention innovative financing for development and responsible leadership.

 

Clearly, there cannot be one answer to the “how” challenge. We should recognize the different starting points; distinct trajectories, multiple aspirations, and equally legitimate but significantly diverse endpoints pursued by public administrations across the world.

 

Nevertheless, some recommendations could apply to all public administrations: first, establishing sustainability transformation acceleration training for current public officials; second, integrating transformational capacity/capability in public administration schools’ curricula; and third, implementing the 11 Principles of effective governance for sustainable development formulated by the Committee of experts on public administration (CEPA) and endorsed by UN ECOSOC in 2018. These are golden guidelines for all countries to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Louis Meuleman, Rapporteur UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)

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Friday 08 November 2019

Overcoming Global Digital Divides through a Five-Step Strategy

 

 

 

 

The world is entering the digital age, with half of the global population online. It is unleashing unfathomable opportunities for sustainable development.  According to a recent estimate by UNCTAD, Global Internet Protocol (IP) traffic, a proxy for data flows, grew from about 100 gigabytes (GB) per day in 1992 to more than 45,000 GB per second in 2017; by 2022 global IP traffic is projected to reach 150,700 GB per second, driven by more people coming online and by the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). The global digital economy, including its spillover impact, is already being measured in the trillions of US dollars, and it is outpacing the growth of global GDP, potentially reaching 23 trillion US dollars by 2025.

 

More than any previous technological transformations, the digital age is one of inter-dependence, calling for international cooperation among governments, industry, scientific and technological communities, as well as civil society groups.  Such inter-dependence is seen across the spectrum of trade and finance, communications, e-government, and cyber security, among others.

 

Paradoxically, despite the rapid progress in digital technologies, the Global Digital Divides seem to be getting worse. Data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) suggest that in developed countries, more than 80 out of 100 inhabitants use the internet, while in developing countries, it is 40 out of 100 inhabitants.  ITU data further suggest that in terms of regions, Africa lagged significantly behind, with only some 21 out of 100 inhabitants using internet. Not surprisingly, according to UN E-Government Survey 2018, prepared by UN DESA, most countries scoring low on the e-government development index are from Africa.

 

Concurrently, we have been witnessing a worrisome spike in cybercrimes and cyberattack. Malicious activities in cyberspace are undermining digital trust, including public trust in governments and between States. It is to be noted that not all governments are well equipped with the knowledge and ability to respond to the digital age - in tapping the vast opportunities or mitigating the inherent risks. The pace and evolution of digitalization are surpassing the speed with which governments can put in place appropriate regulatory and policy frameworks, particularly in developing countries. The multi-dimensional Global Digital Divides are thus getting wider for these countries, putting beyond their reach the potential benefits from digital transformations.

 

How to halt and reverse these trends and overcome the Global Digital Divides?  I suggest a five-step strategy moving forward.

 

First, we must invest in digital infrastructure. Governments, multilateral development banks, the private sector, the financing community, foundations, among others, must join hands in scaling up investments in digital infrastructure, including in rural areas and in low-income neighborhoods.  It is likewise essential that we make available affordable and robust broadband services in schools, public libraries, community service centers, etc., to facilitate online access by those who cannot afford it on their own.  It will be a basic step to level the playing field in terms of online access.

 

Second, we must help develop new, innovative devices that enable access to internet that are affordable and that can meet the needs of vulnerable groups.  This calls for visionary leadership and commitments from the scientific and technological and business communities, working in partnership with governments, and the financial community, to come up with such devices. While perhaps not as sophisticated as some other available hand-held devices, such devices will enable the full potential of these markets to be realized and thus will help to close the Global Digital Divides.

 

Third, we must invest in digital education and digital literacy training. Recent experience reveals that hardware alone will not close the Global Digital Divides. We must work with educational institutions, the scientific and technological community, local governments and community service organizations to improve access to digital education and promote digital literacy. This includes knowledge of coding and programming, particularly among girls and persons with disabilities. Such training will offer career development and job opportunities, opening the door to the digital world, including in areas such as cybersecurity.

 

Fourth, we must maintain technical support, whether through physical onsite support or online.  This is essential to troubleshooting and maintaining momentum for progress. To minimize business expenditures, I invite programmers and technicians and other qualified and skilled individuals to volunteer their services.  We need something like Software Engineers without Borders to help keep such initiatives moving.

 

Fifth, we also need to invest in online content, including local language content, that inspire, inform and educate. Massive open online courses (MOOC) are an inspiring initiative in this direction and is often provided with open access, without limits on participation. Some such courses also feature user forums to support community interactions as well as immediate feedback.   

 

In all these five areas, the United Nations system has a catalytical role to play, by making available expertise or by providing platforms for mutual learning, capacity building and online training. 

 

In this regard, I welcome the upcoming expert group meeting (EGM) convened by DESA at UN Headquarters in New York on 16-17 December.   The EGM aims to bring together a number of experts and decision-makers in relevant digital fields, including digital government, digital economy, cybersecurity, science and technology and innovation (STI), and Internet governance.  They will be requested to share their knowledge and perspectives on the evolving digital trends and make recommendations on how to meet capacity development needs of developing countries. It is time that we all step up our efforts.

 

 

 

Mr. Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

 

 

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Thursday 24 October 2019

Public Institutions and Poverty Reduction

 

 

 

This October has seen encouraging developments in global efforts to combat the scourge of poverty,  On 14 October, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced its decision to award the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019 to Abhijit Banerjee of  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Esther Duflo, also of  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael Kremer of  Harvard University, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. The Academy noted that “The Laureates’ research findings – and those of the researchers following in their footsteps – have dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice."

 

Three days later, on 17 October, the United Nations marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which focused on “acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty."  In his message, the Secretary-General stressed that ending extreme poverty is at the heart of the world’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build a sustainable future for all.  But success in leaving no one behind will remain elusive if we do not target the people who are farthest behind first.

 

This global setting offered a timely backdrop for spotlighting the contributions of public institutions in fighting poverty, whose role has somehow faded into the background in recent years. This trend should be reversed, if we are to achieve SDG 1 - ending poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.  Indeed, according to the Special Edition of the Secretary-General’s Report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, while the decline of global extreme poverty continues, progress has slowed, and the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than 3 per cent of the world living in extreme poverty by 2030. People who continue to live in extreme poverty face deep, entrenched deprivation often exacerbated by violent conflicts and vulnerability to disasters. Strong social protection systems and government spending on key services often help those left behind get back on their feet and escape poverty, but these services need to be brought to scale.

 

This is where public institutions should step up to the challenge and scale up services to the poor and vulnerable groups.  Among other steps that could be taken and adapted to country specific situations, I would recommend the following actions:

 

First, strengthen national legislative and regulatory frameworks for fighting poverty.

 

This is already happening on the ground. Recent voluntary national reports (VNRs) indicate that more and more countries are integrating the visions and principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into national legislations, with specific mandates to national and local governments to accelerate the progress toward the SDGs.

 

Second, strengthen inter-ministerial coordination to ensure a holistic, coordinated and coherent strategy for flighting poverty and achieving the SDGs.

 

Encouragingly, many national leaders have realized the critical significance of this step. With 17 goals, 169 targets, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for changing the conventional silo mindsets, and adopting a holistic, coordinated and coherent strategic approach toward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Many leaders took the forward-thinking decision of leading the national SDG endeavour in person, supported by an inter-ministerial senior coordination group. Interestingly, some countries have also entrusted the coordination role to the Treasury or Finance Ministry to coordinate funding for this endeavour.

 

Third, equipping public servants with the knowledge, mindset and skillsets to fight poverty and advance the progress toward the SDGs.

 

This is where implementation challenges emerge on multiple fronts. For some years, investing in public services has been a low priority for many governments.  Public servants who are on the frontline of ensuring access to basic social services, such as education, basic health care, job training, access to water, sanitation and energy, environmental protection, public safety, access to justice, public transportation, public spaces, essential community social services, etc, are often not given the social and economic recognition they deserve. In addition, many national and local governments have failed to take advantage of digital technology to improve public services to the most vulnerable groups.  Empowering public servants with the public recognition and remunerations and skillsets for the 21st century is an imperative that should be given high priority by all governments.

 

Equally important, putting in place the accountability framework to ensure anti-corruption and transparency in public services, including funding of public services, must go hand in hand with measures to improve public services.

 

Fourth, strengthening international cooperation on institution-building.

 

Indeed, this is where the United Nations system can play a catalytic role. To the extent that public institutions often are part of the decision-making process and service providers, there is significant space for mutual learning and exchange of national and local experiences.  The United Nations can provide a useful platform for such exchanges.  For example, the UN system can catalyse mutual learning and training by identifying and offering capacity development opportunities, in partnership with academic, scientific and technological communities, businesses and civil society groups.

 

In this regard, there also exist specific guidelines and strategies for implementation. For example,  the United Nations Economic and Social Council, during its 2018 session, endorsed a set of 11 principles and 62 related strategies prepared by the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). These principles and strategies apply to all public institutions, including the administration of executive and legislative organs, the security and justice sectors, independent constitutional bodies and State corporations.

 

Joint UN-African Union workshop

 

I am delighted to share an upcoming event that aims to strengthen public institutions – a joint workshop co-organized by UN DESA and African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism, which is taking place on 30 October to 1 November 2019, in Pretoria, South Africa. The workshop aims to enhance capacity of public servants in Africa to develop reform policies that strengthen institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels.  You are welcome to follow the discussion at this website: (https://publicadministration.un.org/en/news-and-events/calendar/ModuleID/1146/ItemID/3022/mctl/EventDetails).

 

 

Ms. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

 

 

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Monday 7 October 2019

Effective governance for sustainable development

 

 

The full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on a common understanding of the basic principles of effective governance for sustainable development. Adherence to these tenets of governance underpins progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 

In this context, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, during its 2018 session, endorsed a set of 11 principles prepared by the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). The 11 basic principles are intended to clarify the governance agenda, taking into account different governance structures, national realities, capacities and levels of development, while respecting national policies and priorities. They have been developed to help interested countries, on a voluntary basis, build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, with a view to achieving the shared vision for the people and the planet embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 

As basic principles, they apply to all public institutions, including the administration of executive and legislative organs, the security and justice sectors, independent constitutional bodies and State corporations.

 

The basic principles comprise: (a) competence, sound policymaking and cooperation under the rubric of effectiveness; (b) integrity, transparency and independent oversight under accountability; and (c) leaving no one behind, non-discrimination, participation, subsidiarity and intergenerational equity under inclusiveness.

 

In the spirit of SDG 16, we need to focus especially on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, on women and children, and to heal and protect our planet for the future of humanity. This calls for major changes in governance in all countries and in resource allocation towards development goals. There can be little doubt that resources are currently channelled disproportionately to the top ten percent of the world's population and to purposes contributing to the perpetuation of war. The net result is growing instability, fragility and fragmentation in vast swaths of the world which, in turn, generate continuing waves of refugees and migrants desperately attempting a perilous journey to distant lands because they see no future closer to home. It is no accident that endless wars contribute to massive corruption in government.

 

Operationalizing the principles and undertaking related strategic actions that are known to be effective in particular contexts is essential to taking the work on principles to the next level. To be helpful, associated practices will need to be clearly relevant, feasible to implement, and based on sufficient empirical evidence of their impact on the achievement of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. To that end, ECOSOC has encouraged CEPA to identify and review related technical guidelines and assess the evidence of their impact on SDG-related outcomes, including from sectoral perspectives. The elaboration of such guidance is the next challenge for CEPA and the relevant United Nations organizations, regional organizations and professional and academic communities engaged in this evolving work.

 

Importantly, CEPA has already identified 62 strategies, each associated with one of the 11 principles of effective governance (to access full text of the principles and strategies, click here). The CEPA Secretariat is now in the process of coordinating the preparation of the technical guidance covering each of these strategies based on global expert advice.

 

Concurrently, CEPA members and the CEPA Secretariat have been working with Governments and regional organizations and UN system entities to provide capacity building support for the operationalization of the principles.  In this regard, I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to initiate a joint UN-African Union workshop specifically designed to support countries in assessment of gaps in the institutional application of each of the 11 principles of effective governance with a view to strengthening institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels.

 

The objective of this joint workshop (30 October to 1 November 2019, Pretoria, South Africa) is to enhance capacity of public servants in Africa to develop reform policies that strengthen institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels. In particular, the workshop is expected to lead to:

 

- A common understanding among senior public officials of African countries of principles of effective governance for sustainable development and methods of analyzing gaps in their institutional application;

 

- Enhanced collaboration between the United Nations and African Union in building strong institutions for achievement of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063; and

 

- Sharing of knowledge among senior public officials in Africa on approaches to building strong institutions for achievement of the SDGs at all levels in different development contexts.

 

Government-led assessments featured at the workshop may serve as a precursor to more specific in-depth reviews, as appropriate, and/or lead directly to formulation of Government/public sector-led reform policies in priority institution-building areas. The workshop is also expected to foster policy coherence by encouraging alignment of institution-building efforts related to the 2030 Agenda with the Agenda 2063 objectives of the African Union.

 

I invite all interested partners and practitioners to follow the discussion of the workshop and to work with CEPA members and the CEPA Secretariat in advancing the operationalization of the principles of effective governance.

 

Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, CEPA Chairperson

 

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Friday 4 October 2019

We need more focus on institutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

 

Whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will ultimately depend on the fitness of our institutions to deliver the necessary public services and functions. The 2030 Agenda prominently features institutions, both as a cross-cutting issue and as a standalone goal, Goal 16, which aims to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” 

 

 

Goal 16 highlights several institutional principles, including: effectiveness, access to information, transparency, accountability, anti-corruption, inclusiveness of decision-making processes, and non discrimination. These principles can help all stakeholders in different sectors assess how institutions are delivering for sustainable development. 

 

In our 2019 edition of the World Public Sector Report, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) reveals many positive trends at the national level that give reasons for optimism.
A majority of countries now legally guarantee the right to information. As of 2018, 139 countries had implemented open government data initiatives that make data available to the public through central portals, as compared with only 46 in 2014. 

 

Over the past decade, we have witnessed rapid developments of anti-corruption institutions, both at the international and national levels. Since 2015, at least 21 countries have passed national anti-corruption laws, 39 have adopted national anti-corruption strategies, and 14 have created new anti-corruption agencies.

 
Participatory mechanisms have been developing rapidly from the local to the national level. The Internet is dramatically changing the ways citizens can participate in government. A growing number of countries are using e-consultations and other channels for electronic participation. 

 

National initiatives in all these areas have been supported by a growing body of international instruments, both binding and voluntary. 

 

At the same time, barriers to institutional effectiveness remain, with few signs of progress in recent years. Effective oversight of governments by parliaments and supreme audit institutions often remains elusive.
Efforts to align national budget systems with the SDGs have so far been limited, both in developed and developing countries. 

 

Discrimination is still rampant across the globe, even though international norms in this area have been steadily growing and have been increasingly reflected in national legislation, judicial systems and administrative practice. Women remain underrepresented at all levels of public decision-making. Some measures to increase women’s representation in politics have been effective but progress is slow. 

 

Crucially, the UN DESA report also found that we do not know nearly enough about the effectiveness of our institutions. For example, little is known about the effectiveness of national anti-corruption reforms. The same could be said about the effect on performance and accountability in public service reforms that have emphasized the use of performance frameworks, performance-based pay and reporting. 

 

Initiatives to improve transparency, accountability and participation yield widely differing results. Their effectiveness largely depends on a country’s wider accountability system. In many cases, the presumed links between institutional reforms and their broader benefits to society do not materialize. For instance, transparency reforms can fail to increase citizens’ trust in government. 

Country context is crucial and institutional instruments proven successful in one country may not be replicable elsewhere. 

 

Going forward, we need to become better at measuring institutional effectiveness. Beyond the complexity of the topic itself, the measurement frameworks put more emphasis on processes than on outcomes and broader impacts for citizens. 

 

This is starting to change. For example, the Open Government Partnership or the Global Financial Transparency Initiative are starting to look at public institution reforms through the lens of their final beneficiaries – the public. 

 

At the national level, we could make better use of the information already produced by institutional processes such as reforms of the justice system, reporting under international treaties, internal monitoring by government agencies, and reports of oversight bodies. Goal 16 and its institutional targets can provide a unifying platform to support such efforts. 

 

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the 2030 Agenda has recognized the fundamental role of institutions in the quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As we kick off the final decade of action to achieve these ambitious objectives, we should pay closer attention to the institutions that we are trusting with its delivery.

 

Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

 

Monday 6 January 2020

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations

 

 

There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2

 

 

The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.
 

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.
 

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.
 

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.
 

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.
 

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.
 

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.
 

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.
 

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 
 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at: publicadministration.un.org/en/CEPA

 

 

1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.

 

Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Monday 6 January 2020

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations

 

 

There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2

 

 

The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.
 

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.
 

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.
 

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.
 

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.
 

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.
 

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.
 

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.
 

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 
 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at: publicadministration.un.org/en/CEPA

 

 

1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.

 

Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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