Department of Economic and Social Affairs Public Institutions

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.

    Key messages on the WPSR2019