CEPA 17 Experts Call for Investing in Public Servants to Deliver on SDGs
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The UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration is meeting for its 17th session to discuss ‘Readying Public Institutions for the Implementation of the SDGs'.

Topics examined by the Committee include: effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; policy and institutional coherence; principles of effective governance for sustainable development; capacities and budgetary resources for 2030 Agenda’s implementation; awareness, competencies and skills of civil servants; participation and engagement in SDG implementation; misconduct and corruption in the public sector; and enhancing and equipping institutions in urban and rural communities to support societal changes required under the 2030 Agenda.

26 April 2018: The UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) is meeting for its 17th session to discuss government readiness to implement the SDGs. During the first days of the meeting, members noted that civil servants should not be “left behind,” and called for investing in public service officials to deliver effectively on the SDGs, since they are at the core of governments’ action on the Goals.

CEPA 17 is considering the theme, ‘Readying Public Institutions for the Implementation of the SDGs,’ as it convenes from 23-27 April 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Topics being examined by the Committee include: effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; policy and institutional coherence; principles of effective governance for sustainable development; capacities and budgetary resources for 2030 Agenda’s implementation; awareness, competencies and skills of civil servants; participation and engagement in SDG implementation; misconduct and corruption in the public sector; and enhancing and equipping institutions in urban and rural communities to support societal changes required under the 2030 Agenda.

During the opening session, UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Vice President Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa) said CEPA has placed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the center of its work, and outlined the Committee’s “crucial role” in providing policy advice on issues related to governance, institutions and public administration. He looked forward to the Committee’s contribution to the thematic review at the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on sustainable and resilient societies.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, called for the work of the Committee and of the 2018 session of the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development follow-up (FfD Forum) – taking place concomitantly with CEPA 17 – to enrich and inform one another. He announced that the UN Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM) will be renamed, and that its work is being streamlined with a focus on supporting efforts to prepare public institutions for the SDGs, promoting public sector innovation and expanding digital government. He also announced the creation of a dedicated CEPA Secretariat within the Division’s Office of the Director.

Barthelemy encouraged CEPA members to start preparing for the review of SDG 16 at the 2019 HLPF.

Marion Barthelemy, Director, Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), noted the importance of SDG 16 on making institutions effective, inclusive and accountable, and added that a role of the Committee is to keep public institutions as an integral part of the SDGs. She encouraged CEPA members to start preparing for the review of SDG 16 that will take place during the HLPF in 2019.

Jairo Acuña-Alfaro, UN Development Programme (UNDP), noted that governments are somewhat prepared to implement the SDGs because the SDGs are not new in spirit, the issues they bring to the table (such as poverty eradication, education and health) having been part of governments’ work already. The key matter now, he said, is coordination between the different parts of government, and for governments to feel that the SDGs are domestic policy, not foreign policy.

On promoting policy and institutional coherence for implementing the SDGs, Louis Meuleman, CEPA member (the Netherlands), outlined several approaches to coherence, which, he said, are all important parts of “changing mindsets and teaching silos to dance, instead of breaking them down.” These approaches include coordination (structured cooperation), integration (merging policies), alignment (mutually adapting policies and institutions), multilevel governance (structured coordination among layers), and reconciliation (given that incoherence is often the result of conflicts or power asymmetries). Meuleman suggested creating a global peer-to-peer learning tool through which counties can advise each other on coherence. Linda Bilmes, CEPA member (US), underscored the value of learning from failed attempts, to avoid “reinventing the flat tire,” but noted that “there is nothing governments are less happy” to discuss. She suggested creating a database of governance experiments so future initiatives can incorporate lessons learned.

On ways to foster coherence, Sandra Pellegrom, Permanent Mission of the Netherlands, highlighted her government’s use of the “networking approach,” which helps to identify benefits for different parties. The approach requires working with different types of actors in government, the private sector and citizens, as well as “courage” for the government to let go of some of the control it would have in a traditional approach.

Among CEPA members who intervened, Geert Bouckaert, Belgium, said giving autonomy to other actors increases the need to ensure coherence, and requires trust within the public sector. Cristina Duarte, Cabo Verde, remarked that policy coherence needs top-down approaches as well as a bottom-up approach, which requires information sharing. Abdelhak Saihi, Algeria, observed that those who have power lack important information, while those at the base have information but lack power, and called for mechanisms to reconcile the two sides. Lamia Moubayed Bissat, Lebanon, said budgets are a powerful tool when used for coherence, and added that the fiscal principles of best value for money and performance-based budgeting could help achieve all 17 Goals.

On awareness, competencies and skills of civil servants at the national and local levels, CEPA members outlined the importance of, inter alia, sensitizing the civil service about the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs and their inter-linkages, and of integrating the SDGs into the curriculum of institutes of education and schools of public administration. They underscored the need to implement human resources initiatives to ensure SDG awareness and competencies, such as: developing reliable data on workforce skill sets; recruiting public service employees with the right skills; and carrying out civil service performance management and evaluation. Joan Mendez, CEPA member (Trinidad and Tobago) indicated that her country has developed its “Vision 2030” national development strategy (NDS) that encompasses the principles and objectives of the SDGs. She noted that each ministry and department must develop a plan or strategy aligned with the national strategy, and will be required to conduct a skills assessment to determine their ability and gaps to deliver on the national strategy. She also indicated that her country partnered with the Caribbean Development Bank to build competencies of civil servants on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

Fridole Ballén Duque, National Civil Service Commission, Colombia, outlined the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) for public service efficiency and transparency, adding that Colombia is among the most advanced countries in Latin America on ICT. In order to ensure competency, he said the National Civil Service Commission was established in 2005 to select public servants based on oral and written examinations, not on political appointments. He reported that an app will be used for the annual evaluation of civil servants’ performance.

On participation and engagement in implementing the SDGs and contributing to progress, Gowher Rizvi, CEPA member (Bangladesh), noted that the current structures of governments are hierarchical, siloed, and top-to-bottom, and thus the opposite of what the SDGs need. He called for: moving away from these rigid structures; thinking in terms of networks of capabilities and resources which can be leveraged for SDG implementation; and restructuring governments to include other stakeholders and their resources.

Paul Jackson, CEPA member (UK), underscored the need to include all segments of the population in governance frameworks in order to leave no one behind and to avoid that those left behind take arms against the states. Bridget Katsriku, CEPA member (Ghana), said “political capacity” entails the ability to mobilize actors’ participation, as well as to resolve conflicts resulting from their participation.

CEPA was established by ECOSOC in December 2001 to support the work of the Council. The Committee is composed of 24 experts who serve in their personal capacity. Geraldine Joslyn Fraser-Moleketi (South Africa), is chair of CEPA 17.

CEPA 17 is convening from 23-27 April 2018, in New York, US. [CEPA 17 Webpage] [CEPA Members] [CEPA 17 Programme] [Opening Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs] [Opening Remarks by the ECOSOC Vice-President] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on preparations for CEPA 17] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on World Public Sector Report 2018] [Guest Article by Louis Meuleman, CEPA member]


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