CEPA Discusses Institutional Aspects of SDG 16
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On 8-9 April, CEPA participants discussed the institutional aspects of SDG 16, namely on effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness, which are the key components of the “Principles of effective governance for sustainable development,” agreed at CEPA 17 and endorsed by ECOSOC in July 2018.

DESA briefed participants on the two HLPF sessions taking place in 2019, noting that the co-facilitators for the political declaration - the Permanent Representatives of Bahamas and Sweden - will start consultations in May or June, and hope to produce a short, focused and action-oriented outcome.

9 April 2019: The UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) kicked off its 18th session discussing institutional aspects of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), mainly on effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness. Discussions focused on governance and public administration as they relate to the theme of 2019 session of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

CEPA was established by ECOSOC in 2001 and comprises 24 members who meet annually at UN Headquarters. The Committee provides advice and recommendation on public administration and governance aspects of economic and social development, notably in support of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.

In sessions on 8-9 April, participants focused on the institutional aspects of SDG 16, namely on effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness, which are the key components of the “Principles of effective governance for sustainable development,” agreed at CEPA 17 and endorsed by ECOSOC in July 2018. Experts referred to the cross-cutting nature of SDG 16, adding that Goal 16 is also “very wide and very deep.” Juwang Zhu, Director of the UN Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government (DPIDG), UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the 2030 Agenda’s emphasis on leaving no one behind and the linkages among the 17 SDGs underscore the importance of governance and public institutions at all levels. CEPA 18 Chair Geraldine Joslyn Fraser-Moleketi (South Africa) noted that the Committee is committed to recommend policy actions as a main contribution to the global review on SDG 16 that will take place during the July 2019 session of the HLPF.

The opening segment of the 18th session continued with the topic of reviewing the 2030 Agenda. ECOSOC Vice-President Omar Hilale, Permanent Representative of Morocco, highlighted that in 2019 the HLPF will review the 2030 Agenda “at both ministerial and summit levels.” Liu Zhenmin, head of DESA, said that in 2019 the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda will look to CEPA for input on progress in achieving the institutional aspects of SDG 16. Liu also highlighted that the principles of effective governance developed by CEPA are fundamentally important for achieving the 2030 Agenda, and countries can already begin using them to improve public trust.

Irena Zubcevic, DESA, briefed participants on the two HLPF sessions taking place in 2019. She said the ECOSOC president plans to produce a “very detailed and robust” summary of the July session, and the political declaration to be adopted at the September HLPF should reflect the July session. She said the co-facilitators for the political declaration – the Permanent Representatives of Bahamas and Sweden – have begun meeting with Member States and stakeholders, will begin consultations in May or June, and hope to produce a short, focused and action-oriented outcome. Zubcevic added that the UNGA’s review of the HLPF, which will take place during the 74th session, will consider how the HLPF will look in the future, including whether it will continue considering a group of several SDGs each year, or conduct reviews differently.

Turning to a discussion of its expert inputs, Fraser-Moleketi said that the Committee will aim to strengthen a set of draft papers that will shape CEPA’s input on SDG 16. CEPA member Moni Pizani (Venezuela) shared highlights from a paper on participation and empowerment. Pizani said “empowerment” is a complex subject that involves not only increasing each person’s ability to act independently, but also fostering enabling institutional environments for this self-sufficiency, and it must consider the impact of empowerment on institutions and societies. She noted that: fiscal policy could reduce inequality by ensuring taxation is fair and efficient; data analysis is important for pinpointing trends and ensuring development is inclusive; and empowerment without resources and skills could mean ineffective implementation of policies.

Louis Meuleman (Netherlands), who collaborated on the paper’s preparation, observed that as recently as ten years ago, institution building was believed to follow a blueprint that applied to every country. Now, broad consensus has emerged that each country needs its own solutions for modernizing institutions.

Respondent Marc Fleurbaey, Princeton University and member of the Committee for Development Policy (CDP), provided remarks on “leaving no one behind.” He said that geographical inequalities “can tear society apart,” in addition to inequalities between social groups. He highlighted several factors that can disempower people, such as environmental degradation (climate change and extreme weather events, and pollution, all of which affect health, water, sanitation, food and livelihoods), and attacks on human rights and resulting conflict and insecurity.

A leave-no-one-behind approach can be more effective than targeted policies.

Fleurbaey also said that a leaving no one behind approach can be more effective than targeted policies. As an example, he remarked that an antipoverty measure might focus on “headcounts,” and this would lead to targeting those living right under the poverty threshold. While the policy would succeed in reducing the number of people living in poverty, it would be counterproductive for helping those furthest behind.

In comments from the floor, CEPA members described difficulties with empowerment efforts. Cristina Duarte (Cabo Verde) said this focus has become a “black box” after 40 years of discussion and a lack of action, suggesting that the problem is even worsening due to growing inequalities, including in developed countries. She identified key aspects of a trend of disempowering people, including: policy and regulatory capture by an “entrepreneurial elite”; removal of power and rights of labor movements and collective bargaining; and lower regulations on globalization and activities of multinational enterprises.

Gregorio Montero (Dominican Republic) cautioned against a “decree-based approach to participation.” Regina Pacheco (Brazil) noted the need for participation not only in governance but also in implementation. Geert Bouckaert (Belgium) observed that not everyone may actually want empowerment. To overcome resistance, he said empowerment efforts should emphasize the creation of win-win solutions and advancing goals that are in everyone’s interest.

Fleurbaey responded that governments can “do more than rescuing the losers of the game,” but instead tweak the game so that everybody can win. He argued that in the long term, everyone’s interests converge, so this could engage those who would have to make short-term sacrifices. Paul Jackson (UK) suggested that before calling for stronger rule of law, it would be wise to check whose law would be enforced, and whether that would simply entrench those in power. He also said the way data is presented is important for taking away people’s fear of those in power, and CEPA could help by showing that the ability to use data is power, and by guiding people in how to use the data that is provided.

Presenting elements of a note on ‘Progress on Institutional Aspects of SDG 16: Access to Information, Transparency, Participation and Accountability,’ David Le Blanc, DPIDG, outlined challenges related to defining and measuring progress on these principles, observing that while SDG 16 provides a good framework to organize information around the institutional aspects of SDG 16, it is difficult to aggregate this information as developments in countries are different. Among other observations, he noted obstacles related to accountability mechanisms, including a lack of capacity in parliaments, a lack of time to review budgets, and a lack of independence of supreme audit institutions (SAIs) in some countries. An SDG Knowledge Hub summary of the note is available here.

On effectiveness, Margaret Kobia (Kenya) reported that a President’s Delivery Unit has been established in Kenya to improve coordination and track progress of government programmes. She qualified politics and “the power system” as necessary to ensure competency, multi-stakeholder collaboration and effectiveness of government’s actions. She said contrarily to two years ago, most senior government officials in Kenya understand the SDGs and have the ability align them with national strategic documents. She added that measurement of progress in her country requires alignment between the SDGs, Kenya Vision 2030 and Agenda 2063 of the African Union. Some experts pointed to the importance of establishing salary incentives and remunerations based on performance assessment results to increase effectiveness in the public sector.

On accountability, Gregorio Montero (Dominican Republic) said accountability in the public sector can cover everything related to official oversight mechanisms, such as parliamentary oversight, legislative powers, and SAIs. He noted a greater involvement of citizens in everything related to public administration and processes, stressed the need to put citizens “at the heart” of government reforms, and called for policies designed towards transparency and accountability. Katarina Ott (Croatia) suggested to use independent fiscal councils or committees, which already exist in many countries, to influence the institutional aspects of the SDGs. She also called for increasing parliamentary and judiciary capacity and independence. Gowher Rizvi (Bangladesh) remarked that the right to information is often confined to the public sector, but should “equally” apply to the private sector. Other participants stressed the importance of e-governance to leave no one behind and for accountability purposes, but noted the digital divide as an issue.

On inclusiveness, Gowher Rizvi (Bangladesh) said poverty cannot be defined simply in terms of income and requires multiple interventions. He outlined initiatives taken by his country to reduce inequalities, such as providing a home to every homeless person in the country, ensuring universal health care, and providing free school education to all students in primary school and beyond. These initiatives, he said, contributed to an “enormous” increase in the female work force throughout the years, and to a higher average in life expectancy, which is currently at 72 years old.

Linda Bilmes (US) noted an increase in poverty and homelessness in the US despite economic growth, and reported that there is an average gap of 15 years in the life expectancies of high- and low-income populations in the US. She stressed the need to pay attention to oversight and the implementation details of policies, noting that in the US for example, although the taxation system is intended to be progressive, the more audited counties are often poor and non-white.

Cristina Duarte (Cabo Verde) said inequalities have increased since the 1970s, and mentioned multilateralism as a tool for establishing checks and balances at the international level. Among other examples of inclusive initiatives in India, Upma Chawdhry (India) indicated that one million seats have been reserved for women at the local level, after a constitutional amendment required that one third of local body seats be reserved for women. Linus Toussaint Mendjana (Cameroon) noted that progress on SDG 16 is not being felt on the ground, despite the fact that many ministers in his country have been jailed for crimes related to corruption.

Ma Hezu (People’s Republic of China) called for increasing the representation and voice of developing countries in international decision-making processes. Geert Bouckaert (Belgium) stressed the need to analyze access to services in order to advance inclusiveness, and noted the complexity of the concept as it relates to various areas such as geographical access, financial access, and access to information. He noted the need to create “a logic” on how SDG 16 contributes to the other SDGs, such as SDG 10 on reduced inequalities.

Harshani Dharmadasa, Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, said Pathfinders is a multi-partner network that seeks to promotes cooperation between countries and sectors to deliver on the 2030 Agenda targets for peace, justice and inclusion, also known as “SDG16+.” On initiatives undertaken by the network, she reported that: it launched a roadmap for the implementation of SDG16+ in late 2017; case studies on practical solutions that have worked at the country level to accelerate implementation of SDG 16+ are being documented; “grand challenges” – that seek to build ambition and increase political will – have been launched, including one on inequality and exclusion; and a paper on key policy areas that can accelerate action and progress on inequality and exclusion will be presented is being prepared in the lead up to the July HLPF.

CEPA members also exchanged views on the institutional aspects of SDG 16 with a number of countries that are scheduled to present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) in 2019.

During its 18th session, which will conclude on 12 April, the Committee is also expected to discuss: operationalization of the principles of effective governance for sustainable development; building institutions to promote peaceful and inclusive and provide access to justice for all; enhancing the capacity of the public sector in core functional areas of administration; and strengthening fiscal management at national and subnational levels. [CEPA 18 Webpage] [CEPA 18 Programme of Work] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on CEPA preparations] [UN webcast] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

This article draws on reporting from Faye Leone.

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