UN Examines National Action on Transparency, Inclusion and Accountability
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The note prepared by the UN Secretariat takes stock of national developments on selected institutional principles highlighted in the targets of SDG 16, namely transparency, inclusive and participatory decision-making, and accountability.

It discusses the challenges related to defining and measuring progress on these principles.

The 18th session of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration will convene from 8-12 April 2018, on the theme ‘Building strong institutions per equal and inclusive societies'.

January 2019: A note by the UN Secretariat on institutional aspects of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) finds that the Goal provides a “convenient framework” for looking at institutions in a holistic manner. It also reports that strengthening national institutions to deliver on the SDGs is seen as a priority in many UN Member States.

The note titled, ‘Progress on Institutional Aspects of SDG 16: Access to Information, Transparency, Participation and Accountability,’ was issued in preparation for the 18th session of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). The session will focus on the theme, ‘Building strong institutions for equal and inclusive societies,’ and is expected to discuss progress made towards SDG 16. In addition to its examination by the CEPA, Goal 16 implementation will also be reviewed by the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The Secretariat’s note (E/C.16/2019/7) takes stock of national developments on selected institutional principles highlighted within the targets of SDG 16, namely transparency, inclusive and participatory decision-making, and accountability. It also discusses challenges related to defining and measuring progress on these principles.

Per the note, the SDGs feature institutions prominently, both in Goal 16 and as a cross-cutting theme in many of the other Goals. It says the SDGs provide a map for identifying sources of information across all sectors that are relevant to assessing progress on institutional dimensions. The note also warns that measuring the institutional aspects of Goal 16 poses challenges for reviewing global trends. One such challenge relates to the fact that SDG 16 encompasses a diverse set of fields in which measurement work has developed independently, and conceptual debates take place within each field as to what should be measured and how.

On transparency, the note examines: access to information frameworks; mandatory disclosure; proactive, voluntary disclosure of information by governments, including open government data; and fiscal transparency. It reports that while laws on access to information exist in many countries, not all have been implemented effectively, and requests for information are often denied. It indicates that the proactive publication of government data on government websites have increased; in 2018, 139 countries implemented open government data initiatives that made data available to the public through central portals, compared with only 46 such initiatives in 2014. Regarding fiscal and budget transparency, the note states that more budget information seems to be available at present than a decade ago, but there is a wide range of variations in disclosure practices across countries and regions.

On inclusive and participatory decision-making, the note explores in particular: formal consultations in policy processes; cross-sectoral consultation mechanisms; participation at the sectoral level; and participatory planning and budgeting at the local level. It finds that in many countries, governments have put in place processes for consulting with stakeholders at different stages of policy making, and participatory mechanisms at the local level have witnessed rapid development around the world over the past two decades. For example, the note reports that participatory budgeting has been implemented by more than 2,500 local governments in Latin America alone since 2013. Based on Brazil’s experience, the note outlines the benefits of participatory budgeting, such as on the allocation of resources to people living in poverty, lowering the level of patronage in local resource allocation, bringing public administration closer to citizens’ preferences, and providing clear technical criteria for resource allocation.

On government accountability, the document outlines challenges such as information gaps between governments and parliaments, and a lack of willingness on the part of governments to engage with parliamentary oversight. Based on a survey from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), it says, only about half of surveyed parliaments have established systems for tracking the recommendations they had made to governments, and fewer than one third of parliaments have undertaken a review of the performance of their oversight role in the past five years.

The note also finds that the scope and depth of the oversight exerted by supreme audit institutions (SAIs) is variable across the world. It highlights the work of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) on auditing the preparedness of governments for implementing the SDGs and auditing implementation.

The note states that social accountability initiatives, such as public expenditure tracking surveys and community monitoring, have been found useful for exposing resource wastage in the countries in which they have been used, but evidence in terms of impact on accessibility and quality of services and improved outcomes for citizens is mixed. Also on accountability, the note discusses accountability in public service, and accountability of partnerships.

CEPA 18 will convene from 8-12 April 2018, in New York, US. [Publication: Progress on Institutional Aspects of Sustainable Development Goal 16: Access to Information, Transparency, Participation and Accountability]

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