With the ink barely dry on the Sustainable Development Goals, naturally the just-completed Open Government Partnership annual summit focused on how greater openness can accelerate progress toward the goals.
The open government agenda is most closely linked to the ambitious Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which among other targets includes the objective of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Though progress in this area is maddeningly difficult to quantify, evidence increasingly shows that participation, the next transparency frontier, matters to development outcomes. Making the target explicit, it is hoped, will galvanize efforts in the right direction.
There are many issues one could propose to tackle with citizen engagement strategies, but to narrow the topic of discussion, let’s consider just one: enabling smart growth in the world’s exploding cities and megacities.
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This week, officials from finance ministries and leaders of the accounting profession from across Francophone Africa will gather in Dakar, Senegal from Oct 28 to 30 to chart a path forward in their countries’ development. They will focus on an area that is often ignored, but is vital to national success and prosperity: public financial management. They will focus on financial reporting, which is also known as “the way governments keep track of your money.”
This topic is important to you, citizens of the world, of the African continent. How governments manage their taxes, their borrowing, their spending, and the ways they account for these forms of transactions – income, borrowing and expenditure – are essential to economic growth, to poverty-reduction, and to ensuring that the region’s poorest can improve their lives.
In many parts of Francophone Africa, accounting practices have a lot of room to improve. In particular, financial reporting and auditing need reforms, according to ongoing research by the World Bank and others. Policy-makers do not always have accurate information about the money available to provide vital and quality public services, such as school-teachers or the construction of health clinics or roads.
Let’s assume you are a Finance Minister or ministry official of a country that has newly discovered oil or minerals.
What actions lay ahead? Or, if oil and mineral production is ongoing, , which is a mainstay for national economies around the world?
Planning for the development of an unfamiliar and complex sector can be daunting. How should sector policy objectives be determined?
Which economic, accounting and taxation principles should be considered? What kinds of laws and regulations would a government need to adopt? What roles do various ministries and government agencies play in administering these laws? How do technical, environmental and social considerations fit into the scheme of things? What about the investment of resource revenues, or the potential for new industry linkages?
Does governance matter?
Yes. Intuitively to many development practitioners, the link between governance and growth is established in the literature. But, what about hard-nosed financial investors? Is there a link between governance and financial returns? Initial cutting-edge research suggests that there is a link. And investors are increasingly paying attention to governance.
According to a study conducted by Global Evolution, an asset manager that specializes in emerging and frontier market sovereign investments, shows that governance may be a significant driver of sovereign bond returns. According to Ole Hagen Jørgensen, Research Director of Global Evolution, “improvements in a country’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scores – and particularly the “G” of governance – significantly correlate to pricing of risk, credit ratings and return generation of sovereign bond funds in emerging and frontier markets.”
On Monday, the final round of discussions will get underway in Bangkok on the indicators to measure the Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed by all UN Member states in New York last month. The agreement from New York calls for the underlying indicators to “preserve the political balance, integration and ambition” of the agenda.
Target 16.3, as agreed in New York, is to “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.” The proposed indicators for 16.3, to be discussed in Bangkok, do not respect the ambition of the target as they both focus on the criminal justice system. Whilst criminal justice is important to many people’s lives – in truth, only a small percentage of the population comes into direct contact with the criminal justice system. Sustainable development is about much more.
The adoption of governance focused SDG #16 and its targets is being claimed a great victory for proponents of good governance.
All UN member states approved the goal to “build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” and committed to develop action plans to achieve targets that “substantially reduce corruption”, practice “responsive, inclusive and participatory decision making”, and “ensure public access to information.”
On the surface this appears to be a major paradigm shift from the MDGs.
A closer examination suggests that these intentions have a caveat that may weaken the supposed shift in the political economy of governance for development. All of these commitments are subject to national legislations that vary broadly in scope in terms of access to information, public participation and strength of anti-corruption policies and institutions. Moreover, governments involved have different opinions on what key concepts such as rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and accountable institutions mean.
There is no sign that the revival of interest in adaptive and entrepreneurial approaches to development work is going tail off soon.
That’s why the demand is growing for indications of how the broad principles, as summarised in the Doing Development Differently Manifesto, apply to the various sectors where interested practitioners are found.
Fred Golooba-Mutebi and I have just published an ODI working paper that begins to fill that gap for one particular economic infrastructure sector, road construction and maintenance. The country is Uganda. The purpose of the study was to revisit a 2009 paper on the political economy of reform in the sector, which was followed by the launching of a DFID-funded programme called CrossRoads.
A tourist eyeing the gorgeous azure waters around Zanzibar, Tanzania, might think about taking a frolic in the waves, but for local fishers, the sea means business--the seafood business.
Proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
The UN General Assembly adopted this ambitious objective as one of the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) when they convened last week. This is a landmark recognition of the importance of justice services for poverty eradication and sustainable, inclusive development. But how will it work in practice?
In the midst of ensuing debates around this question, Colombia offers valuable lessons. In a country torn by almost seven decades of civil war and conflict, Yet inefficiencies of the courts, and their concentration in select urban centers, raise the cost of access. Compounded by lack of information, these barriers have kept justice services out of reach for many citizens, particularly for the poor and most vulnerable.