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Blog post of the month: 5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal

Vinay Bhargava's picture

South Sudanese prepare for independenceEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. For June 2015, the featured blog post is "5 things you should know about governance as a proposed sustainable development goal" by Vinay Bhargava, the chief technical adviser and a board member at Partnership for Transparency Fund

On May 27, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at an event organized by the Governance Thematic Group of 1818 Society of the World Bank Group (WBG) Alumni.

The panelists were: Mr. Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution; Ms. Heike Gramckow, Acting Practice Manager, Rule of Law and Access to Justice at the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group; Mr. Brian Levy, Professor of the Practice, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Mr. Jerome Sauvage, Deputy head of UN Office in Washington DC. Mr. Fredrick Temple, currently Adviser at the Partnership for Transparency Fund, moderated the workshop. 
The panel presentations and discussion were hugely informative and insightful. I am pleased to share with you my five takeaways that anyone interested in governance and development interactions ought to know.

  1. The proposed SDG covers multiple dimensions of governance and is controversial. The SDG is described as follows: 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 ten proposed targets cover numerous topics spanning crime, human rights and governance. The SDG is controversial as the governments involved differ on key concepts such as rule of law, fundamental freedoms, accountability and inclusiveness of institutions etc.
  2. The Governance SDG is the outcome of a political process and compromises that are likely to sustain its adoption in September 2015. Several key but diverse advocacy groups have lobbied hard to propose the SDG # 16 covering governance: human rights; national and international anti-corruption measures; transparency and open government; civil society and citizen voice and engagement; rule of law and access to justice for all; anti-trafficking; and anti-money laundering. Some governments were initially opposed to having a SDG on governance as they considered it to be a sovereign issue not suitable for international action. In the end, the Open Working Group (OWG) reconciled the opposing views. The downside was the complexity and aspirational nature of the SDG. Seventeen SDGs including SDG 16 proposed by the OWG are likely to be adopted in September by the UN General Assembly without significant change.
  3. Most of the ten targets proposed to monitor progress of SDG #16 are not readily measurable, and only two are time bound. Still they are significant and will serve an important purpose. However, it was noted that work on all target areas in Goal 16 is already being done in several countries around the world, and cross-country indicators for many of the governance dimensions included among the targets already exist. In this sense the SDG will legitimize what is already being done. Nevertheless, it is clear that much work will need to be done at country level to specify monitoring indicators. Panelists agreed the goal and targets will serve the important purpose of reinforcing the advocacy effort.
  4. The WBG member countries will need considerable international technical and financial assistance to design and implement action plans. However, this topic is not receiving attention at the upcoming international conference on development financing of SDGs. In particular, efforts will be needed to strengthen public and civil society institutions. All stakeholders will require resources. However, meaningful proposals in this regard are missing so far from the proposals being tabled for discussion at Addis Ababa in July 2015. The funding for civil society organizations is particularly scarce. The panel urged enhanced advocacy efforts in this area.
  5. The implications of SDG 16 for the World Bank Group are significant and will require a stepping up of efforts to help member nations. For most of the targets, the WBG will be able to help member states with financial and technical resources including analytical and advisory services. WBG already has institutional and financial assistance arrangements in place to help governments (IBRD/IDA), the private sector (IFC) and civil society (GPSA). All three will need to be mobilized to help countries design and implement SDGs including the governance SDG. The Global Monitoring Report that has served important roles in monitoring the MDGs will need to be continued and adapted to cover the SDGs.
My final observation is about the complicated relationship between quality of governance and sustainable development. Obviously, proponents of SDG 16 believe good governance is needed for sustainable development. However, not all agree and point to rapid growth periods in some countries  that were accompanied by conditions that theses days are associated with poor governance. The upcoming 2017 World Development Report (WDR) will devoted to the topic of Governance and the Law and promises to examine the “complicated interaction between economic development and the quality of governance”. Stay tuned for much more on this topic as the SDGs get adopted and the WDR 2017 discussions and report progress in the coming months.

For more information and a detailed, 3 page note please visit the 1818 Society webpage

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Photograph by United Nations, via Flickr


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