Governance and accountability for global development post-2015

People across the globe have been discussing the future development framework that should replace the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after their 2015 target date.

Participants in Johannesburg discussing governance in the post-2015 © UN photo/ Lucky MusondaAt the beginning of the century, the Millennium Declaration represented the aspirations and political commitment of world leaders to alleviate poverty. From that Declaration, eight goals were set to be achieved by 2015 that aimed to reduce poverty and hunger, promote education and gender equality, as well as improve health and the environment.

Although progress has been made, major challenges remain and disparities across regions, countries, and within countries have been recorded.

“In 2000, the process for selecting the MDGs was opaque and, if I may say so, technocratic. Proposals that lacked quantifiable measures and cross-national data-sets were rejected. Civil and political rights were often excluded,” said UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay. “We treasured what we measured — and perhaps that was the wrong way round. It seems to me we should measure what we treasure.”

Pillay was speaking via video message to activists, civil society organizations, academia, youth and parliamentarians who gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the final meeting of the Global Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Agenda co-organised by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Development Programme, with the financial support of the Government of Germany. Participants discussed the contribution of governance and accountability to the new development agenda.

The centrality of governance to achieving development goals is widely recognized. Key elements of governance include enhancing state’s capacity to respond to the needs of people in an inclusive and equitable manner; facilitating political participation of all, including the poor and the marginalized, in the process of making decisions that affect them; ensuring personal security and fair administration of justice, and empowering people to hold governing institutions accountable.

In Johannesburg, the Director of the Research and Right to Development Division of the UN Human Rights Office, Marcia V.J. Kran, noted that the worldwide consultations had brought to light the need for human rights principles and standards to serve as the “yardstick” for people to assess development policies at the national and international levels, as well as the coherence between them.

“Governance is not just about ensuring that a country’s administration functions smoothly… It is also about how people can review what those in power do and how they can hold the powerful to account if something goes wrong. Accountability is the core of governance. If there is no accountability, governance is an empty concept,” she said.

“The MDGs were not clear on responsibilities – on who is supposed to do what. Let’s get concrete: What should be done and by whom” said Graça Machel, one of the 27 members of the High-Level Panel that advises the UN Secretary-General on the post-2015 development agenda, who also attended the Johannesburg meeting. The Panel is chaired by the Presidents of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Indonesia, Susilo Mbambang Yudhoyono, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron.

Participants in the meeting also stressed that the perception that the MDGs had fallen short on effectively monitoring and evaluating progress toward attaining development meant that measurable indicators should be incorporated in the new development agenda. Building the capacity of parliaments and their members; regulating political parties and the corporate sector to enhance accountability and transparency of financial flows; and promoting a diverse and independent media landscape, they said, were some of the measures that could help translate governments’ commitments into action.

They also found that civil society and youth activism could be an effective driver for change. Thus, the post-2015 development agenda should provide a framework to promote and protect free access to information, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.

The meeting further highlighted that gender inequality was symptomatic of governance failure. Gender inequality, participants noted, is both structural and systemic in communities and parliaments, and women should therefore be encouraged to take up political office, for example. Governments, the private sector and even citizens, they added, should be made accountable for gender equality.

The outcomes of the Global Consultation on Governance will, be used to make recommendations on key governance and accountability issues to the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Member States, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) and other key processes in preparation for the UN General Assembly’s special event on the MDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda in September 2013 and beyond.

5 April 2013

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