After conflict, functioning governments are key for peaceful and inclusive societies

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Women voting in Libya. A transparent voting process helps increase the levels of legitimacy and trust from citizens towards their governments. Photo: UNDP Libya

New Year, new goals, new approaches. It is the starting of the implementation and localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the baseline year against which the 2030 Agenda will measure progress or set-backs.

Fragile countries emerging out of conflict will likely be where it is most difficult to implement these goals. But this is also where it will be crucially important. In these countries, citizens are most deprived of basic public services and poverty is most acute.

One Goal. The SDGs recognize the importance for governance-informed development with a specific goal on just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Goal 16 recognizes that sustainable development is not possible without peace and justice. And it is central in ensuring that societies’ aspirations for higher access and quality of public services will be achieved through core government functions (such as security and justice, public financial management, civil service and government employment, local governance, aid management) that are effective, responsive and inclusive.

These core functions of government are essential for development and statehood. However, appreciation of their critical role has waned from international development practice and little has been published on public administration in fragile environments (Restore or Reform, 2014). Goal 16 seems to be placing itself as a good conduit to reverse this trend, and 2016 is a major opportunity for this.

Two examples: The recent peace agreements towards the end of 2015 in South Sudan and Libya are two examples that come to mind given the great expectations now placed on them from at least 18 million citizens combined.

South Sudan and Libya are very different, but both share one common element: institutions that govern them. In fact, the agreed peace includes the establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity (South Sudan) and a Government of National Accord (Libya). Regardless of institutional arrangements or structures, both bodies will have a set of core government functions that determine their levels of responsiveness and accountability. The way these functions are implemented will determine the levels of legitimacy and trust from citizens towards their governments. And when implementation is inclusive and responsive, it prevents relapses into conflict and violence.

Three ideas: The way societies organize, distribute resources and allocate rights and responsibilities are affected by the ability of the State to manage its core government functions. How can we take the implementation of Goal 16 forwards in challenging development contexts? 

  • Enhance understanding that support to public administration is political as well as technical. Public administration is not just a mechanism for delivering services, but a key arena for negotiating political settlements and forming governments.

  • Provide fast, flexible and appropriate support to restoring the basic functionality of government as soon as possible. For new governments to assume ownership and control of the peace and state-building process, they need core functions restored as soon as possible.

  • Development partners and donor agencies must agree on an approach and protocol for the rigorous assessment of core government functions, providing better understanding of what is driving inclusive political settlements and help governments respond better.

UNDP and the development community’s support to re-establishing core government functions should aim to mitigate the tension between political settlements and administrative processes. The management of these functions after conflict will be crucial in restoring peaceful and inclusive societies. At the Responsive and Accountable Institutions Team, we look to 2016 as the starting point for this work.