Political leaders, UNDP calling for sound democratic governance

Feb 15, 2010

Dakar, Senegal – The 8th annual meeting of the UNDP’s Democratic Governance Group opened yesterday in Dakar, Senegal, with high-level political leaders agreeing that a strong state is needed to ensure peace, security and prosperity for the world’s citizens.

The conference which is gathering more than 200 delegates from all over the world is being held against the backdrop of new global challenges such as the economic crisis and climate change, which participants said calls for a renewed focus on the role of the state.

The Prime Minister of Senegal, Souleymane Ndéné Ndiaye, addressed the participants to the week-long event by emphasizing Senegal’s efforts to create a more effective and accountable state, and lauding the country’s cooperation with UNDP to achieve these goals, especially through support to institutional transparency and capacity building.

The Prime Minister noted that many of today’s challenges cross borders, thereby requesting strong commitments at both national  and  global levels.  “Senegal,” said Ndiaye, “is committed to reducing poverty below 30% by 2015 through a strong and equitable growth rate of at least 7% annually.” This should contribute to providing a better future for Senegal’s young population.  

Expanding on those global trends in the world today, such as uneven economic development and a growing youth population, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Assistant Administrator Olav Kjorven asked the audience to reflect on whether the state was still the best institution to address the world’s challenges.  “I think so. Now more than ever.” he said. “It is at the end of the day our main bulwark against disorder and chaos and of safeguarding adherence to minimum standards of decency, rights and universal values.”  

Kjorven, who is also Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy, supported UNDP’s approach to democratic governance, expressing that it is “the glue that holds together all of the other development priorities set out across the Millennium Development Goals.” He stressed the importance of making elections credible, providing access to information and e-governance, and strengthening parliaments and the institutions that safeguard human rights and fight corruption.  Kjorven agreed with the assessment that challenges must be addressed at the global level, but also pointed out that it is crucial to “bring democratic governance to the local level.”

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, Said Djinnit, focused his comments more specifically on how democratic governance can address the pressing issues of peace and security facing West Africa.  He stressed the importance of a unified UN, as well as collaboration between all stakeholders. 

“The most effective response to threats to democracy, peace, security and development in West Africa requires a concerted approach involving the international community at large,” he said.  “Together we must encourage recovery efforts in countries affected by crises, strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, promote human rights and gender equality.”  
UNDP is currently working in 135 countries, and in 2009, the organization dedicated 1.4 billion USD to democratic governance around the world. The democratic governance conference brings together practitioners from more than 40 country offices to improve resource delivery in helping countries reach their democratic governance goals.  One area in which UNDP has a core competency is in providing channels for citizens to hold governments accountable.  112 UNDP-supported programs around the world promote transparency.

Former Prime Minister of Canada, Joe Clark, spoke about how an inclusive state must address the issue of diversity and minorities. "Developing the capacities of states is an essential way to draw together the strength of diverse cultures, and empower individuals and communities looking for a common sense of future. This is particularly important for marginalized people who often fall outside of the state's reach," he said.

An interactive roundtable allowed delegates to hold an open discussion with their high-level guests. Former president Thabo Mbeki drew on the unique experience of South Africa to stress that UNDP, as a development agency, should focus on assisting states in actualizing democratic governance, which should be fostered by a “bottom-up” approach. 

He said many countries would be open to working with UNDP if they were approached with offers of assistance to meet human development goals, starting at the local level. “You tell the government that these local people need to participate consciously, not just as recipients of assistance but to engage in a people-driven process of change. So let them elect a committee, let them set it up with a democratic style and with that process you have indeed built it up, this democratic, inclusive state,” he said.

His statements were echoed by Professor Jean-Claude Mashini, the Minister in charge of the office of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who reiterated the need to clarify the responsibilities of both central and local administrations, which would better ensure a tailored support from the international community, notably UNDP. Professor Mashini stressed that, “the support to democratic governance must encompass all facets of sectoral development, and the DRC is fully engaged with UNDP in that philosophy of development.”

As the conference moves forward throughout the week, participants will examine a range of issues related to strengthening the capacity of the state.  They will scrutinize the subject from a regional point of view, with case studies from the Africa region on the first day, to be followed by Asia, the Arab region, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America on the second day. Specific topics to be discussed include diversity and inclusiveness, managing conflict and service delivery. 

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