Debate on Democracy and the Millennium Development Goals

Sep 15, 2010

Remarks by UNDP Associate Administrator, Rebeca Grynspan, at The International Conference of New or Restored Democracies (ICNRD) Interactive Debate on World Democracy Day, 15 September 2010.

Excellency, Ambassador Valero, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Venezuela for organizing this occasion to focus on an extremely pertinent issue, especially in light of the MDG Summit taking place next week.

The principles of democracy are woven into the fabric of the United Nations. Democracy, as an end and as a mean to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the Charter of the UN.

Images of voters queuing to cast their ballots on Election Day often capture the headlines as defining moments of democracy for a given country. These moments are critical, though our strong message - and our focus as UNDP - is on the crucial importance of everything that goes into making that moment possible, and everything that comes after it to ensure that it has a real meaning.

We pay particular attention to the rule of law, principles, institutions, and processes necessary for democratic culture and for making Democracy work for all citizens, democracy of citizenship as was called some years ago.  Democratic institutions and values continue to face considerable challenges in both developed and developing countries constraining the ability of countries to fight against poverty, hunger, disease, low growth, and lags in development.

As the Secretary General’s Guidance Note on Democracy states, “Democratisation is neither linear nor irreversible and thus both state institutions and citizens must monitor and maintain oversight of this process. [... ] Development is more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.”

So democracy has the real potential to empower inclusive development and to enable pro-poor growth.

This is fundamental for our work at UNDP because human development – our defining mandate - is not only about helping to ensure a decent income level and standard of living for everyone but also about helping to ensure that every person has the capacity, right, freedom, and choice to take and be part of the decisions that affect a person’s life, to select the leaders that take those decisions, and to then hold them to account. 

This is why, as UNDP, we focus increasingly on improving and strengthening inclusive participation and promoting strong institutions, while ensuring that these are all based on internationally agreed norms and principles.

The relationship between democratic governance and the Millennium Development Goals is three-tiered. First, as an essential ingredient of human development, democratic governance should be regarded as an end in itself, as called for in the Millennium Declaration. 

Second, democratic governance should be seen as providing a systemic enabling environment for countries and communities to progress towards sustainable human development. Last, democratic governance should deliver to all the citizens it serves. The MDG targets specify indicators by which results can be measured.

So, at the country level, there is a specific governance agenda that can accelerate MDG progress. Specific targeted interventions for solving governance challenges, such as education health, agriculture, corruption, and access to justice, which can open the way for a breakthrough on MDG progress. 
Indeed, in some countries, good governance has been adopted as MDG 9. Mongolia took the lead in this, adopting MDG 9 on good governance and human rights, followed by Albania and Azerbaijan.

Albania’s Goal 9 to ‘establish and strengthen a good governance process’ looks to enhance political voice and accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, rule of law, the quality of regulation, and control of corruption.

Their target is to reform overall state systems of public administration, legislation and policies in accordance with EU standards of justice, rule of law and market economies by 2015.

Transparency and accountability contribute more to MDG achievement when anchored in the rights-based approach, with clear indication of the rights and obligations of various actors. The UN Convention on Anti-Corruption has spurred a new wave of integrity initiatives around the globe, raising awareness of the direct impact of corruption on MDG achievements. In 2009, UNDP responded to the requests of over 100 countries to help strengthen their national institutions that tackle corruption. 

Parliaments, civil society organizations, and media can play an effective watchdog role in monitoring MDG implementation to keep governments accountable.

UNDP works with the one in three parliaments around the world, helping to improve their effectiveness. UNDP’s work includes:

  • Increasing women’s and other group’s representation and participation in parliament;
  • Increasing public oversight of the state budget;
  • Protecting women’s rights and fighting against gender violence;
  • Improving the legal framework in order to legally empower the poor (in accordance with the General Assembly resolution), including by enabling women to own and inherit property; and
  • Enhancing parliament and government capacity to mobilize internal resources and tax collection.

We know that investing in women and girls and supporting their economic and political empowerment, as highlighted in UNDP’s International Assessment of what it will take to reach the MDGs, has a multiplying effect across all of the eight Goals.

UNDP delivers on the ground in every region on this agenda, including in conflict and post-conflict environments.

Indeed, governance issues in post-conflict countries present a particular challenge. The environment can make it challenging to revive a proper judicial system or to protect it from political intrusion or corruption, or to rehabilitate functioning institutions with the capacity to deliver essential services so as to restore confidence, predictability, and stability. These issues are at least as important as the rehabilitation of a country’s physical infrastructure.

This question of capacity – of both institutions and individuals - is crucial across all countries and central to UNDP’s focus on democratic governance and the MDGs.

This is why we help governments at all levels to address MDG gaps and reversals by strengthening their ability to deliver, to be accountable, transparent and responsive - in particular to those traditionally excluded from services and the opportunities of citizenship.

Democratic governance also provides a critical link between the overall MDG targets, and the goal as enshrined implicitly in the Millennium Declaration of achieving these MDG targets in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner. The principles of inclusiveness and non-discrimination have a value in their own right, as well as being indispensable for advancing sustainable human development.

Let me stress the importance of equity in achieving the MDGs and its meaning to Democratic Governance, cautioning on the use of averages as the only indicator to measure progress.  We know that in many regions, inequality is a major concern for economic development and democratic sustainability. Some MDGs can be achieved “on average”, while at the same time, the most vulnerable and excluded groups of society remain excluded from the benefits of progress. We have to overcome what we have come to call “the tyranny of averages” and make an extra effort to achieve the MDGs precisely in the groups that suffer exclusion, discrimination and vulnerability due to their race, ethnicity, gender, and residence.

Therefore, policies targeted at social integration continue to be a key priority for achieving peace, security, and the MDGs not only because of its normative value but because, without it, the MDGs cannot be achieved and sustained in a meaningful way for citizens, in particular the poor and marginalized that should be included not as “objects” of the policies but as subjects and actors in the design and implementation of the solution. 

Another key contribution that democratic governance can make is to promote national ownership of the MDGs agenda, as adapted to country-specific circumstances. One of the key recommendations of the International Assessment Report, is that the goals can only be reached in a sustainable manner when development processes are led by the concerned national authorities, backed by citizen support and engagement, and grounding all efforts on governance, and the principles of human rights, equality, and empowerment.

Let me conclude by expressing our hope that next week’s MDG Summit will be an opportunity for all countries to renew their commitment to meet the MDGs. To meet our 2015 deadline, progress must be accelerated, including, most critically in the poorest countries, communities, and regions. We know from practice what works and what doesn’t, so we can identify the obstacles and accelerate progress. We have seen the importance of democratic, capable, responsive, and accountable governance for the achievement of the MDGs, and the need for national and international support to maintain progress.

I hope that the discussions today will reiterate the positive relationship between democracy, the MDGs, and sustainable human development – helping to set the stage for a MDG Summit that reenergizes our efforts and redoubles our commitment to deliver on the promise we made to the world’s poor – to meet the MDGs by 2015. 

Muchas Gracias

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