UNDP Chief: Poorest countries must have a say in shaping their future

May 11, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries
High Level Interactive Thematic Debate on Good Governance at All Levels

Istanbul, 11 May 2011

It is a pleasure to take part in this thematic debate on good governance at all levels.

It was acknowledged in the Outcome Document from last year’s MDG Summit that “good governance at the local, national and international levels is essential” for development.

Good governance refers to governing systems which are capable, responsive, inclusive, and transparent. All countries, developed and developing, need to work continuously towards better governance.

Good, or democratic governance as we call it at UNDP, entails meaningful and inclusive political participation. Improving governance should include more people having more of a say in the decisions which shape their lives.

Global context and governance

The concept has relevance at the international level too. Good global governance must be about enabling all countries to have a meaningful say in the decisions which are shaping their futures.

This is especially important for the LDCs which have the greatest vulnerability to shocks beyond their control. As the world’s interdependence increases, so too do the risks. We have seen this in recent times in:

  • the crisis in financial systems in the North which preceded the recession which became global;
  • the impact of increasing global food and fuel prices;
  • the impact of climate change, already evident in increasing numbers of natural disasters; and
  • the spread of swine flu around the world.

To manage the risks flowing from interdependence, global governance systems need to be inclusive of the full diversity of member states.

Global governance must go beyond risk management to find solutions to the challenges which threaten us all. Understanding that we are in this together means paying attention to the countries and populations least able to recover from recession, adapt to rising sea levels and drought, combat epidemics, and deal with a range of other disasters and shocks.

Democratic governance for political and economic inclusion

Human development depends on advancing both political and economic inclusion. Democratic governance can help countries to achieve both by:

  • increasing the transparency and predictability needed to attract investment and grow the local economy,
  • legitimizing the institutions needed to resolve disputes peacefully and build the social cohesion needed to thwart violence and crime, and
  • making resource allocation and service delivery more responsive to the needs of people.

Ten years after the Brussels Programme of Action, LDCs have experienced a number of successes. Their GDP growth rates averaged seven percent between 2002 and 2008. They are now more likely to have democratic systems of government, and less likely to experience civil conflict. Progress on the education MDG and targets is advancing.

But more can be achieved if democratic governance is harnessed to help build inclusive economies and societies.

In my comments today, I will give examples of how UNDP works to help build the governance institutions and processes which are so important for underpinning economic and social development.

Making sure the law works for all

Making sure that the law works for everyone is critical for development. Bringing informal businesses into the formal sector, for example, helps poor entrepreneurs better protect their earnings, grow their businesses, and create additional jobs. Formal businesses can also be taxed, which helps mobilise domestic resources for development.

UNDP advances the legal empowerment of the poor by supporting countries’ efforts to expand access to justice. That can help people establish their tenure or property rights, have a sustainable livelihood, and avoid exploitation.

In Lao PDR for instance, UNDP is supporting the government’s efforts to increase the legal assistance available to women and marginalized groups, enabling them to seek legal recourse and better protect their rights.

We also support countries’ efforts to establish policy frameworks around investment which increase predictability and reduce risk. In Kenya, for example, UNDP supported the Ministry of Energy to establish regulation and institutions which were conducive to private sector investment. The result has been renewed private sector participation in the energy sector, including in a wind project which, once completed, will provide at least 25 percent of the energy Kenya produces.

Building participatory political processes

UNDP is the UN system’s lead provider of technical assistance to elections. From 2008 to 2010 alone, we provided electoral assistance in 64 countries and territories.

People understand decision-making to be fair when there are open spaces for political participation, opposition, and peaceful transfers of power. Such an understanding builds legitimacy and trust, which are among the foundations of social stability and of the resilience needed for sustainable development.

Many LDCs are rich in the commodities which are in high demand today. But where benefits from their exploitation accrue largely to the few, high levels of social tension, corruption, crime, and even conflict can result.

When citizens are encouraged to speak openly with their elected representatives, however, and where those representatives can question the executive authorities without fear of reprisal, decisions about public investment and resource allocation are more likely to reflect the demands and interest of peoples.

Overcoming governance bottlenecks

To help countries meet their commitments to accelerate MDG progress, we are implementing a new UN development system-wide tool, the MDG Acceleration Framework. It supports governments and their development partners to identify systematically the range of bottlenecks and constraints standing in the way of MDG progress, and then to devise ways to overcome them.

It works by breaking down silos between sectors, MDGs, and disciplines, in favour of a pragmatic, cross sectoral, problem-solving approach. Often the solutions involve overcoming governance bottlenecks, including in public administration and service delivery.

Where the MDG Acceleration Framework has been piloted, it has brought greater focus to existing national strategies to address off-track MDGs. We have seen increased collaboration across government ministries and engagement by development partners.

Uganda, for example, used the Framework to identify what was blocking its efforts to reduce maternal mortality. Practitioners and experts from across the Finance, Planning, and Health Ministries met to consider the evidence of what wasn’t working, and agree on solutions which cut across the normal sectoral divisions. “Whole of government” approaches generally need to become the norm rather than be the exception.

Inclusive governance

Inclusive participation and political engagement depends on all people having access to public information and the ability to make their voices heard. New technologies can help that, and be part of making existing institutions more responsive. Wherever it can, UNDP will support countries’ efforts to establish environments in which political parties, vibrant civil society, and free and ethical media can flourish.

The full participation and inclusion of women is also central to democratic governance. Where women lack voice and representation, issues of great importance to them will either be neglected, or the way in which they are addressed will be sub-optimal and uninformed by women’s perspectives.

The active inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities, young people and other marginalized groups is also critical. UNDP is currently supporting authorities in Egypt to identify ways to engage young people in decision making. In Sri Lanka, we are helping local councils establish processes which will enable the voices of all groups –Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims– to be taken into account in the provision of local services.

A shared responsibility

The primary responsibility for good governance and development lies with each country’s national government. Democratic governance can undoubtedly help unleash the energy and will of citizens to initiate, support, and engage in development. At UNDP we hope that democratic governance will be able to be put at the service of driving the Istanbul Programme of Action forward.

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