Helen Clark: Special Address to the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) Conference 2015 “Challenges and Opportunities for Local Government in the New Global Agenda” in session on Local Government 2030: Achieving the Vision

Jun 16, 2015

It is a great pleasure to be in Gaborone to address the 2015 Commonwealth Local Government Conference. Let me also congratulate the Commonwealth Local Government Forum on its twentieth anniversary, and thank the Forum for all it has done to promote and support the work of local government in Commonwealth countries and in global forums. UNDP values its relationship with the Forum – we have a shared agenda in supporting effective governance at the subnational level.

Botswana is a very appropriate place in which to be discussing the beneficial development impact of good governance at all levels of government. In regional and global surveys on good governance, Botswana consistently scores at or near the top. Botswana’s Vision 2016 made it clear that the country would continue to prioritise good governance at all levels.

Here in Botswana UNDP has been pleased to be a partner with CLGF in supporting the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development through a national policy and capacity development project to drive local economic development.

The role of local government in driving development

At the last two Commonwealth Local Government Conferences, I have spoken about the essential, yet often under-appreciated, role of local government in generating inclusive and sustainable development. As the layer of government which is by definition closest to the people, local government is best placed to be highly responsive to and to advocate for peoples’ needs.

In Kampala two years ago, I spoke on how local government could help drive countries’ success in achieving global development goals on tacking poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. Many local governments have been supporting implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and both CLGF and UNDP have been great champions of that.

The “Kampala Declaration," agreed at the 2013 CLGF Conference, affirmed the role of “developmental local government” in the Commonwealth. It also called on national governments and development partners to ensure that developmental local government is fully incorporated into the post 2015 development agenda.

Global consultations on the new agenda were in full swing throughout 2013 and 2014. More than 7.5 million people have now shared their priorities through the UN-sponsored My World survey. As we would expect, jobs, education, and health emerged as the top priorities, but honest and responsive governance came in fourth. In countries classified as having “low human development” in UNDP’s Human Development Index, having honest and responsive governance was ranked as the number two priority by their citizens participating in the survey.

There has also been a UN Global Consultation on localizing the post-2015 agenda, which engaged 5,000 people from 80 countries. The outcome was a set of concrete recommendations for localizing the agenda, including by setting “reliable targets and indicators, which respond to local context, needs, and concerns”, and by establishing “institutional frameworks which localize resources and facilitate the involvement of local and regional governments and local stakeholders” in sustainable development.

In July last year, the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals proposed seventeen goals and 169 targets. The goals proposed are likely to be adopted by world leaders in September. They cover the unfinished business of the MDGs, not least on the eradication of poverty and hunger and on access to basic services like water and sanitation where the role of local government is often so vital.

But the new agenda also goes far beyond the MDGs by incorporating goals for inclusive and sustainable growth, energy, and infrastructure. As well there are: Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies, which aims to ensure “effective, accountable, and transparent institutions; and responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels”; and Goal 11, which sets out to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”.

Overall, many of the seventeen proposed Goals call attention to the importance of institutional capacity at local levels of government.

It is therefore clear to me that the new global development agenda has the potential to be transformational for local governments as well as for national governments. The efforts of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and other local government groupings to engage so wholeheartedly with the design of the new agenda have played a big part in getting the agenda to this point, and your efforts will be even more important in implementation. Just as many local governments helped drive MDG implementation, so their participation in achieving the SDGs will be vital.

Local Government 2030: Achieving the vision
Challenges and Opportunities


1. Decentralization

For local government to play its full role in supporting the achievement of the SDGs by 2030, it needs to be empowered. Decentralisation of governance functions to local government is ongoing in many countries. To be fully effective, local government management and service delivery capacity need to be strong, and resources need to be adequate. In some of the “big bang” devolutions, funding and capacity support and development have not always followed the devolution of powers, leaving subnational governments struggling to cope.

The experiences of Commonwealth countries show a range of pathways to decentralisation. In South Africa’s constitution, developmental local government is established as a core priority. In Kenya, a new process of devolution has given county governments, led by directly accountable governors, extensive powers over local resources and service delivery.

The Government of Papua New Guinea is taking steps to empower local government, and is testing a system of standards for local service delivery which aims to achieve universal access to development opportunities. And in India, major national investments are being linked to improvements in local governance.

2. Financing local development
 
Obviously, the new global development agenda will remain mere words on paper unless it can be implemented. A strong package on “means of implementation” will be critical. At all levels of government, capacities need to be strengthened, governance for sustainable development needs to be continually improved, and citizens need to be engaged. We need renewed global partnerships for sustainable development. And, while money isn’t everything, access to finance is vital.

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Ababa next month. It needs an outcome which is as bold and ambitious as the new sustainable development agenda promises to be. The commitment of developed countries to allocate 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance (ODA) needs to be reaffirmed, and much of that ODA needs to be targeted to countries and communities that need it most.

But ODA is only a small part of the development finance story. Domestic resource mobilization already plays a huge role in countries like Botswana and many others, and its significance globally can only grow.

Thus it is very important to bring the perspective of local government to the discussion about financing for development:


How can sub-national governments be capacitated to raise revenues and attract investment in their areas?
How can their capacity to plan, budget, and allocate resources to infrastructure and services be supported?
Can they access the new sources of climate finance?
Are they equipped to engage in contract negotiations with the private sector and to manage the resulting contracts effectively?

Without doubt in this era of huge climate challenges, support is needed for local government in many countries to design low carbon, climate resilient infrastructure, and to access the technologies, financing, and technical assistance needed to enable investment in that infrastructure. Support could also be usefully directed to help local governments establish innovation funds which incentivize local actors to find local solutions to their sustainable development challenges.

For local government to play its full role in delivering on the SDGs, I believe it will need greater revenue raising powers. Relying on grant finance from often cash- strapped central governments is unlikely to be an optimal model for the future.

3. Leaving no one behind: the role of local government

The MDGs were set as global benchmarks. Some developing countries had met most of the targets when they were launched – and some still haven’t. The first priority of the new agenda, therefore, must be to take care of the unfinished business of the MDGs.

That means reaching women and youth, and the poorest and most marginalized and excluded people. These groups often face the added burden of discrimination – whether that is due to age, gender, ethnicity, indigenous status, disability, place of residence, HIV status, or other factors. They typically have the least resources, and they remain the furthest behind.

Local governments know their communities well, and are well placed to engage excluded groups on how services and opportunities can reach them. A defining feature of the new global development agenda is to “leave no one behind”. That means eradicating extreme poverty in all its dimensions. Local government with its proximity to communities is well placed to identify where the needs are, and to form the partnerships which will bring about transformational change in peoples’ prospects.

In Tanzania UNDP has been a partner in advancing the national development plan, “Mkukuta”, through the economic transformation of poor and marginalized districts. Through this initiative, 3,000 local economic groups received credit funding for sound business plans. As a result, 700 new small businesses were formally registered in just three years. More than a third were run by women, and a significant proportion were run by youth.

In Bangladesh UNDP has been supporting municipal leaders to improve the livelihoods of millions of urban slum dwellers living on the fringes of cities, who often lacked secure livelihoods and tenure rights. With continuing support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), this effort is going to a second phase in more districts, and doubling the number of people whose lives will be improved.

The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), an associated programme of UNDP, is working with us and UN Women on an initiative which encourages growth and investment in local communities, by overcoming bottlenecks to women’s economic empowerment. Through an innovative fund established by UNCDF, local governments and private sector actors will be able to combine forces to address shortcomings in the provision of childcare, safe water, transportation to markets, access to energy, or other specific issues which are preventing women from fully participating in the economy. We are pleased that CLGF is engaging in these efforts, and look forward to working with the Forum to advance this work further.

The needs of youth also need to be specifically addressed. Sixty per cent of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 30. This is a population growing up in the information age; and many youth are connected, innovative, and informed. But to contribute to society, all young people need opportunities to be educated, gain skills, work, and engage in their communities and wider political and societal processes. Half of the world’s young people in the labour force are either working poor or unemployed . As many as two-thirds of youth in developing countries are either without work, not studying, or engaged in irregular informal employment . Having local government fully engaged in developing youth potential is vital.

Developing Urban Governance

Around our world, cities and urban areas are estimated to gain more than one million new residents every week. In the next fifteen years, more than 1.5 billion people will move to urban areas in developing countries - seeking jobs, services, and homes . The kinds of cities they arrive in, and how well those urban areas meet their expectations, will go a long way towards determining the success of our efforts to achieve sustainable development.

The quality of city governance matters as never before.

UNDP works in many places to strengthen the capacities of local leaders to shape local solutions, learn from what works, and develop the partnerships which can take their towns and cities ahead. We recently brought together leaders from Chinese and Bangladeshi cities in Beijing to exchange practices and experiences in developing a one-stop approach to service delivery. As a result, a team of Bangladeshi mayors remodeled the Chinese approach to suit their own local context. We see South-South co-operation and exchanges on best local governance practice as very valuable.

Another example comes from the South Pacific, where two months ago local stakeholders, governments, and development actors gathered in Fiji for the Pacific Urban Forum, organized by CLGF and UN-Habitat in partnership with the World Bank, UNCDF, and UNDP. Participants identified ways to form partnerships which can bring the full weight of UN agencies, national and local governments, networks of local government, civil society organizations, and academia behind efforts to strengthen the capacity of urban authorities to manage vulnerability to ecological changes and advance sustainable development.

UNDP sees that leaders are successful when and where they are able to improve and expand service delivery, enforce regulations and laws; foster participation and be transparent. Successful leaders go out of their way to engage a wide range of actors across civil society and the private sector in developing their vision and key initiatives. Over time, such leadership strengthens trust and confidence in governance whether local or central.

Building Local Resilience to Disasters

The poor, including those who recently migrated to cities, often live in informal settlements located on fringe lands like riverbanks or steep hills. When disasters like floods, cyclones, or earthquakes strike, they are the worst affected. This was evident when a major earthquake devastated parts of Haiti in 2010; when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013; and most recently in the major Nepal earthquake in April.

In 2011, I walked in downtown Kathmandu with officials, who explained that many buildings would not be able to withstand an earthquake of any magnitude. Sadly that proved to be true for Nepal’s capital city and for many outlying towns and rural settlements.

Much more must be done globally on disaster risk reduction – through building more resilient infrastructure, rapid response capacity, and early warning systems for weather-related disasters. Local government has a major role to play in this. The bottom line is that if development is not risk informed, it won’t be sustainable development.

It will be important for local government representatives and stakeholders to continue to be actively involved in global discussions about climate change. It is local governments which so often have responsibility for the myriad of small to medium-sized investments required to adapt to a changing climate. Decisions about land use, irrigation, water storage, road maintenance, and even relocation and resettlement are among the many climate-critical decisions made day-in and day-out by local governments.

UNDP, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and UNCDF have teamed up to support local governments to access the resources and know-how they need to make good decisions and to be able to invest resources wisely in strengthening climate resilience. CLGF has been instrumental in introducing this initiative in the Pacific Island countries.

Localizing and monitoring the SDGs

National SDG achievement will be an aggregate of what happens community by community. Sub-national and local governments and stakeholders will therefore need to be actively involved in driving the new agenda.

UN Member States are looking to the UN development system to play a leading role on supporting SDG promotion and implementation. We will be advising our Country Teams around the world to support governments to embed the SDGs in their national and local development plans and policies. Here in Botswana, the Government is currently developing the new national vision beyond 2016 and a new National Development Plan. The authorities have asked for our input on how the SDGs can be embraced in these new documents and their implementation.

Joint efforts in Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana are already leveraging information and communications technologies to strengthen the accountability of local governments and empower local development actors and civil society groups, to contribute and monitor progress on the ground. With new momentum behind a shared agenda, more can be done to engage new actors in their communities and strengthen transparency and accountability.

A “Toolkit for localizing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals” is being developed. The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Leaders for Post-2015 continues to be engaged, advocating for goals, targets, and indicators which will help track local government’s contributions to peaceful and inclusive societies and to urban and rural development. Proactive developmental approaches at sub-national and local government levels will be important to realize the new agenda in all countries.

UNDP and UNCDF are committed to empowering local governments to address pressing challenges and implement the post-2015 agenda. UNDP is proud to have worked closely with CLGF to support local governance in 31 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.

I’m happy to say that more collaborative action is in the works. To help Least Developed Countries in Africa deliver the post-2015 development agenda in all localities, UNDP and UNCDF are working with CLGF and the African Union on a project designed to advance local economic development and integrated local governance.

Under this initiative, the AU, CLGF, UNDP and UNCDF will work together to help national and local governments identify and overcome potential local impediments to achieving the SDGs. Capacity support will be directed to sub-national governments to empower them to design and sequence responsive and improved services; make fuller use of existing skills and local resources; learn from peer-to-peer exchange; make the most of new partnerships; and continue to engage their constituencies in planning, monitoring, and delivering the new agenda. A regional platform will help diverse actors deliver more effective and better co-ordinated assistance for local development.

UNDP and CLGF are also teaming up to support the Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities to deliver the technical support and resources needed to advance Local Economic Development throughout the Caribbean sub-region. We plan to start piloting this new channel of support shortly, and then to scale up the support for local economic development to all Association members.

Conclusion

The recommendations of this Commonwealth Local Government Conference will go to CHOGM later this year, but even before that, they are highly relevant to the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development and the Special Summit on Sustainable Development at the UN in September.

Thanks to the dedicated leadership of CLGF and other major organisations of local government, the place of local government in the new global agenda is well recognized. This is an important step forward. Now we must build on it.

With the global agreements already reached or expected to be reached this year on disaster risk reduction, on financing for development, sustainable development, and climate change, there is a big opportunity to find common cause in building a fairer and more sustainable world. The contribution of local government will be central. At UNDP we look forward to continuing our strong engagement with CLGF to that end.