On International Day of Democracy 2020, it is important to reflect on the unique circumstances we find ourselves in this year and the consequences COVID-19 is having on governance systems, state-society relations, and human rights. In some places we see the centralization of executive powers; increased pressures on socio-political cohesion; disruption of democratic practices, including elections; lack of confidence between people and states; erosion in the relationship between local and national governments; spread of mis/dis-information, as well as lack of access to information. The pandemic and the disruptions and uncertainty it brings also present opportunities for corrupt actors to take advantage of the crisis, particularly in countries with weak institutions.
Whilst this is concerning, COVID-19 also presents opportunities to make societies more inclusive and resilient both in the immediate response and in the longer term COVID-19 recovery. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated “The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law.” UNDP, through our unique mandate on governance issues, has also been supporting governments to respond proportionately, prioritizing a rights-based approach built on principles of accountability, transparency and participation.
In UNDP, governance was the largest area of expenditure in 2018-2019 across all signature solutions in the UNDP Strategic Plan 2018-2022. Our governance work supports Member States to ensure their governance systems and processes are inclusive, accountable and effective, as we recognize this as crucial to sustainable development and human security. UNDP’s governance work promotes peaceful, just and inclusive societies across through supporting governments at all levels, civil society and people, in line with the vision of SDG16.
In the context of COVID-19, governance has been central to UNDP’s response, supporting states to ensure plans and strategies are inclusive, respect human rights and are in accordance with the rule of law. This takes shape in different ways in different places, but for example UNDP works with other parts of the UN system to support the safe and orderly conduct of elections around the world. While postponing or holding elections is a sovereign decision for each country to make, we are assisting with timely assessments of the impacts of COVID-19 on electoral processes, as well as the development of new protocols. These may include facilitating the procurement of specialist equipment, organizing specialized training of polling staff, or sensitizing the general public on how to vote in a safe way.
We also seek to strengthen parliamentary oversight of COVID-19 response efforts, as well as seek to mainstream anti-corruption measures into COVID response, whether that relates to procurement of health equipment, or the rolling-out of large scale social protection measures. Here, the aim is to support transparency and accountability, to reinforce public confidence and trust in oversight institutions.
With these objectives in mind, we are also intensifying our efforts, along with our partners, to prevent and mitigate the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation. Countering inflammatory and discriminatory narratives in the public sphere (including in traditional as well as social media) is critical. Addressing this ‘information pollution’, particularly in global and national pandemic responses as well as in relation to electoral processes is a priority for UNDP.
For UNDP, our governance work means promoting equal voice and inclusive representation, to enhance rights-based social contracts. We see these as a foundation for truly inclusive and sustainable development – ever more important as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strive to build back better.
Happy International Day of Democracy!