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Good Governance – A Sustainable Development Goal Too Essential To Be Side-lined

Published 07/22/2014 by Global Communities

Good Governance – A Sustainable Development Goal Too Essential To Be Side-lined
By David Weiss, President and CEO, Global Communities
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Citizens of Santo Domingo, Nicaragua analyze the main problems affecting the municipality. Through the USAID-funded Local Governance Program, Global Communities is working to strengthen citizen participation and the capacity of civil society organizations to engage and influence key decision makers in order to improve local governance and development.
What do the public in the USA, UK, France and Germany consider the greatest impediment to global development? According to new research by the Gates Foundation and partners released at the InterAction forum last month called the Narrative Project, the answer is corruption. Additionally, a recent Gallup poll showed that, around the world, satisfaction with “freedom” is inversely proportional to the perception of corruption in a given country.
The answer to corruption is good governance, at the national and local levels. But governance goes well beyond just stopping corruption. It is the cornerstone of individual freedom, political participation, secures the rights of the individual and the media, and makes politicians accountable to their constituencies. In my last blog, I discussed the forthcoming creation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to replace the current Millennium Development Goals. I believe that one of those goals should explicitly focus on governance, as building inclusive, effective, open and accountable institutions for all is an essential foundation for peaceful and prosperous societies.
This focus has also been recommended by the High Level Panel that was tasked with recommending sustainable development goals. The importance to global development of good governance and institutions that guarantee the rule of law, free speech and open and accountable government was not included in the Millennium Development Goals but this time they are recommending that by 2030 countries should take measures to ensure freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information; increase public participation in political processes and civic engagement; guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data; ensure that people have important legal protections; and reduce bribery and corruption at all levels of government.
However, this proposal has met with resistance with, for example, some stakeholders believing it should be integrated throughout the other goals and some governments not wishing to be required to report on these indicators.
One of the reasons I support it is because I have been able to see firsthand the benefits that strong, transparent local governance has brought to hundreds of communities around the world. Global Communities focuses on local and municipal governance issues in our work. For example, last year, I visited Nicaragua, where Global Communities implements a local governance project with support from USAID. The role of the program is to provide communities and local organizations with access to information and the training they need to be able to secure funding from their municipal governments to implement projects that meet citizen priorities.

Graduation ceremony for local journalists in Nicaragua who completed the three-month course.
The program has, for example, trained local journalists to bring to public attention the issues that are pressing in their community and trained communities and civil society in how to interpret government websites about budgets, so that communities know what is in their municipal government’s budget, what the money is meant to be spent on and what it has been spent on. As a result of this training and transparency, one municipality alone, Muelle de los Bueyes, was able to work with their municipal government to implement 11 projects worth $440,000 in their community, from a maternity clinic to expanding the road network so people can get their products to market.
In Ghana, we are working in partnership with the cities of Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi to ensure that citizen priorities are taken into account in the planning and budgeting process. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Sekondi-Takoradi we helped produce the first citizen’s report card which surveyed citizens across the city about their priorities for public services. We then worked with the Metropolitan Authority to map the entire city and develop a fair system of property taxes and permit fees to pay for the citizen-prioritized services. As a result, more than 500,000 Ghanaian homes and businesses now have addresses, and the city has developed the capacity and income to provide public services. As a next step, with support from Making All Voices Count, we are creating an interactive radio call-in show to better engage women and increase the capacity of the Authority’s new toll-free call line, which are key pieces of the city’s approach to public participation and holding officials accountable.
These few examples of improved local governance demonstrate significant, measurable benefits to the communities who experience them. Imagine then the effects of measuring and promoting good governance at the national and local levels across the world.
I believe there is a moral case that all people should have these rights and freedoms. For those of us who have them, it is all too easy to forget about the many millions who do not, whether these have been denied or their governments simply do not have the capacity to implement them. I encourage the decision makers and the governments of the world to make the right decision and to include a sustainable development goal on governance so that we can truly measure the improvements in the lives of millions.