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Governance for sustainable human development
A UNDP policy document
UNDP priorities in support of good governance


Democracy and transparent and accountable governance and administration in all sectors of society are indispensable foundations for the realisation of social and people-centred sustainable development.

Declaration of the World Summit for Social Development, 1995





In seeking to promote good governance within its programme countries, UNDP is drawing on its experience, backed by a clear mandate. We recognise, however, that the pursuit of programmes supporting good governance in dynamic, unpredictable environments is a complex process that carries risks. A well-developed and understood strategic vision and policy can help to get the most from our efforts and reduce the risks by providing a framework and guide for programme initiatives.

UNDP may be called on to support many types of governance-related programmes. To maximise our resources, however, we must target our assistance and build our core competencies in a few key areas. Based on our understanding of the role of governance in sustainable human development, our mandate and our comparative advantages, UNDP has identified five priority areas for governance programming that will best achieve our goals:

                           Governing institutions

                           Public and private sector management

                           Decentralisation and support to local governance

                           Civil society organisations, and

                           Governance in special circumstances.

Different environments will require different programmes, and different entry points and types of programmes. The challenge for UNDP will be to take a systemic and strategic approach to governance that meets national priorities.




Governing institutions: legislature, judiciary and electoral bodies

UNDP support can, in principle, be directed to all three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - and the processes needed to establish and operate them. Sound national and local legislatures and judiciaries are critical for creating and maintaining enabling environments for eradicating poverty. Legislatures mediate differing interests and debate and establish policies, laws and resource priorities that directly affect people-centred development. Electoral bodies and processes ensure independent and transparent elections for legislatures. Judiciaries uphold the rule of law, bringing security and predictability to social, political and economic relations. Human rights organisations help ensure that governing institutions uphold

national laws and internationally recognised conventions.

UNDP only recently became involved with legislative and judicial systems. Even so, demand for our assistance in these areas has been high. Because of our impartiality and the trust it engenders, we have a considerable comparative advantage over other organisations - and can also help greatly in coordinating external resources.

Given our limited resources, our often close relationship with governments and the importance of the legislature and judiciary in influencing equity and poverty, UNDP should aim for a strategic role in this area. Our primary task is to help develop a country's capacity to strengthen its governance. UNDP should, therefore, first help government create a framework and strategy for institutional reform. This should include the relationship between state institutions and the private sector and civil society.

Support for institutional development of legislatures may include help in setting up effective parliamentary (or similar national and local) structures, systems, processes and procedures as well as training parliamentarians in their roles and legislative procedures. The Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva is a valuable partner in this effort, particularly in needs assessment, advisory services and capacity development. Collaboration with Parliamentarians for Global Action in New York, an NGO that assists in policy advice and advocacy, is also being sought.

Support for legislatures also includes assistance in strengthening electoral processes, including support for electoral commissions, electoral legislation, voter registration and electoral registers. UNDP has played an important and expanding role in electoral processes, in some cases complemented by our institutional strengthening efforts. When UNDP is approached for direct support for electoral processes or elections, country offices should contact the Electoral Assistance Unit in the UN Secretariat for guidance and support. An agreement outlining the mutual roles and responsibilities of UNDP and the UN is available. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) is an intergovernmental partner outside the UN system that can also provide advice and technical support. There are also experienced regional institutions, such as Parlatino (Parlamento LatinoAmericano).

Judiciaries can be supported in establishing systems of justice and laws, ombudsmen and human rights oversight bodies and security systems. Judicial and legal reforms that may be supported by UNDP include improving the structure, organisation and administration of court systems; training judges, magistrates, lawyers and support personnel; making access to justice easier by improving subordinate court systems; removing legal barriers to full participation of women, minorities and civil society institutions; and providing specialised assistance in legal education on constitutional and electoral law and laws related to human rights. Partnerships with experienced local and international organisations will be important. Issues of human security and crime are dealt with by the Crime Prevention Division of the United Nations. For questions on human rights and to obtain advisory services, contact the UN Centre on Human Rights in Geneva.




Public and private sector management

One of UNDP's greatest strengths is management development, particularly in developing national capacities. We have learned from our vast experience that constructive change has three requisites: laying out a clear vision of goals and of how to reach them; identifying and supporting people who can lead and help reach those goals; and developing strong, effective and accountable managerial capacities and institutional structures to implement change.

Leadership, policy development and managing change

Support for leadership development and managing change cuts across UNDP governance efforts. Effective leadership, essential for successful good governance programmes, is particularly important when countries are undergoing complex or systemic change involving civil society and private actors. Effective leadership entails developing the capacities of everyone who can increase political commitment to sustainable human development. It also includes the ability to bring together public and private actors to define sustainable development goals and strategies that are centred around people and the capacity to manage systemic change in unpredictable situations. Countries also need professionals who can translate political vision into sustained programmes for good governance.

UNDP should seek to develop national capacities to articulate goals, policies and strategies, especially those that are long term and support good governance, with an emphasis on processes that elicit broad national support and consensus. To that end, UNDP can support national institutions that develop the skills of leaders in initiating and managing processes that are systemic and complex and that involve stakeholders and beneficiaries from government, the private sector and civil society. This support will include assistance for training in planning and implementation, building national competencies and developing approaches to public-private partnerships. Gender-specific concerns will merit particular attention.

Moreover, UNDP has concentrated on strengthening management in three areas that are vital to sustainable human development - reform of the civil service, economic and financial management and urban management.

Civil service reform

Reform of state institutions so that they become more efficient, accountable and transparent is a cornerstone of good governance. Effective reform requires political commitment, which should include the support of the private sector and civil society. UNDP's experience with and technical knowledge of public administration reform and management of development has ranged from pioneering work in national technical cooperation assessments and programmes to support for comprehensive civil reforms. In many countries UNDP has sought key partners and coalitions that are politically strong, found suitable entry points, initiated a policy dialogue that brings together stakeholders and beneficiaries and introduced reform in a phased, systemic manner.

Many needs can be addressed: formulation of strategies; assessment of capacities; reform of governance rules and procedures, including those for the market and the most vulnerable; review and restructuring of functions and networks; improvement of systems, especially those concerned with planning, management, information and new technologies, budgeting and expenditures, statistics, reporting and accountability; reform of wage and incentive structures; private-public partnerships; and decentralisation. The central issues of sustainability - ownership, fiscal discipline, incentives, political support and external aid - would also be addressed. Gender concerns should be built into all of these tasks.

Economic and financial management

Good governance includes both procedural and substantive elements; so too does the management of economic and financial matters. Countries need to establish relationships between the state, the private sector and civil society and develop frameworks that provide incentives for broadly based and sustainable growth. Crucial elements for sustainable human development include macroeconomic policies, management of the external sector (trade, aid, investment and debt), market regulation and privatisation, social safety nets and resource management. Sound policies and practices in economic and financial management will contribute significantly to an enabling environment for sustainable human development.

While the Bretton Woods institutions and several bilateral donors have greater resources at their disposal to assist developing countries in this area, UNDP can and should bring issues of sustainable human development and poverty into the centre of policy discussions, make macroeconomic decision-making more transparent, and influence resource allocations. Because of its impartiality, UNDP can be called on to help develop national capacities to negotiate with external partners and mobilise resources in line with national priorities. UNDP can also draw on its comparative advantages to support national capacities to improve efficiency, accountability, transparency and cooperative relationships in all sectors.

UNDP also has extensive experience with aid coordination and management. This provides an important opportunity for UNDP to influence policies in support of sustainable human development.

UNDP can help countries involve civil society and the private sector in policy development and management of development resources, and can enhance the transparency and accountability of economic and financial management processes. It can also help bring business, government and civil society together to address issues of poverty, gender, sustainable livelihoods and the environment. The creation of an enabling environment to attract private investments and nurture enterprises - using appropriate laws, fiscal and monetary policies and stable long-term development strategies - is a priority.

More specifically, UNDP can provide support to build capacity in economic policy analysis, formulation and management, budgeting, economic administrations (customs, debt management and so on), regulatory frameworks and national accounting. The capacity to coordinate and manage aid and debt is also important in the overall management of development resources. By taking the lead in aid coordination processes, UNDP can also advocate its approaches, influence policy and help mobilise resources for national programmes. UNDP can help manage the integration of countries with economic and trading blocs, and can help countries take advantage of the information and knowledge revolution. Not least, UNDP should help governments introduce economic and financial policies that empower and benefit women, the poor and others who may be marginalised, and that protect the natural resource base.

Urban management

Urban populations in developing countries have mushroomed over the past 40 years. This relentless growth is irreversible. The effective functioning of cities and towns is essential for equitable, sustainable growth. Urban management involves multisectoral activities that cut across UNDP's focus areas of poverty alleviation, environmental improvement, gender equity and sustainable livelihoods. UNDP is uniquely placed to provide leadership and to assist countries in developing partnerships with agencies in the UN system. UNDP's Urban Management Programme, developed and managed in partnership with the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, is the largest multidonor technical cooperation programme in urban development.

Urban management issues include environmental and land management, municipal finance, maintenance of urban infrastructure, regulatory frameworks for the informal sector, urban shelter and services and, of course, poverty alleviation. Gender issues should be mainstreamed throughout urban management programmes.

UNDP agency partners in these priority areas include the Department for Development Support and Management Services (DDSMS), for civil service reform and financial management; UNCTAD, for policies and management of trade and debt; the World Bank, for financial and budgetary issues and investment in civil service reform and urban programmes; the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, for follow-up to HABITAT II and technical cooperation in urban areas; and the Group of Cities Associations, for cooperation of mayors. In addition, several regional institutions have a wealth of experience.




Decentralisation and support to local governance

Decentralising government - from the national level to regions, districts, towns, municipalities, rural areas, settlements and communities - enables people to participate more directly in governance processes and can help empower people previously excluded from decision-making. In this way a country can create and sustain equitable opportunities for all its people. Closer contact between government officials and local communities and organisations also encourages the exchange of information that can be used to formulate development programmes that are tailored to local needs and priorities, and thus are more effective and sustainable.

UNDP and other UN agencies have extensively promoted decentralisation, accumulating considerable experience along the way. UNDP has supported many public management reform programmes focused on decentralisation and local institutional strengthening. A leading example is the Local Initiative Facility for Urban Environment (LIFE) to promote dialogue among municipalities, non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations to improve the quality of urban environments in low-income settlements.

UNDP offers many services at the country, regional and global levels to help countries build capacities for decentralised governance. These include systemic institutional analysis and generation of decentralisation policy, strengthening local authorities, direct support to civil society organisations concerned with local governance issues, support to rural institutions and management, implementing local pilot projects and evaluating, documenting and disseminating decentralisation experiences. An example of such support at the global level is the Decentralised Governance Programme.

In addition, UNDP should help improve urban government and administration in ways that not only ensure coordination among agencies but also promote partnerships among local communities, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and urban governments to respond to the problems facing urban populations.

The logical agency partners for all of the above efforts are the United Nations Capital Development Fund, DDSMS and the World Bank.




Civil society organisations

Civil society is the well-spring of the social capital - people working together for common purposes - that is essential for good governance. Civil society organisations can fill the vacuum left by the slimmed-down state, and can advocate and monitor reforms that foster sustainable human development.

Civil service organisations that are involved with development complement (rather than replace) the state. UNDP considers collaboration with these organisations important because of their responsiveness, innovation, direct relationship with the poor, capacity to stimulate participation and articulate local views, cost effectiveness, local accountability and independent assessment of issues.

In many developing countries, however, such organisations are weak. They lack capacities in issues analysis, advocacy and outreach, networking, management and revenue raising. In addition, they need to be more accountable and responsive to and more inclusive of their stakeholders. Some also operate within tight legal and regulatory environments.

UNDP's traditional partner has been government, although it is developing its partnership with civil society. Our ability to work with government remains one of our main comparative advantages. In many programmes we can capitalise on government trust of UNDP to encourage interaction and cooperation with civil society and the private sector, even (or particularly) when sensitive issues are involved.

UNDP's first task may be to bring government and civil society together to discuss policies and programmes and to help create a safe and impartial space that encourages trust and lasting relationships. In fact, UNDP should encourage partnerships with civil society organisations to support national efforts and to plan and implement UNDP-supported programmes. UNDP may then support national efforts to improve legislation and administrative and tax frameworks for these organisations and assist in improving government's relationship with them.

UNDP may also consider helping these organisations develop their capacities to plan, manage and implement activities effectively and accountably and to research, advocate and monitor issues of sustainable human development (including poverty and gender) in ways that build on our experience in reaching the poor, marginalised and disadvantaged. UNDP can also help civil society organisations network, cooperate and share information for social and development purposes and participate in aid coordination and management. UNDP also has a role in what can be termed "civic education": helping national civil society organisations define and implement country-specific programmes that build social cohesion, help resolve conflicts, increase people's awareness of their rights and responsibilities and nurture participation in development and governance. Assistance in collecting and disseminating relevant information on issues of governance and sustainable human development in an impartial way may also be worthwhile.




Governance in special circumstances

There are two categories of countries: crisis countries and transition countries. The social and political stability associated with good governance are fundamental to sustainable human development. During crises, systems and institutions that protect the vulnerable are the first things to be destroyed and must be restored. But good governance is by nature preventive. By valuing development assets and building social cohesion and consensus, it can help reduce vulnerability to - and even the likelihood of - disasters and conflicts.

UNDP's comparative advantage lies not in its humanitarian response and relief but in its long-term development presence and its ability to respond to complex and multifaceted development challenges. In crises where a rapid and coordinated response is required, UNDP must work closely with UN and donor partners with greater experience in emergency situations and with greater resources. UNDP, however, can play a role in planning for development needs while other agencies concentrate on immediate needs. Moreover, UNDP's ability to work with and bring together government, civil society and the private sector can be valuable both during and after a crisis.

There is no universal approach for responding to crises. UNDP must identify the most suitable entry points and respond quickly and flexibly. While good governance programmes generally can reduce the risk of crises, there are specific efforts that UNDP can support before, during and after them.

Impending crisis

UNDP can initiate reconciliation and consensus building and build national capacities to avoid, manage and mitigate crises. It could also regularly gather information on indicators that signal a pending crisis. National human development reports are important in identifying potential trouble. UNDP should also develop a network of people and institutions from which it can obtain development information and with which it can cooperate during crises.

During a crisis

UNDP can support both macro and local planning initiatives and reconciliation. If the state collapses, UNDP may launch participatory programme planning and development for specific needs, such as area, city, regional and food security planning. It should also aim to develop basic governance, management and coordination capacities. During a crisis, partnerships with civil society organisations - both formal and informal - can prove invaluable. These organisations can be crucial intermediaries - supporting participatory planning and reconciliation, and implementing small-scale development initiatives.


UNDP should assess governance-related requirements, give priority to rebuilding those strategic capacities that have the greatest impact and help identify and coordinate needs for resource mobilisation. This could include assistance to rebuild such core institutions as the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

A second category of countries - called transition economies - are those that are moving away from central planning, which attempted to achieve social equity through heavily subsidised state-led development. These subsidies were, in fact, unaffordable, and the failure of this development model has required often painful transitions to market-oriented economies. Most transition economies are also moving towards more open (or democratic) political systems. In many cases economic reforms have faced multiple challenges, including global economic recession (resulting in less trade, aid and investment), environmental degradation (which threatens human well-being), low savings and investment, rocketing unemployment and social disintegration (resulting in soaring social ills and crime). Even so, these countries - including newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe, republics of the former Soviet Union and Mongolia - have made remarkable advances and possess substantial untapped capacities.

UNDP efforts in many of these countries have emphasized interventions that build on people's high education levels and help them gain access to outside knowledge, information and experiences, which help them develop capacities that reflect reform priorities. Reforms are also systemic, at times integrating many interrelated processes and generally emphasizing good governance and a stable macroeconomic framework. Developing democratic and accountable institutions (including political parties, free trade unions and the media) are critical. Support to emerging private and civil organisations, particularly to develop management capacities and accountability, are priorities. So too are aid coordination, capacity building to help define goals and policies, support to social security and productive capacities and management of natural and financial resources. Because the needs are so great, UNDP has placed special emphasis on leveraging its resources to mobilise further funds.


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