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ECOSOC COMMISSION: Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)

The Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) provides expert advice to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on improving public administration and good governance. It is composed of non-governmental representatives and its recommendations are non-binding on Member States. It is expected to provide comprehensive recommendations for both governments and the United Nations system on the topics under its purview. Past work has included advice on the use of information communication technology in governance, government ethics and the relationship between public administration and development.

Members Members

  • Brazil
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • India
  • Jamaica
  • Kazakhstan
  • Lebanon
  • Morocco
  • Netherlands
  • Philippines
  • Republic of Korea
  • Russian Federation
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

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Effective governance for sustainable development Effective governance for sustainable development

Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a vision of a future that requires transformative changes by Member States, and the scale of the challenge requires effective governments capable of efficiently using resources at scale for grand projects and societal transformation. Strong institutions deliver better governance and sustainable development outcomes, as governments hold the primary responsibility for guiding, implementing and overseeing development programs. Such responsibility requires institutions to be accountable, effective and ethical. Given its importance to implementing development strategies, the international community recognized that effective governance was central to the foundation for success with the SDGs, enshrining it as a Sustainable Development Goal in its own right as part of SDG 16.

CEPA noted in 2015 that the interrelated concepts of transparency, accountability, ethical leadership and integrity form the basis for effective public administration. Integrity is necessary to set and follow the rules that prevent corruption from taking hold while ethical leadership is the commitment of public servants to adhere to that integrity. Transparency and access to information allow institutional observers—such as the private sector or other layers of government—and members of the public to identify breaches of ethics when they occur. Finally, accountability is the ability to react to ethical breaches and correct them. CEPA further identified four main factors that promote these concepts: procedural methods, institutional arrangements, social accountability and public control, and cultural norms.

These factors generally either increase access to information or regulate the behavior of public officials, both of which assist in increased citizen engagement and improve trust in government. The drawback, however, is that procedures that are implemented by the government can easily be repealed by the government. It is therefore important to build supporting infrastructure to promote good governance at the same time.

Accountability is the step connecting empowered citizens and transparency to reliable governance. In addition to requiring institutions on the governmental side that can audit activities and enforce reforms, accountability requires the citizens to organize and participate in the political process. The United Nations describes civil society organizations (CSOs) as the “third sector” of society, cooperating with both the public and private sectors. Regarding accountability, CSOs need to be able to work closely with public institutions to act as a bridge between citizen demands and the government. Establishing the necessary protections to allow CSOs to function, such as freedoms of information and association, also set traditions of good governance that reinforce these efforts.

The first global and legally-binding action against corruption was the 2003 United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The Convention approached the issue of corruption in five areas: preventative measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. The details of this implementation were left to the newly created Conference of States Parties (the Conference), which would also engage in periodic reviews. However, the details of the Convention have come under significant criticism for lack of State participation and a lack of involvement of CSOs and other non-governmental stakeholders, particularly with respect to the review process. Within States, a lack of legal protections—particularly freedoms of expression and of the press—have allowed for increased persecution of CSOs, hampering anti-corruption efforts.

Attempting to build on this work, CEPA in 2018 compiled a list of 11 principles of effective governance for sustainable development, centered around promoting effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness, mirroring the essential elements of SDG 16. The 11 principles also included commonly-used strategies to support each principle, providing States practical guidance in addressing a broad range of governance challenges associated with implementing the SDGs. ECOSOC subsequently endorsed the principles and encouraged CEPA to offer implementation options for all public institutions, taking into account differences in governments’ structure, capacities and levels of development. 

CEPA then began a period of outreach to understand how it could best help States implement the principles. CEPA held a regional workshop in conjunction with the African Peer Review Mechanism in Pretoria in 2019 to review the principles and strategies in an African context. One particularly relevant finding was how the institution-building efforts promoted by CEPA aligned with the African Union’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. With this synergy identified, the participants planned a baseline study on the status of the principles across Africa. CEPA made the principles the focus of its 2020 session, examining how it could provide technical guidelines to operationalize the principles and promote them. CEPA began to provide detailed guidance for each strategy identified in the principles, attempting to build a base of technical expertise available to States seeking to implement the strategies. As of August 2022, CEPA has managed to publish 19 of 82 guidance notes across five of the 11 principles. The pace has been slowed by lack of a standardized mechanism to draft the notes, which currently are done ad hoc by CEPA Secretariat members and volunteers. 

CEPA continued hosting partnerships with regional groups in Africa and Latin America in 2021, recognizing the importance of offering a range of strategy implementation options to suit a variety of States’ situations—such as economies in transition, post-conflict states and others. These discussions also highlighted the importance of not over-taxing governments with tracking the implementation of these strategies; CEPA instead is seeking existing metrics, targets and data collection efforts that could be applicable to monitoring States’ progress towards improving their governments’ effectiveness and success in achieving the SDGs. Relatedly, CEPA collaborated with the Praia Group of Governance Statistics on drafting its Handbook on Governance Statistics, which outlined a framework for governance statistics that included eight dimensions of governance, which closely aligned with most of the 11 principles.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • What other options does CEPA have for drawing support to draft and publish the remaining guidance notes?
  • Can CEPA prioritize the remaining guidance notes to focus on topics most impactful towards effective governance for sustainable development?
  • How can CEPA continue working towards effective tools for assessing progress in the implementation of effective governance strategies?

Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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Building strong institutions for sustainable development in conflict-affected countries Building strong institutions for sustainable development in conflict-affected countries

Conflict-affected countries, including both States experiencing active conflict and post-conflict States, struggle to build and maintain public institutions that effectively serve their communities. Conflict can weaken public institutions by reducing the quality and availability of services. Conflict can also create mistrust in institutions that either failed to deliver services or that may have directly harmed community members, particularly among marginalized groups. This is compounded by the significant economic effects of conflict, reducing States’ GDPs, diverting resources away from public administration and sustainable development, and limiting growth long after peace has been achieved. Conflict also creates massive social challenges, including worse health outcomes and increases in gender-related violence. The United Nations has recognized the importance of building and maintaining strong institutions through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” However, with global conflict currently on the rise across multiple continents, ensuring the stability and efficacy of public institutions is an increasing challenge.

Effective public administration has been a longstanding focus of the United Nations; the first resolution on public administration was passed by the General Assembly in 1948. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) created the Group of Experts on the United Nations Programme in Public Administration and Finance, which reviewed the United Nations’ public administration work, including public administration in post-conflict and post-crisis areas; this group became CEPA in 2001.  While the United Nations’ work on public administration continued through the latter half of the century, focus on public administration in tandem with development would come in the 1990s. The United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN) was created by the General Assembly in 1999 with a mandate to foster collaboration and help States build technical capacity in public administration, including post-conflict States. UNPAN works with United Nations agencies, regional stakeholders and other institutions to build capacity and share knowledge around institutional best practices.

The Sustainable Development Goals, part of Agenda 2030, placed a strong emphasis on institutions and capacity-building with an eye toward conflict-affected States. SDG 16 contains 12 targets and 22 indicators to measure progress toward peaceful and inclusive societies. In particular, Target 16.6 focuses on the development of “effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels,” while Target 16.a calls for “strengthen[ing] relevant national institutions…for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.” The goal-setting for SDG 16 led to a substantial development of resources and strategies for improving public administration. In 2017, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) held an expert group meeting to discuss incorporating the SDGs into post-conflict processes. CEPA put forward a list of 11 principles for effective governance in 2018 with a specific focus on the goals of effectiveness, accountability and transparency outlined in SDG Target 16.6.

CEPA has also advocated for conflict-sensitive approaches to building strong institutions, with a particular emphasis on protection of marginalized groups and groups that may have been harmed directly by public institutions. This follows a larger need for the United Nations and other organizations providing support for institutional capacity-building to follow the needs of communities, rather than dictating the terms of institutional growth. CEPA and other experts have argued that context-specific “bottom-up” approaches to institutional growth are more likely to create institutions that meet the needs of their communities and are  particularly important in conflict-affected areas, where the specific context of the conflict directly affects how rebuilding should take place. This approach has been echoed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and by other international agencies. CEPA has also argued for the importance of State-building after conflicts, emphasizing the long-term benefits of putting resources and energy towards the capacity of governments and local institutions rather than solely focusing on the short-term needs of maintaining security.

The  COVID-19 pandemic upended much of the work being done towards sustainable development and institution-building, creating new obstacles and inflaming existing challenges. Violent conflict and infectious diseases often have a cyclical relationship: conflict can create conditions that promote the spread of infectious diseases, while the COVID-19 pandemic has been cited as potentially increasing the risk of conflict by exacerbating existing issues in fragile or conflict-affected States. These issues include human rights abuses, corruption around COVID-19 restrictions and access to services in fragile States, and the onslaught of disinformation around the pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, the United Nations, NGOs and other institutions issued guidance promoting conflict-sensitive responses to the pandemic in fragile and conflict-affected areas and for the protection of human rights by institutions. However, CEPA’s 2021 report on the effects of  pandemic showed that awareness of these issues did not prevent harms from occurring.

Two years into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to loom over conflict-affected States, creating continued challenges for public institutions as other States move forward. Even as the pandemic has moved away from lockdowns and movement restrictions, the continuing economic effects threaten the stability of public institutions. Conflict-affected States are also still at risk of being left behind in access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccinations, due in large part to access challenges and weakness in institutions providing health services in conflict areas. Furthermore, many public institutions, particularly those that were already hampered by conflict, have experienced significant erosion of public trust. In some instances, this lack of public trust may be due to inability or failure to provide effective and accountable services. However, in other instances, this trust deficit may be due to disinformation or fake news undermining confidence in legitimate public services.

The combined effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict has also created or worsened existing social and humanitarian issues, presenting further challenges to public administration. A particular area of concern in conflict-affected areas is the protection of women and girls. Sexual and gender-based violence rose significantly across the board during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many women unable to access services and support systems due to lockdowns and social restrictions. In conflict-affected areas where sexual and gender-based violence were already more prevalent before the pandemic, these risks are magnified and intersect with conflict-specific concerns. Without strong public institutions to provide necessary services and community infrastructure, gender equality and the other SDGs remain at risk of failure.

Questions to consider from your country’s perspective:

  • How can CEPA and the international community help build capacity and competence in institutions in conflict-affected States?
  • What can the United Nations and NGOs do to support public institutions in stopping violence against women and girls?
  • What options are there to support conflict-affected areas through the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How can an international body like the United Nations meaningfully promote community-driven, bottom-up strategies for building effective institutions?

Bibliography Bibliography

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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