Good governance: a pillar in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda

Busani SibindiBy Busani Sibindi, Programme Director, Save Matabeleland Coalition, Zimbabwe.  Former Beyond 2015 National Lead and a member of the Core Group of Together 2030. Contact:

The Brundtland Commission in 1987 famously phrased sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

The concept of sustainable development was endorsed by the world’s Governments at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and reaffirmed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20). Despite progress, social, economic and environmental considerations have yet to be fully integrated in policy-making, business practices and lifestyles throughout this diverse

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the UN Member States in September 2015 for the period 2016-2030 reflect an ambitious and transformative framework – a paradigm shift in international development that has the potential to put the world on a more sustainable path and ensure a life of dignity for all. In addition, the new agenda is underpinned by goals on peaceful and inclusive societies and effective institutions, means of implementation and follow-up mechanisms to make the agenda work.

In relation to the implementation of the Agenda good governance will have to play a critical role. A look into what good governance is gives us a clearer picture on how critical it is in the implementation of the Agenda.

Good governance in principle and practice is foundationally about the processes for making and implementing decisions. It’s not only about making ‘correct’ decisions, but also about the best possible process for making those decisions.

These decision-making processes, and good governance, share several characteristics which are key to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda. These characteristics have a positive effect on various levels and aspects of governance including:

  • consultation policies and practices,
  • meeting procedures,
  • service delivery,
  • duty bearer conduct,
  • role clarification and good working relationships.

In summary these characteristics would include but not be limited to accountability, transparency, rule of law, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency as well as participation.

In the run up to the framing of the new global agreement on sustainable development the call for most elements of these characteristics of good governance where found in most advocacy and lobbying documents presented during the Post-2015 process. In relation to implementation they depict the fundamentals of achieving sustainable development further scrutiny of these characteristics simply show us how critical they are.

  • Good governance is accountable: Accountability is a fundamental requirement of good governance and has been a key advocacy and lobby point for all interested stakeholders participating in the framing of Agenda 2030. It will play a major role in transforming our world throughout the period of implementation. All actors and various players involved in implementation have an obligation to report, explain and be answerable for the consequences of decisions they will make on behalf of the communities and constituencies they represent.
  • Good governance is transparent: Successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda demands transparent governance at all levels. People should be able to follow and understand the decision-making process. This means that they should be able to track why and how a particular decision reached – what information, advice and consultation was considered, and which legislative requirements were followed.
  • Good governance follows the rule of law: Agenda 2030 is packed with a lot of important goals and targets that seek to foster in a new age of development and some of these featured goals include Goal 16 which emphasizes on the need to establish peace through Promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. In this case the rule of law will have to play a critical role and this means that decisions are consistent with relevant legislation or common law and are within the powers of the given entity be it at local community level at the Sub- national,  national or international levels.
  • Good governance is responsive:  Agenda 2030 demands a lot of responsiveness from both the governing and the governed to relate to most problems affecting society. In the community of nations, governance is considered “good” and “democratic” to the degree in which a country’s institutions and processes are transparent and able to respond to needs. Its institutions refer to such bodies as parliament and its various ministries. The creation of strong institutes at various tiers of governance should always try to serve the needs of the entire community while balancing competing interests in a timely, appropriate and responsive manner.
  • Good governance is equitable and inclusive: Equity and inclusivity are also critical in not only ending poverty and ensuring that no one is left behind but also a fundamental prerequisite in ensuring that communities and societies remain peaceful and justice is served. Overall community well being results from taking care all of its members considering their needs and interests in the decision-making processes. This means that all groups, particularly the most vulnerable, should have opportunities to participate in the implementation of the Agenda in various forms at all levels.
  • Good governance is effective and efficient: Sustainable Development implies the need to meet the present demands without compromising those of the future. This goes beyond protecting finite resources and ultimately includes protecting the environment and dealing with challenges of the 21st Century in an efficient and highly effective manner. Institutes and governments should implement decisions and follow processes that make the best use of the available people, resources and time to ensure the best possible results in a sustainable manner.
  • Good governance is participatory: The concept and principle of participation in the implementation of the Agenda cannot be overemphasized it will need to be featured at every level from the local to the sub –national, national and international levels. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the implementation of Agenda 2030. This can happen in several ways – people and their institutions and communities will need to be provided with information. Be provided with a platform to participate as well as be asked for their input in all development processes, be given the opportunity to make recommendations and, where possible, be part of the actual decision-making process.

Furthermore the practice of good governance will need not only to be looked at from a perspective of government scrutiny in relation to the implementation of sustainable development. It will need to be viewed from a holistic and overall perspective looking into how local and sub-national institutes and entities play a role in the day to day running of public affairs. This approach will also need to explore how good governance contributes to the growth of the private sector and subsequently nations. This will also relate to the age old concern of Illicit outflows of finance tax evasion and the rot of corruption especially in poor countries were finite resources and extractive industries are largely controlled by multilateral entities who would need to remit good enough taxes to help propel business to take a central stage in the fight against poverty through sustainable employment creation and wealth retention in struggling economies.

To go a step further would be the need for the practice of good governance even within civil society and other development actors. In this regard good governance at every level will be critical to the success of Agenda 2030. Sub regional bodies like the SADC region, ECOWAS, EU and all other various types of Intergovernmental and International bodies will need to foster and indeed demand principles of good governance from their peer networks. This emphasis on good governance will need to go even to the International Level at the United Nations itself where UN fit for purpose reforms will need to be accelerated to ensure that even the biggest International Body in the world plays its part in fostering good governance as a backbone of the achievement of sustainable development.




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