Don't Try to Achieve SDGs Without these Governance Building Blocks

Customs office in Erenhot, PRC.
Customs office in Erenhot, PRC.

By Lily Jin

Whether the SDGs are focused on public service delivery or infrastructure, governance components are key to the success of the post-2015 agenda.

Nearly a year after the announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), most countries are still processing the directions and planning the next steps. Despite 100% commitment to the SDGs as of today, only around 20% of the ADB’s 40 developing member countries have either issued a position paper, developed an action plan, or localized practices on the SDGs.

Well-functioning governance mechanisms in the public sector have always played a vital role in achieving prosperity and development. Whether the SDGs are focused on public service delivery or infrastructure, governance components are foundational building blocks to the success of this agenda.

In the broader context of the SDGs, here is how governance will play an important role to all of the goals if they are to be achieved on time:

  1. Rules-based governance in the SDGs protects and recognizes the rights of citizens, provides channels for public opinion, and acts as a localization tool between international and local laws. Rules-based governance protects the property and human rights of small-scale farmers who are losing their properties in SDG 2, elderly people who are not receiving appropriate social protection in SDG 1, and threatened indigenous people residing in a forest in SDG 15. Rules-based governance also protects forests, oceans, and the environment from unsustainable or unethical practices. In addition, it recognizes human rights like the right to go to school in SDG 4 and the right to speak up as a woman in SDG 5. Rules-based governance also serves as a channel to help society share opinions freely, and bridges the gap between international agreements.
  2. Quality budgetary and financial management increases the quality of projects, and creates significant impacts for beneficiaries. The quality of a project increases with a well-implemented budget, reliable forecasts, and detailed planning. The rise in demand of public expenditure means such capabilities will become an important enabler to achieve intended results effectively and efficiently, and lower the exposure to corruption. In SDG 9, a quality budget helps governments increase their creditworthiness so they can obtain more loans. Another example is in SDG 4, where a detailed budget can help reduce corruption and budget leakages in the education sector.  Quality budgets will help use resources effectively and give financial support efficiently. Finally, the budget planning process also impacts beneficiaries greatly, and SDG 5 affirms it is important to involve female decision-makers in the budget planning process.
  3. Tax policies and efficient resource mobilization serve two major functions in the SDGs: increase project effectiveness and efficiency, and create impacts for beneficiaries. Many of the SDGs require mobilizing a significant amount of resources, self-sufficiency and financial sustainability. Some examples include the energy goal in SDG 7, a commitment of $100 billion to cooperate on clean energy. Tax structures also impact beneficiaries. For example in SDG 8, which focuses on job creation, personal income tax impacts quality of life. Another example is SDG 5, where it impacts women’s well being as they traditionally receive lower pay than men, so they end up getting taxed more in some structures.
  4. Quality administration decentralizes and provides independence in decision-making and resources allocation, and provides strong capability to collect, report, and analyze data by sectors and administration. Decentralization and independence are important steps because they help formulate real-time responses and build better capacity to solve development issues. To protect forests (SDG 15) and oceans (SDG 14), central and core administration should demonstrate strong capacity to coordinate among independent actors and utilize transparent, accountable measures. Independent agencies should have the ability to collect, report, and analyze data.
  5. Fighting corruption increases inclusiveness and participation, openness, and accountability. With this building block, civil societies and NGOs will have a higher participation to issues that matter to them the most. Some examples are in SDG 5 with women who have been treated unequally, SDG 6 with water service deliveries, SDG 7 with electricity prices, SDG 11 with community planning, and SDG 15 with civilian land tenure in forests. It also increases openness between administrations and sectors with promotion of open data and builds more partnerships with the private sector.