Good Governance as a Post-2015 Millennium Development Goal

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    Mar 5, 2014

    The World Bank noted, in a 1989 report, that “underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of governance.” Although matters have improved since 1989, lower debt and more democracies for example, good governance is still elusive and a major impediment for greater development. This is equally true of other regions. Recognizing the importance of global governance to development, the High Development Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to review the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) recommended that a governance indicator be added to the new MDG framework. Since the world endorsed the MDGs in 2000 much progress has been made in reaching these 8 development goals. Half a billion fewer people live in poverty, four out of five children receive life-saving vaccinations, and deaths from malaria have decreased by 25 percent. Impressive to be sure, yet much of this progress is due to the growth in countries such as China, India, and Brazil. Persistent pockets of extreme poverty remain in low developed countries and regions. Ensuring that this is rectified, and existing success is sustained and developed, must be the primary objective of the post-2015 process.

    In recent years, scholars have developed a significant body of evidence to support the notion that good governance leads to improved economic growth. Daniel Kaufmann, a World Bank economist, helped launch the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators in 1999 that sought to capture the role that governance played in enabling better development outcomes. Kaufmann and his team have found that “governance matters, in the sense that there is a strong causal relationship from good governance to better development outcomes such as higher per capita incomes, lower infant mortality, and higher literacy.” Other research such as Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s Why Nations Fail support this conclusion. They add that governance needs to be inclusive in order to accrue the maximum benefit to the greatest number of people.

    Building on this empirical base, many world leaders recognize the importance of good governance to achieving lasting broad based economic development. David Cameron, prime minister of the UK, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2010, “We also need to tackle the causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. And that means a radical new approach to supporting what I call ‘the golden thread’ of conditions that enable open economies and open societies to thrive: the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions.” To be sure this is not just a supply-driven issue; there is a clear demand for inspired governance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian finance minister and member of the High Level Panel (HLP) explicitly endorsed the need for governance, stating in 2013, “We need mechanisms in place, more transparency, so citizens can understand what is happening, can see how resources are moved around and can ask questions.”

    But getting a good governance indicator included in the post-2015 MDGs is easier said than done and it remains unclear if it will be included. Governance – good governance in particular – is seen by many as an amorphous term that does not lend itself to an easy definition. Further, there is a question of how good governance could be measured in a quantifiable manner. Unlike, say maternal health or universal primary education, there are less clear indicators and benchmarks for good governance. And, most importantly, there is significant political opposition from countries that fear they would do poorly under any governance MDG. This final point will make it more difficult for donor countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to effectively manage this agenda. It is therefore important to identify regional champions who can help to advocate for governance to be included as a new MDG. Further it may be possible to engage the private sector—both local and international—around the notion of a governance MDG. Good governance is intrinsically linked to improving the enabling environment, which is needed to facilitate greater economic growth and investment.

    Simply bowing to these forces is not an option. Improving governance in the developing world is critical to creating broad-based economic growth and ending dependence on donors for the delivery of public goods. To their credit, the HLP understood this and endorsed the need for not only a good governance MDG, but embedded it throughout the other proposed MDGs. Ban-Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, supported this through his own report that supported the findings of the HLP. It is now incumbent upon the international community to push for governance as an MDG. An initial starting point is to come to an agreement or understanding on a definition of good governance and what indicators would constitute an MDG. We have used the following as a working definition: It is clear that greater transparency and accountability, both to combat corruption and hold governments to account, is necessary. Civil society must be encouraged to hold governments to account. Rule of law must be strengthened to ensure legal protection for all, an independent judiciary, and land rights. It is clear that ways to adapt this to local environments must be found in order to enhance the impact of governance.

    Some see these efforts as donors—Western ones in particular—attempting to impose foreign models on developing countries. Yet a desire for transparent and accountable government is not just limited to the West. The events of the past several years in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere support this idea. To be sure these events were the result of oppressive governments but they were also about seeking less corruption, rule of law, and broad-based opportunity. Good governance can help to deliver that to the people. The UN missed an opportunity in 2000 when the original MDGs failed to include an outright governance indicator. The first round of MDGs proved a powerful symbol around which donors and host countries committed resources. With the post-2015 MDG process underway, there is a new chance to target good governance. To not do so would be a failure of the very people donors purport to help and support. We must not miss this opportunity.

    Daniel F. Runde is director of the Project on Prosperity and Development and holds the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Conor M. Savoy is a fellow with the CSIS Project on U.S. Leadership in Development.

    Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

    © 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved. 

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