SDG 16 Conference 2022: “People-Centered Governance in a Post-Pandemic World”

By: Romain Segouin (SDGs and Human Rights Intern at INFID)

The 2022 Conference held on 21-22 April, organized by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and the Italian government in both offline and online formats, is a follow-up to the previous Conference in 2019 and 2021.

The SDG 16 Conference was held in a specific context, given the ongoing pandemic and the emergence of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. A context in which societies are polarized, restrictions on freedoms are more prevalent than the exercise of fundamental rights, especially for the most vulnerable groups, and institutions are distrusted as being corrupt. 

More than a drawback, the conference provides an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the objectives underlying this goal: peace, justice, strengthening capacities. Moreover, its achievement is seen as a pillar for the implementation of the other SDGs, as a catalyst. Therefore, it is crucial to reverse this trend through a new way of thinking and acting on governance across all boundaries and sectors, capable of leading the way to good governance that promotes equitable society, accountability of representatives and proximity to CSOs. Collen Vixen Kelapile, Chair of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, highlighted the strong link between SDG 16 and the other SDGs, as the implementation of the latter depends on the implementation of the former. In order to overcome the crisis of health and confidence and the delay in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Jan Beagle, Director General of IDLO, emphasized the need to support, both politically and financially, the achievement of SDG 16.   

The conference featured a number of speakers from different organizations, especially UN personnel. Among them, Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly addressed the need to bring countries together around a social contract that could eliminate inequalities and effectively implement the common 2030 Agenda, for which consultations are being held to come up with recommendations. 

This transformation of current governance is also a point shared by Collen Vixen Kelapine and Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social (UNDESA), who considers that only resilient institutions are capable of ensuring effective essential public services that meet citizens' expectations such as health and education, and leave no one behind. A collective and people-centered approach, keeping abreast of innovations and new technologies, is more important than ever, according to Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Under-Secretary-General.

Divided into two sessions, the first was dedicated to conflict prevention and peacekeeping in an increasingly fragile world. This session provided an opportunity to discuss issues such as the immigration movements that result from any type of conflict, as highlighted by Cindy McCain, Vice President of the IDLO Assembly of Parties, or the importance of fair elections to ensure peace through strong and accountable institutions, according to Helder Da Costa. Diego Garcia-Sayan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Laws, presented how the independence of the judiciary from political power helps to guarantee rights, especially those of vulnerable groups, through access to justice and due process, as well as to prevent corruption and crime. For Elizabeth Spehar, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, inclusiveness is the key to a just and peaceful society in which women and youth are involved and engaged.

The second session, entitled "Building institutional resilience and improving institutional effectiveness, accountability and responsiveness", highlighted a number of challenges. These included the need to change mindsets and the management of public resources. Geraldine Fraser Moleketi and Giuseppe Busia, respectively Chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration and President of the National Anti-Corruption Authority in Italy, illustrate how the principles of public administration are the basis for intergenerational equity, public trust, effective transparency and coherent policy-making that citizens expect and should benefit from. Especially in this type of crisis, where countries respond with a significant public investment, to fight corruption through control and monitoring procedures. Transparency and trust, in particular, which is possible through the participation of CSOs in decision-making according to Juan Pablo Guerrero and Lawrence O. Gostin, regarding the value of their research and advocacy to improve access to information and the quality of institutions.

The lessons from Ghana, in the words of Md Lily Fati Soale as a Director, Finance and Administration, Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs of Ghana, show how strong coordination at different levels of governance - including with traditional community leaders, which is generally encouraged by UNDP, is strategic to avoid difficulties in this kind of context for accountable and inclusive institutions, and then to keep the achievement of the SDGs in focus through the delivery of better public services. For Lawrence O. Gostin, better governance is not only a wish at the national level but also at the international level, given his opinion on the lack of transparency and independence of the WHO, and its hope of evolution through a more sustainable funding and the conclusion of a treaty on pandemics to better respond to the future crisis.

Finally, the Conference concluded with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) 2022 Declaration on SDG16+, following the previous versions. This declaration identifies key areas of commitment and is an urgent call to action for Member States and all stakeholders to scale up existing commitments and then translate them into action. Speakers reiterated the expectation of greater accountability to governments and the international community.

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  1.  Secretary General of the G+7 Secretariat
  2.  Network Director, Global Fiscal Transparency Initiative
  3.  Director of the O'Neil Institute for national and global health law, Georgetown University