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You can’t wipe out poverty without fighting corruption

Poor governance is not only ruinous for democracy, it is an obstacle to equality and corrodes opportunities for the poorest who often shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden. That is why, as the UN working group on Sustainable Development Goals prepares for talks in New York next week (3-7 February), we and 48 civil society organisations are calling for open, inclusive, accountable and effective governance to be at the heart of the United Nations’ Post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework. We believe good governance should form a stand-alone goal and feature as an integral part of other goals.

The MDGs are a set of eight time-bound targets and indicators agreed upon by all 191 UN member states. The goals range from halving poverty to building a global partnership and ensuring environmental sustainability. While several of the targets are on course to be reached by the 2015 deadline, many goals – such as reducing maternal mortality and improving literacy – will not.

As the international community asks the question, what next? And as it shapes the priorities for what is to succeed the MDGs, Transparency International is highlighting poor governance as a structural and transnational issue that affects the poor and rich of developing and developed countries alike. This shows the urgent need for a stand-alone governance goal to address the hurdles in development that cannot be effectively tackled through sectoral goals.

One such hurdle is corruption, with higher levels shown to correlate with increased illiteracy and maternal mortality. Another is unrecorded illicit financial flows, which have a major impact on the world economy and represent a significant drain on the financial resources of underdeveloped countries. It is estimated to have diverted more than US$1.4 trillion from Africa between 1980-2009. Retaining this capital within the continent may enable it to meet its MDG targets on child mortality 13 years earlier.

Major global institutions, experts and the public have all asserted that the lack of good governance is unambiguously bad for development:

A vital question now is how to integrate governance into the framework in a way that balances national diversity with global comparability, extends from governments to international bodies and private corporations, and builds on existing human rights laws and norms.

We believe the framework needs to:

  1. Enable all people and public bodies to obtain detailed and reliable information on sustainable development in a timely and accessible manner: in particular, information about what resources are available, how they are raised and spent, and what results they contribute to.
  2. Curb corruption and illicit financial flows, which drain away huge sums in much-needed funds.
  3. Enhance the effectiveness of public institutions in curbing poverty and promoting sustainable development, and maximise their accountability for the use of public resources.
  4. Ensure public backing for efforts to curb poverty and inequality by enabling participation of all people in the design, delivery and monitoring of policy, without exclusion or discrimination, and by ensuring rights of free speech, assembly and access to information.
  5. Enhance the accountability and positive impacts of business by ensuring full disclosure of relationships between corporations and states and requiring corporations to report to a consistent standard on their impacts on the environment, society and human rights.

Although a positive link between social development and good governance has been demonstrated, quantifying its positive effects at a national or international level can be difficult. There needs to be mechanisms to measure, report and ensure accountability of post-2015 good governance goals using strict parameters that allow for comparability between countries. We believe this should happen at both the national and international level, in ways which actively involve all stakeholders and do not further alienate marginalised groups.

As the UN Secretary-General has noted, governance is both a means and an end to social development. Incorporating effective governance as a stand-alone goal in the post-MDG framework will give the opportunity for a global response to a global problem.

We look forward to working with the United Nations and its member states in moving forward on this.

For more on Transparency International’s work on this topic click here.

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