Helen Clark – Achieving the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda-the Role of the Public Service [document] (allAfrica.com)

2015 Manion Lecture

Hosted by the Canada School of Public Service

Shaw Centre, Ottawa, Canada

It is an honour to be invited to deliver the 2015 Manion Lecture, hosted by the prestigious Canada School of Public Service.

John Lawrence Manion, in whose honour this lecture is named, gave extraordinary public service to Canada. He began his career with the Department of Immigration, to which he devoted a quarter century of his career and where he rose to become Deputy Minister. He was the longest serving Secretary of the Treasury Board – a role he fulfilled from 1979 to 1986, before serving as Associate Secretary to the Cabinet and Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council.

In 1984, John Manion was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada. His last post was as Founder and Principal of the Canadian Centre for Management Development, which today is known as the Canada School of Public Service and is our host this evening.

The United Nations too has been served by outstanding Canadian citizens, including a former Deputy Secretary-General; a former UN Human Rights Commissioner; the current head of the UN University; two heads of the UN Environment Programme; and Professor John Peters Humphrey of McGill University, who helped to set up the UN Division for Human Rights and became its first head.

His first job was to support the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted at the end of 1948.

Professor Humphreys was its principal drafter and was instrumental in shaping this critical pillar of the UN’s mandate which stands in the triad alongside peace and security and development. Ever since 1945, Canada has contributed to advancing all three pillars of the UN’s mandate.

The United Nations Development Programme has long had Canadians serving at senior levels, including nine currently serving as UN Resident Co-ordinaries and UNDP Resident Representatives.

I believe we can say without doubt that the United Nations and our world as a whole are a better place for the dedication of the many Canadians who have entered the international public service.

Defining a new global development agenda

As many of you will be aware, a new global development agenda is currently being negotiated by Member States at the United Nations in New York. Tonight I will briefly outline what that agenda is about and the challenges to which it is responding, and provide some thoughts on the role of a professional and ethical public service in helping to deliver it.

There has been tremendous development progress since the Millennium Development Goals were launched at the beginning of this century. For example, between 1990 and 2010, the level of extreme income poverty in our world halved, and the likelihood of a child dying before their fifth birthday was nearly halved.

Most children in developing countries are now enrolled in primary schooling for at least some time. Maternal death rates are down – although nowhere near enough, and significant progress has been made on combatting HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. The goal set for access to improved water sources has been reached.

Canada’s contribution to this global progress has been particularly notable on basic education, and on maternal, newborn, and child health with a significant contribution being made through the launching of the G8 Muskoka Initiative in 2010.

Current challenges to development

Nonetheless, global challenges remain significant. More than 75 per cent of people in developing countries live in societies which are less equal today than they were in the 1990s. More than a billion people continue to live in extreme poverty on under US$1.25 a day. Gender inequality and sexual and gender-based violence remain pervasive.

Citizen insecurity is a significant problem in many countries. Countries and communities in conflict or those suffering disasters as a result of natural hazards can see their development gains vanish before their eyes. Radicalization and violent extremism have also become issues of national, regional and global concern.

The opportunity of 2015 for development

In 2015, there is the opportunity for UN Member States to resolve to tackle these challenges decisively. This is a “once in a generation” year for development, with four major global processes and summits related to development taking place.

They are: the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place in Sendai, Japan, in March; the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July; the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York in September where the post-2015 development agenda is expected to be agreed; and, finally, the vital UN climate change conference in Paris in December (COP21), where a new global agreement is due to be reached. There needs to be a high level of ambition for the outcomes from all these processes, given the magnitude of the challenges.

The new global agenda is shaping up to be a bigger, bolder, and more transformational agenda than the MDGs were – and that is needed. It will be a universal, sustainable development agenda, requiring commitment from all countries, developed and developing, to build a better future. Poverty, inequalities, and environmental challenges exist in rich and poor countries alike. Poverty eradication, lifting human development overall, and environmental sustainability will be at the heart of the new agenda.

Yet, such agendas remain mere words on paper unless they can be implemented. To do this, capacities need to be built, governance needs to be improved, citizens need to be engaged, and, while money isn’t everything, financing is required. It goes without saying that the contribution a competent civil service can make to driving this agenda is very considerable.

On defining financing needs, the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July is vital. While official development assistance remains essential for low-income countries, and can play a catalytic role in middle-income countries too, achieving sustainable development, as envisaged in the new SDGs, will require the mobilization of trillions of dollars a year – a level far above the $135.2 billion available through ODA.

Developing countries will need to grow their tax revenues, and be able to present bankable investment projects to attract significant private sector investment. Enabling environments for that need to be built more broadly – there is a strong governance and rule of law agenda underlying that. The role of a professional and ethical public service in achieving that is indispensable.

Citizen engagement on the design of the post-2015 agenda has been actively sought – not least through the 88 broadly based national consultations and eleven major thematic consultations facilitated by the UN development system, and through a global survey we sponsored in which more than seven million people have ranked their priorities for the world they want.

It comes as no surprise that jobs, education, and health services ranked as top priorities around the world. Yet it is also surely highly significant that honest and responsive governance came in fourth – which surely underlines the critical importance of having an effective and ethical public service in place. In countries classified as having “low human development” in UNDP’s Human Development Index, having honest and responsive governance was ranked as the number two priority by citizens participating in the survey.

Canada is among the many countries which have been actively engaged in the debate about post-2015. This country sponsored a major UN consultation on education, and was a member of the Open Working Group which drew up the proposed Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

Canada also had its own national conversation on the new agenda, co-ordinated by the United Nations Association of Canada. Nearly 18,000 Canadians ranked their priorities for the new global agenda in the My World survey; half of them were under the age of thirty.

In similar national conversations the world over, citizens are intimating that they don’t want their engagement with the new global agenda to be limited to providing input at the design stage. People want to be informed participants in development, and to be able to monitor progress and hold governments and other actors accountable for the commitments they make.

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets proposed for post-2015 clearly represent a very complex agenda. These are not merely an update of the MDGs, which were rather narrower in scope. In the end sustainable development requires comprehensive change across the ways we live and work, produce and consume, travel, generate our energy, and design our cities. It’s that breadth of vision which the SDGs embrace.

What will be vital though is that the unfinished business of the MDGs on the eradication of poverty and hunger and on meeting other basic human development indicators is carried over as a compelling priority for the new agenda. This is especially vital for low income countries – and for the poor in all countries.

For UNDP, it is very significant that the new agenda includes a goal – Goal 16 – on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. We have a strong mandate to promote democratic governance, and the rule of law and access to justice. We help build effective public administration because it is such an important driver of development.

The role of the public sector in implementing the new agenda

Overall, capable institutions are vital for implementing development agendas, and they certainly will be central to the achievement of the SDGs. Many of the 169 targets in the proposed new agenda therefore make implicit and in some cases even explicit reference to the need for institutional capacity. Building that is a development task.

As UNDP sees it, an effective public service in the 21st Century needs to embrace a culture of more dynamic interaction with society, with a strong focus on responsive, open, and participatory governance, and adherence to ethical standards. This is very much in line with global citizen expectations of being involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies and services for sustainable development.

The importance of having high performing public administration was recognised in the 2003 Resolution 57/277 of the General Assembly on Public Administration and Development. It stated that “an efficient, accountable, effective and transparent public administration, at both the national and international levels, has a key role to play in the implementation of internationally agreed goals, including the MDGs”.

The ideal is for public administration to be guided by principles of fairness, justice, accountability, equity, and non-discrimination. Innovations in participatory governance, however, continue to be viewed with suspicion where a political and bureaucratic culture has not traditionally been receptive to public input. A public administration may also perpetuate gender-based stereotypes, attitudes, and practices, leaving women under-represented in the middle and senior echelons of the service.

In implementing the new universal global agenda, all UN Member States will be faced with the challenge of building public administrations which can manage more complex cross-sectoral challenges. ‘Whole of government’ approaches will be needed, bringing together departments across sectors to analyse emerging challenges and determine how best to tackle them. That could be helped by allocating resources to strategic goals, rather than to individual ministries or departments.

Monitoring and evaluation capacity in public administration will need to be strengthened, along with systems and processes for collecting and analysing data in support of evidence-based policy-making. Public administration will need to be capable of foresight, and of making sound policy choices within complex scenarios.

At UNDP we see a competent and ethical public service offering many other benefits too.

First, it helps to improve public trust and confidence in the government’s ability to meet people’s aspirations and expectations. The ways in which the civil service interacts with people, provides information, delivers services, and enables citizens to participate in public policy discussions directly impact on how citizens perceive the legitimacy of their government.

Second, a credible and honest civil service is essential for building and sustaining the investor confidence which is vital for economic growth and poverty eradication.

Third, where the enabling environment for civil service recruitment, development, and promotion is based on fair and meritocratic practices, overall staff pride and motivation, as well as organisational performance, tends to increase. Corruption also tends to be lower, and public services tend to be of higher quality and delivered more efficiently.

Fourth and finally, meritocracy and ethics in the civil service can strengthen principles of non-discrimination and equal opportunity, and can help build a civil service which reflects the society it serves

UNDP has considerable experience in supporting countries to implement public administration reforms, and in promoting professional, transparent, and accountable public service. I have just returned from the annual Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan, where, with our support, several sessions were devoted to this theme. UNDP has a Global Centre for Public Service Excellence based in Singapore, and is hosting a Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana. Both exist to provide good advice and share good practice on building quality public administrations.

Some examples of our country-level work: in Georgia, Moldova, and Montenegro, UNDP has supported public administration reform and the bridging of capacity gaps in national institutions by introducing Capacity Development Facilities. These are innovative ways of providing on-demand technical advice at the highest levels of a civil service, together with training and capacity building, and funding for key priorities. Through these mechanisms, governments have gained access to senior level international expertise which would otherwise have been out of reach.

In Bangladesh, UNDP helped to deploy over 4,000 e-service centres and access points around the country to bring public services closer to local communities.

In South Sudan, UNDP, through partnership with neighbouring countries, facilitated the placement of around 200 civil servants from the region in newly formed government departments to help build skills and capacities of national civil servants.

Our work on combatting corruption is focusing on assessing the risks of it in those sectors which have a direct impact on the poor, including in health, education and water and sanitation. We are currently working in 22 countries on such risk assessments, and will begin assessing corruption risks in the security sectors, like the police, too.

We also help countries to develop tools for assessing the performance of their public administration against international standards and principles. Since 2008, with UNDP support, Vietnam has developed a Public Administration Performance Index which measures citizens’ experience of governance and public administration performance across six dimensions: (i) participation at local levels, (ii) transparency, (iii) vertical accountability, (iv) control of corruption, (v) public administrative procedures and (vi) public service delivery.

We are currently assisting Timor Leste to develop a methodology and toolkit for assessing the institutional capacity of its ministries and other state institutions.

Then, in collaboration with the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy, we have developed a self-assessment toolkit for measuring respect for rule of law principles in public service delivery. Emanating from international human rights law, the principles serve as indicators for qualitative and rights-based assessments of ‘good administration’ in the delivery of services.

In our experience, excellence in public service cannot be achieved without the support of reform-minded leaders who can promote a vision of continuous learning, innovation, and adaptation to meet the evolving needs of society. Canada’s Blueprint 2020, developed with the participation of many thousands of public servants, is a good example of such visionary leadership, underpinned, I understand, by four guiding principles:

an open and networked environment which engages citizens and partners for the public good;

a whole-of-government approach which enhances service delivery and value for money;

a modern workplace which makes smart use of new technologies to improve networking, access to data and customer service; and

a capable, confident and high-performing workforce which embraces new ways of working and mobilizing the diversity of talent to serve the country’s evolving needs.

South-South and Triangular Co-operation will have an important role to play in supporting developing countries to achieve the sustainable development agenda. Canada has a long tradition of contributing to knowledge exchange on governance and public administration reform through training, seminars, and technical assistance to developing countries. Its recent experience in developing Blueprint 2020 is a valuable experience to share with others – both developed and developing.

Applying the new agenda to developed countries

Before concluding, let me offer a few words on what this new agenda means for developed countries like Canada.

What the agenda clearly implies is that development is not just something which happens to someone else, somewhere else. The quest for attaining and sustaining high levels of human development is relevant to all countries.

A number of developed countries face significant challenges too – for example, on gender equality, where there is often a persistent gender labour force participation and pay gap; on social exclusion, where the socio-economic status of indigenous people and other minorities may remain persistently much lower; and in ensuring that education systems offer learning for life so that people can adapt to a fast changing economy and society.

Today’s developed countries generally showed scant regard for environmental sustainability and biodiversity on their route to advanced economy status. Not only must we mend our ways, but we must support sustainable pathways in developing countries to secure the future of our planet and the wellbeing of coming generations.


The last two decades have seen remarkable social and economic progress. The challenge of the SDGs will be to lift all people in extreme poverty out of it within a generation, and keep them out of it. It will be to turn the tide on rising inequality and to tackle entrenched marginalization and exclusion.

Environmental degradation must be addressed decisively, including by acting now on climate change. Better and more inclusive governance, effective institutions the rule of law, and effective conflict resolution leading to peace and stability are needed too. Broad coalitions committed to transformational change are needed.

These coalitions must include dedicated public servants. We need to move beyond the concept of “New Public Management” to a “New Public Passion” which helps all public servants to find job satisfaction in improving the prospects of their fellow citizens.

Right now, UNDP’s Global Centre for Public Policy Excellence in Singapore is working with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore on how to translate that aspiration into practice. Surprisingly little is known about what drives civil servant motivation. We aim to know more, and to help instill and renew a sense of passion for public service in civil servants around the world.

Tackling major challenges to the sustainable development of all our societies is what the post-2015 agenda is all about. For it to succeed, it must seize the imagination of peoples, governments, civil servants, civil society, and business, and very big partnerships must be built around its vision and goals.

The UN and Canada are working together in many ways to meet citizens’ aspirations for peace, progress, dignity, prosperity, and justice, and for the preservation of our planet. In 2015, this “once in a generation” year, we have the opportunity to put global development on an inclusive and sustainable course. The UN at age seventy and Canada are essential allies in making that happen.