Clark was speaking earlier this week at a side event of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations in New York. The event is the first to specifically monitor progress on the 17 SDGs, which were agreed by the UN in 2015.
She said institutions that are effective and accountable will play a central role in achieving the SDGs and highlighted that many of the 169 targets of the programme directly reference the importance of institutional capacity.
The focus should on building strong public administrations that can manage complex cross-sectoral challenges, Clark said.
She listed particular challenges as being inequality, marginalisation, discrimination, and corruption, and said the presence of these “undermines social cohesion – and maintain wide gaps between states and citizens”.
Public administrations should also be able to translate goals set by the global community into national policy that can be rolled out effectively. Clark identified this process of “domestication” of the SDGs as an important means by which nation states take ownership of them, and engage the range of stakeholders involved in making them happen.
To this end, data should be gathered and analysed in order to monitor performance. This will also enable nations to identify who is left behind, and how implementation can be modified accordingly. Clark stressed that “disaggregated data” was vital to effective policy-making, because it allowed politicians to hear the voices of the vulnerable and marginalised.
Clark said that the United Nations Development Programme had much experience of supporting countries on the road to stronger, more accountable institutions. She cited the examples of Georgia, Moldova and Montenegro, where the organisation has helped to initiate reform aimed at bridging gaps in capacity. Capital development facilities, she said, offered on-demand technical advice for the civil service as well as training and funding.
The UNDP also helps countries develop tools for assessing the performance of their public administrations against international standards. For example, working with Vietnam, the organisation has developed a Public Administration Performance Index to measure citizen’s experience of government and public services.
A Gender Equality in Public Administration initiative is also working with national and regional governments to promote better representation of women in all levels of public service.
In the case of fragile governments, and those in the midst of crisis, or recovering from one, Clark said that restoring the core functions of government was the key priority, as well as building institutional capacity to manage the recovery process.
Clark cited Somalia, where the UNDP partners with the World Bank on a flagship Capacity Development Programme to assist the government in strengthening core functions, particularly on aid management.