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In the community of nations, governance is considered “good” and “democratic” to the degree in which a country’s institutions and processes are transparent. Its institutions refer to such bodies as parliament and its various ministries.  Its processes include such key activities as elections and legal procedures, which must be seen to be free of corruption and accountable to the people.  A country’s success in achieving this standard has become a key measure of its credibility and respect in the world.

Good governance promotes equity, participation, pluralism, transparency, accountability and the rule of law, in a manner that is effective, efficient and enduring.  In translating these principles into practice, we see the holding of free, fair and frequent elections, representative legislatures that make laws and provides oversight, and an independent judiciary to interpret those laws.

Women in Sudan posting announcement on bulletin board

The greatest threats to good governance come from corruption, violence and poverty, all of which undermine transparency, security, participation and fundamental freedoms.

Democratic governance advances development, by bringing its energies to bear on such tasks as eradicating poverty, protecting the environment, ensuring gender equality, and providing for sustainable livelihoods. It ensures that civil society plays an active role in setting priorities and making the needs of the most vulnerable people in society known.

In fact, well-governed countries are less likely to be violent and less likely to be poor. When the alienated are allowed to speak and their human rights are protected, they are less likely to turn to violence as a solution. When the poor are given a voice, their governments are more likely to invest in national policies that reduce poverty.  In so doing, good governance provides the setting for the equitable distribution of benefits from growth.

The UN system works closely with governments to achieve these ends. It also works closely civil society, a term which encompasses a wide range of organizations and groups from the private sector having varying interests and objectives, including professional, business, service, religious and recreational bodies.  (Adapted from a UN Cyberschoolbus briefing paper on governance)

"...as we all know, infrastructure is not just a matter of roads, schools and power grids. It is equally a question of strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law. Without accountability, not only of the government to its people but of the people to each other, there is no hope for a viable democratic State. ."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
Remarks to the Security Council on Timor-Leste
19 February 2009

The UN system promotes good governance through many avenues. The UN Development Programme (UNDP), for example, actively support national processes of democratic transition.  In the process, it focuses on providing policy advice and technical support and strengthening the capacity of institutions and individuals. It engages in advocacy and communications, supports public information campaigns, and promotes and brokers dialogue. It also facilitates “knowledge networking” and the sharing of good practices.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) promotes good governance through its programmes of  lending and technical assistance.  Its approach to combating corruption emphasizes prevention, through measures that strengthen governance. The IMF encourages member countries to improve accountability by enhancing transparency in policies, in line with internationally recognized standards and codes. In its work with poor countries, the IMF emphasizes adequate systems for tracking public expenditures relating to poverty reduction. In its regular consultations with its members, the IMF also provides policy advice on governance-related issues.

The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), established in 2005, supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. The bulk of its funds go to local civil society organizations, both in the transition and consolidation phases of democratization. In these ways, it complements the UN's work with governments to strengthen democratic governance worldwide.

The United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN) was created to set up an internet-based network to link regional and national public administration institutions. Its facilitates the exchange of information and experience, as well as training in the area of public sector policy and management. Its long-term goal is to build the capacity of these regional and national institutions, with the aim of improving public administration overall.

Through such measures as these, the promotion of good governance now runs like a thread through all UN system activities.