"Governance is indispensable to development efforts"

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Four questions for Jean-Christophe Charlier
Head of BTC’s Governance unit


The existence of a Governance unit may seem strange at first sight. Why would developing countries ask for assistance from you? 

This is not strange at all. On the contrary, where governance is lacking or when a country’s institutions do not function properly, development efforts turn out to be expensive and ineffective. To me, governance is indispensable to development efforts. And our partner countries are aware of this, because we receive many requests in this sense. In addition, you must also know that the governance covers a broad field of activities. We intervene in such areas as security, justice, citizen participation, migration, human rights, civil registry management or the implementation of a fair fiscal system in view of providing public authorities with own resources so they can carry out their duties. For this we rely on existing public or sometimes private Belgian expertise as much as possible. 

Does organising security really fall under governance?

Of course! Governance concerns all activities of public management. It consequently concerns the three powers: The legislative power, which lays down laws; the executive power, which implements them; and the judicial power, which ensures compliance. 

So, the organisation of security is also an area in which we can support our partners. For a country to develop, it is important that its citizens feel safe and protected. And in many countries there still are unsafe regions and there is a need to strengthen the existing security systems. We actually have expertise that we can offer in this respect. For instance, Belgium has developed a neighbourhood policing concept, which is close to citizens and their concerns, with the famous ‘neighbourhood agent’, who is on the streets and not only rebukes and reports, but also interacts with people, feels the pulse of the neighbourhood and resolves disputes between neighbours… Burkina Faso called for Belgian expertise in this area. 

In another area, we received a request from the Government of Benin, which wanted to merge its ‘gendarmerie’ and police entities. So, we organised training sessions with the people who managed a similar merger between these two entities in Belgium. The idea was to share the lessons learned from the Belgian experience with Benin’s decision makers. This second case actually exemplifies another concept that is important to us: We do not claim to hold the truth in our hands. We just have experiences that we can share and we reflect with our partners on good practices that they can apply in their situation.  
"Putting in place good governance is the best guarantee for effective development policy implementation."

Are there other areas in which Belgium can provide specific know-how? 

Today, in many countries the leadership is aware that the institutions need to be closer to the citizens. But putting this idea in practice very often remains a real challenge. Yet, in Belgium for many years we have been putting in place a multi-layered public management system, which – among other things – aims to narrow the gap between public authorities and citizens. Today, in Belgium, 80% of public expenditure is spent at other levels than the national level. 40% of public investment is managed locally. So, we can share our experience with multi-level public management mechanisms, even though we know these do not always run smoothly. 

Another area in which we have often worked over the past few years is the strengthening of the rule of law. At all levels it is essential to ensure that rules are clear, respected and complied with by all. For instance, an entrepreneur who wants to invest demands clear and stable rules. S(he) must be sure that, where rules are not respected, an independent and effective judicial system ensures that entrepreneurial rights are asserted. This is an indispensable condition for economic development. And the rule of law is obviously also important every day for citizens. 

Finally, we can also advise our partners in organising the legislative power. The Parliament of Burundi for instance consulted us in this regard a few years ago: In view of speeding up the legislative work, it wanted to install a system of commissions, such as the one we have in Belgian Parliaments. For this project we worked with Belgian Members of Parliament who shared their know-how. 

This focus on governance is quite recent, isn’t it?

In fact, governance came up in the 1990s. But it took quite some time for the approach to pervade into the institutions. For instance, the UN Millennium Development Goals did not address governance when they were launched in 2000. But now, ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’ is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in its 2030 Agenda. The mentality is changing, which is excellent. I can only repeat that putting in place a good governance framework is the best guarantee for effective development policy implementation. 

Working on governance has also become indispensable considering development cooperation increasingly has a political dimension. Accompanying change in our partner countries is a process that is political as well technical. This implies that, in addition to the technical questions of change, also the interests and influences of the various actors must be considered. This implies that matters such as inclusion, cohesion, participation, accountability and fairness are taken into account.    

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