Statement delivered by UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Christine Evans-Klock at the opening of the Ghana Urban Forum
I would like to thank the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for organizing this Urban Forum today. It is very well timed to broaden national discussion ahead of the ninth session of the World Urban Forum next month in Kuala Lumpur, which provides opportunity for many countries to share information about their experience thus far in Localizing the New Urban Agenda.
Over the last three years, we have seen a substantial increase in the prominence of urban development on the global stage. I think this rightly reflects the heightened concern of a growing number of UN Member States about the accelerating pace of urbanization in their countries and the debate about how turn this to advantage.
For example, sustainable and equitable urbanization is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Urbanization features in the Paris Agreement on combating climate change. And urban development is itself the focus of strengthened international commitments under the New Urban Agenda.
There is a consistent message now on the interlinkages between urbanization, sustainable economic development, climate change and human rights which has brought the world together in a more optimistic and industrious vision of the positive outcomes of well-designed urbanization.
After the successful celebration of Habitat III and the agreement on the New Urban Agenda, countries are now fully engaged in the implementation phase.
I appreciated the informal sharing of views that the Ministry organized earlier this week, and I think that a common message emerged around the critical importance at this juncture of implementation, enforcement and coordination.
In other words, there is already a lot of agreement about what needs to be done and there is commitment to get on with it.
Today’s theme “promoting spatial planning as a pre-requisite for Ghana’s current industrialization drive” is thus very welcome. The New Urban Agenda recognizes Urban and Spatial Planning strategies as having the potential to transform cities and accelerate inclusive economic growth.
Ghana’s achievements in developing urban policy are impressive, and Ghana remains one of the few countries in Africa to have developed such policies. Ghana has an opportunity to continue that leadership by overcoming implementation constraints.
I hope that the presentations and discussion today will in fact be light on enumerating challenges and weighty on considering practical ways forward.
And in that line, I would like to focus my brief remarks on just three aspects of implementation, namely: financial resources, accountability, and partnerships.
Let me take up financial resources first, as it may seem to be the biggest challenge. Great plans without the means to implement them do not have much impact, except in generating frustration. But financial constraints call for innovative solutions, not shelving the plans because the funds did not easily materialize.
Innovative solutions often focus on local revenue generation. And there is indeed much potential in empowering local authorities to moblise local resources. But there is a caveat. And that caveat is about fairness. It is a basic problem in public finance that people often feel that the paying of the taxes or fees comes long before they see the benefits, in terms of availability of reliable, quality public services the taxes are supposed to pay for. So, there is a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Which comes first? Visible connection between paying taxes and fees – those sources of local resource mobilization - and accessing appreciated local services is one way forward.
Where public-private partnerships have the potential to deliver critical urban services, such as in garbage collection, drainage maintenance, or building new businesses and industries, there needs to be fairness in who benefits – the public part of that partnership must ensure that local services and economic opportunities benefit all segments of society, that women participate in decision-making, that minority communities have effective voice.
One way to help ensure fairness might be found in increasing accountability. There are high expectations in Ghana these days about devolution of power – an objective that has been articulated by HE President Akufo-Addo.
Greater local accountability for development results logically accompanies greater local empowerment to raise resources locally and to invest those resources in improving local public services and infrastructure and economic development and jobs. This is a logical building block of inclusive cities.
Greater local accountability could also potentially improve enforcement of zoning regulations, business registration, property taxation, utility payments, etc, so that they have the intended impact and are sustainable because they are seen to be implemented fairly.
The third pragmatic issue is likewise rather obvious. It is easy to agree that managing such a multifaceted challenge as urbanization requires broad partnerships and coordination among many public actors. It is a truism that investment in one aspect of urbanization, such as in spatial planning, must be coordinated with other aspects, such as incentives and regulation of local industry, markets, and public green space. Progress in one aspect can aid progress on another.
But the opposite is also true: Lack of coordination means that investments made in one aspect can be undermined by lack of progress in another. Housing, social services, local jobs, transportation infrastructure all have to link up. It is one thing to say that roadsides need to be clear of vendors in order to ensure public safety. But, again, that chicken and egg problem arises: which comes first – clearing the roadsides or building alternative safer marketplaces where vendors and customers can easily find each other?
Plans do take this inherent inter-connectedness and mutual-dependence into account. One of the greatest potential benefits of good planning is that it builds common understanding of the importance of the different roles and responsibilities of the different public entities.
Sustaining that understanding, acting on it consistently, requires attention at the highest levels of government: to ensure that funds match mandates and responsibilities, and to maintain communication and mutual-accountability among stakeholders.
I am happy to congratulate Ghana that its vision for the future, articulated through the Coordinated Programme for Economic and Social Development Polices, integrates the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda.
The UN partnership programme for the next 5 years, titled the UN Sustainable Development Partnership, which is being finalized now, is anchored in this Coordinated Programme and its implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063. UN Agencies in Ghana are committed to supporting Ghana in realizing safe, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable cities, SDG 11, and in taking a coordinated approach in supporting industrialization, environmental protection, private sector-led growth for decent work, and expansion of essential public services in under-served areas.
We look forward to Ghana’s national SDG Report for 2017, which will provide the baseline for measuring progress in the prioritized targets under each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goal. Having good data on indicators that have been selected to use in monitoring progress is very important. The Report will no doubt make the best use of existing data and may well identify priorities for improving data generation and use. The analysis in the report can be a basis for identify where implementation of national plans and the SDGs is lagging and thus help set priorities for development partnerships in implementing urbanization and other key national development strategies.
I trust that the very interesting agenda that has been organized for today’s Forum will indeed explore ways of sustaining effective coordination and cooperation between different urban stakeholders and constituencies in order to advance implementation of the sustainable urban development agenda in Ghana.
And I also hope that your representatives will be able to convey these commitments and ideas to the World Urban Forum in Malaysia next month. This international knowledge-sharing will benefit other countries who can learn from Ghana’s experience, and perhaps some new ideas will be shared that could be adapted to help achieve Ghana’s ambitious urbanization goals.
As our Chairman for the Forum, Mr. Joseph Hayford, President of the Ghana Institute of Architects, said this morning, what we are really talking about is places that nurture the human spirit, and I agree that we need to keep this vision through the discussion on implementing urban development plans and meeting economic, infrastructure and housing needs for everyone.