With its broad focus on macroeconomic policies, the principal mandate of the G20 lies in the stability of the international economic and financial system and prevention of catastrophic economic shocks. At the same time, there has been an increasingly holistic recognition within the G20 that economics cannot work in isolation, deeply interconnected as it is, with other factors such as political stability, security, governance, societal peace, culture, and the environment. Today, the international community better understands and appreciates the vital links between democracy, rule of law, good governance, security, human development, and economic prosperity. Successive G20 summits have repeatedly spoken that strong and effective institutions of governance and law enforcement are required to create stable and predictable environments for businesses and investors, to help combat corruption, money laundering and other forms of financial crimes that undermine the stability of the global economy itself.
There are interesting studies, making use of the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, that have concluded that effective governance and law enforcement and stronger rule of law institutions have a positive impact on economic growth. They conclude that social, human development and financial indices are positively correlated; countries with more robust governance and enforcement institutions tend to have better social and human development outcomes such as higher life expectancy, higher literacy rates and higher standards of living. Conversely, nations with dysfunctional and abusive governance and law enforcement institutions that operate in an atmosphere of impunity and corruption, suffer lower productivity and see fewer economic opportunities. Such institutions cannot provide credible protection or justice to their people; in fact, they endanger democracy and breed political instability. What should be the priority of the global community? Strengthening the institutions of rule of law, good governance, accountability and other key enablers of peace and justice should be on their priority list. It is a truism that threats to peace and justice constitute threats to sustainable development and they must be addressed.
The crucial importance of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) is to be seen in this context. Ever since the United Nations adoption in 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, there has been a clear and consistent recognition among G20 leaders that realization of the SDG targets is crucial to the G20’s own foundational mission of achieving sustainable and balanced growth. Of the 17 SDGs being pursued, SDG16 is not only seen as an enabler for all other SDGs but also as a globally recognized development objective. A determined focus on SDG16 could also help bring about a globally coordinated policy response to the looming threats to the national and international financial systems.
Herein lies India’s opportunity in shaping international governance. There are hopes and expectations that India would leverage the tremendous political power that the G20 commands, towards addressing some of the lingering problems that afflict humanity. From her G20 leadership platform, India should strive for universal agreement and cooperation to tackle all forms of transnational crimes, as these pose a threat to global financial security and stability. The G20 has significant cohesiveness and the institutional capacity to coordinate and align policies and actions among its member countries, apart from the ability to drive concerted action on key global priorities. A well-crafted plan for international cooperation for the implementation of SDG 16 should also envisage financial and technical assistance to countries that require external support and assistance in capacity building. The immense potential of digital technology is another huge opportunity that the international community possesses today, to pursue this goal.
Of course, SDG16 is not all about combating and defeating crime. It is also about building robust and inclusive institutions of rule of law, access to justice and participatory governance. Much of the SDG 16 mandate is deeply political in character. Modernizing and reforming the institutions of governance and even combating certain categories of crime are highly political subjects in many countries, the handling of which would require sagacity, persuasive power and statesmanship. Considering the scale and ambition of the targets, the task may look formidable. But procrastination is no option and a beginning needs to be made. It is always possible to begin with actions that are politically acceptable and least contentious. The low-hanging fruits, if you will.
On the domestic front, India needs to walk the talk as well. The aspects of policing and criminal justice systems that require reform and modernization have already been identified by a plethora of past commissions and committees on the subject. Post-independence, India has done much towards strengthening her institutions of governance and rule of law, but much more needs to be done in terms of addressing issues like corruption, inclusive and participatory development and access to justice to the marginalized communities. While these are ongoing domestic processes that India should separately handle and address, there are a series of actions that she needs to initiate, clearly articulating her commitment to the SDG 16 goals. India is also in a position to share her experience and successes in controlling crime and terrorism and promoting peace, justice and strong institutions that can be replicated in other countries.
Some suggested steps:
1. Establish a task force dedicated to the implementation of SDG 16 goals.
2. Develop a comprehensive national action plan in partnership with the States, with clear targets and timelines.
3. Build capacities and resources at the grassroots and State levels.
4. Make clear policy directives for increasing public participation in governance, including measures such as community policing.
5. Promote transparency and accountability in governance.
6. Strengthen the justice system, speed up the justice delivery process and promote access to justice for all sections of society, addressing issues such as affordability, discrimination and marginalization.
7. Regularly monitor and evaluate progress in the implementation of SDG 16 Goals. Make corrections and adjustments as needed.
As the largest democracy, India has the credibility and the moral authority to lead the international community towards this crucial aspect of global governance. India has a powerful political presence and a voice on the world stage; and she is widely admired for her commitments to peace and justice.
India at the helm of G20 should seize the opportunity to animate all members of the forum to invest in building robust and inclusive institutions in every country, capable of effectively striking at the roots of terrorism and terror funding, trafficking of humans, narcotics and weapons and every other form of transnational crime and cartel that have a destructive impact on global development. SDG 16 provides the most legitimate framework for achieving this. Above all, India should champion the timely implementation of SDG 16 targets across the world, towards achieving inclusive governance and access to justice for all. The essence of SDG 16 goals distils the Prime Minister’s vision of sab ke sath, sab ka vikas. It is an extraordinary opportunity for India to take the lead and play its historic role in building a more sustainable, equitable and safer world.
(Exclusive to NatStrat)