“I think that it’s very easy to think of governance only in the sense of holding elections and then stopping there and thinking that we’ve done all we can in the building of institutions, but it’s not,” said Sofia Borges, the Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations. “It’s a long process, and it also comes down to capacity.”
“If you want to have ownership of your development agenda, you need to be able to know what it is that you’re owning and how to ensure that you can implement that going forward.”
Speaking to the International Peace Institute’s Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Ms. Borges said that inclusive governance and effective institutions form a strong foundation for peace and stability in fragile states. “The key to all of this are institutions that are founded on principles of rule of law and inclusion,” she said.
As an ambassador of a small state, Ms. Borges said that it’s very difficult to have a voice at the table with the way the international system operates currently. However, during discussions on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, she noted that small states have been very vocal and have used the system to ensure that their interests are fully reflected in the new frameworks.
The conversation was part of a series of interviews done on the sidelines of the inaugural retreat of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM) on February 19-20.
Listen to the interview:
In our conversation on the multilateral system today, we’re looking at social inclusion, political participation, and governance. In your view, how are these issues linked to sustainable development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda?
Timor-Leste has been one of the strong advocates on Goal 16 in the OWG, the Open Working Group process, and we have been very strong in advocating for the role of institutions in the re-building of fragile states . We believe that if you have inclusive governance, you have effective institutions. This forms a very strong foundation for peace and stability in the country and is a mechanism for ensuring the ability of governments to deliver services to the people and to ensure that the voices of the vulnerable are heard. The key to all of this are institutions that are founded on principles of rule of law and inclusion.
And as you’ve said, Timor-Leste is engaged in a process of building political institutions in an inclusive way. Can you give some examples of this process and its impact?
It’s been a learning process. In the past ten-plus years, we’ve had setbacks, but what has come through is that there is a need for engagement and inclusion at all levels and participation. I’ll give you a really good example, a recent example, of a transition of power in my country without incident. It was a transition of leadership from the sitting prime minister to a member of the opposition party to replace him. It’s an effort to ensure that the next generation are given a decision making role in government, and it’s also a way of preparing for the future and ensuring this stability is ongoing and sustainable.
You’ve spoken about the importance of bridging the institutional silos that often divide peace and security, development, and the rule of law. How can the UN and multilateral actors achieve this?
I think the Peacebuilding Commission and the configurations are a good way of building and ensuring that the three interlinked areas are made better use of and ensured greater success in the countries that they engage in. In Timor-Leste we felt that you needed to have peace first in order to be able to start thinking about building credible, strong institutions before you could even go on to the normal development trajectory path. I think that it’s very easy to think of governance only in the sense of holding elections and then stopping there and thinking that we’ve done all we can in the building of institutions, but it’s not. It’s a long process, and it also comes down to capacity. If you want to have ownership of your development agenda, you need to be able to know what it is that you’re owning and how to ensure that you can implement that going forward without the luxury of having advisors come in and do that for you because that’s what will ensure the sustainability.
As the ambassador of a small state in the multilateral system, I’m curious of how you think these principles of inclusion and ownership should be applied at the international level.
The way the system operates at the moment for small states [makes] it’s very difficult to have a voice at the table. Small states are only called upon when our votes are needed on an election, and we’re very high profile and much sought after, but one of the interesting developments for us during the discussions on the Post-2015 Development Agenda is that small states have been very vocal and have used the system to ensure that our interests are going to be fully reflected in the new framework, and it hasn’t been easy. But you can see that the usual, traditional group block dynamics that you would see in the past in negotiations have not played out 100 percent and that small states have been much more vocal and willing to form different alliances in different contexts to further their agenda and ensure that this new framework is actually the framework that is universal and for all of us.
Thanks so much for speaking with us today.