DESA News Vol. 11, No. 6 June 2007


Trust in government

Trust in government

Confidence in government – rooted in transparency, accountability, and effectiveness – is a better predictor of support for national policies than partisanship or ideology.

As governments have seen people’s trust slip worldwide over the last decades, it has become apparent that the rulers and the ruled do not always speak the same language. Despite efforts to foster the social contract between the two, enhancing public confidence in political processes and the institutions of government is still a pressing concern. Such is the premise of the 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government to be hosted for the first time by the United Nations, from 26 to29 June in Vienna. Conference participants will explore innovative strategies for improving governance with a view to ensuring the legitimacy and sustainability of democratic systems.

The forum will examine trust in political institutions from different angles, from accountability, transparency and access to information, to participation and inclusion of all sectors of society in the political process. These are seen as the basic components of good governance and prerequisites to democratic legitimacy. About 2,000 participants – among them heads of state, prime ministers, parliamentarians, representatives of international organizations and civil society organizations – are expected to take part in the plenary sessions, workshops and other side meetings that make up this year’s conference. DESA’s Division for Public Administration and Development Management is organizing the event together with the Government of Austria.

With the 2015 on the horizon, the conference is also being framed as part of the continuing effort to reach the Millennium Development Goals. “Governance and public administration contribute to each of the Millennium Development Goals as they provide a process through which they can be implemented,” says Shabbir Cheema, coordinator of the Forum in the Division for Public Administration and Development Management in DESA. That process stresses strengthening state capacity and improving the quality of governance.

Prosperity and confidence in the State

The achievement of development objectives depends on the capacity of governments to garner wide support and implement public policy effectively, according to an aide-memoire which DESA has prepared for participants. This capacity has a lot to do with the reliability and credibility of policies and institutions.

In the economic sphere, for example, what really matters is that the government itself be credible in its commitment to making changes that remove institutional obstacles to growth, according to the 2006 World Economic and Social Survey. At the same time, “a necessary condition for progress in good governance is the resumption of sustained economic activity that generates the space to improve institutions,” points out José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “As societies succeed in transforming their economies, so too do governance institutions progress – as an indispensable ingredient to further development and as the outcome of increased demand from domestic constituencies for such improvements.”

Yet when things go wrong, with governments unable to deliver adequate services, with jobs, income and many basic services failing to meet growing public expectations, incumbents get blamed and lose people’s trust. Two of the forum’s plenary sessions on 26 June will deal precisely with those concerns – one on citizen expectations and trust in the State and another one on building trust through better access and service delivery. Addressing this subject is urgent: More than 50 percent of Latin Americans, for example, are willing to sacrifice a democratic government in exchange for real social and economic progress, according to a 2004 UNDP report on Democracy in Latin America.

Accountability more important than ideology

Dissatisfaction with democracy has certainly proved to go hand in hand with very low levels of confidence in government, as Peri K. Blind, an expert associate in DESA, indicates in her study on building trust in government in the twenty-first century. Blind’s study shows that the level of dissatisfaction with government was found to be 65 percent in Western Europe, 73 percent in Eastern and Central Europe, 60 percent in North America, 61 percent in Africa, 65 percent in Asia Pacific and 69 percent in Latin America in 2005. Furthermore, trust in government by itself has now become an independent predictor of support for government policies, “more important than partisanship or ideology alone,” says Ms. Blind.

Transparency and accountability are the main requisites of trust and good governance, according to the study. At the same time, rule of law, an independent judiciary, free, fair and regular elections coupled with legitimate parliamentary processes, a healthy and engaged civil society, fighting corruption and appearances of corruption, local governance and decentralization as well as e-governance all underpin the transparency and accountability that promote trust in the political system. All of these subjects will be discussed in the plenary sessions and capacity development workshops programmed for the four-day conference.

The best of 2006

A political intervention, stresses Ms. Blind, can only foster trust and encourage good governance if it is transparent, open and built on the principle of accountability – that is, its architects can be held responsible for their actions. Several countries have devised innovative solutions to accountability and other governance problems. The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan is a case in point. The government of this country has endorsed and implemented the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international effort that follows from the Lancaster House Conference in London in 2003. The result has been high standards of transparency and accountability in oil and gas revenues.

Since the Oil Fund of Azerbaijan expects to take in more than 150 billion dollars over the next 15 years, a significant portion of government revenue, ensuring financial transparency in the oil industry will be pivotal to promoting investor confidence in the country as a whole. Cooperation in Azerbaijan between the government, extractive industry companies, and civil society, based on a formal memorandum of understanding, has also demonstrated that inclusion of civil society can help validate important government policy and smooth implementation. Azerbaijan is an example of how some government organizations are leading by example improving transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the public sector.

The Lebanese Ministry of Finance has also taken a big leap forward in the delivery of services. The taxpayer services function of the Lebanese Revenue Administration has metamorphosed over the last few years. Manual management of taxpayer records was transformed into an automated function with dedicated offices, redesigned procedures and trained staff. Changes resulted in growing customer satisfaction, a higher rate of voluntary tax compliance, a reduced number of disputes, greater revenues to the Treasury, and enablement of e-taxation.

In Kenya, an extensive system of performance-based contracting has been put in place to address a style of public sector management that emphasized process compliance over results. So far, 4,000 public officials have been trained in the new approach. The change was introduced in a set of pilot with sixteen state-owned enterprises in 2004. The effect was remarkable and unprecedented. The enterprises involved in the pilot recorded an increase in pretax profits of up to 282 percent over the previous year and 13 percent over the targets. Performance contracts have also proved to encourage responsiveness and accountability.

The achievements of Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Kenya along with those of other ten government organizations will be recognized during the Forum with UN Public Service Awards. All winners have demonstrated an outstanding contribution to government innovation.

Practical solutions to everyday problems

The Forum is a laboratory for new ideas and policy development. It should therefore come as no surprise that restoring trust in government through innovation is at the heart of the first of the seven capacity development workshops featured on 28 June. Innovation shifts the picture “from what the State should do to how it should do it,” in the words of Adriana Alberti, chief of the Programme for Innovations in Governance and Public Administration in the Division for Public Administration and Development Management in DESA.

“Instead of debating what the problems are, government officials wish to move the debate forward to how they should solve the problems they encounter on a daily basis,” Ms. Alberti explains. Sharing practices is useful to inspire people who look for solutions on governance problems while paving the way for the future transfer and adaptation of innovations. That is not, however, the same as embracing a one-size-fits-all solution to governance problems. One of the plenary sessions on 27 June will spotlight the especially challenging cases of crisis and post-conflict countries, which require additional efforts.

Innovation is not a luxury of countries with developed administrative systems. Successful practices have been set in motion in all corners of the globe, as the growing number of applications for the UN Public Services Awards has shown. Some initiatives have been replicated taking the shape of South-North cooperation. An integrated public services system launched by the State of Bahia in Brazil was, for example, recently adopted by Portugal, Mozambique and South Africa.

The Forum’s plenary sessions will be attended by Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Executive Secretary of ECA, Abdoulie Janneh, the Director of the UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention Recovery, Kathleen Cravero, and Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, Chair of the UN Democracy Fund. Numerous civil society organizations and high-level political leaders will also take part in discussions on methods of boosting public trust and preventing government alienation from citizens.

For full information on the 7th global forum on reinventing government, including a comprehensive agenda and the list of speakers, please visit .

Mr. José Ocampo Deepening the intellectual foundations of economic and social affairs

José Antonio Ocampo takes stock of his four-year tenure as Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs

Mr. José Antonio Ocampo leaves the helm of DESA at the end of June after almost four years of service. When Mr. Ocampo arrived in September 2003 to head the department, he brought with him years of experience as a scholar, Minister of Finance, Planning and Agriculture, and Executive Secretary of ECLAC. Among his main aspirations was to recover the department’s former capacity to lead the intellectual debate in economic and social issues. A priority was to support member states achieve their agreed international development goals “by providing analytical inputs, facilitating policy development, extending technical cooperation and ensuring a coordinated UN system approach.”

Mr. Ocampo’s vision for the department was to serve all member states as a “global think tank on economic and social affairs” just as ECLAC does for the countries of its region. He also set out to unify the department, or to use his words, to turn DESA “from a set of independent republics into a federation.” Four years later, Mr. Ocampo’s legacy as Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs includes a decisive impulse to the UN Development agenda – a term he himself coined – and to DESA’s analytical and normative role. In his view, DESA has also made long strides towards becoming the global think tank that he envisioned. Both the department’s publications and the debate at the Economic and Social Council have indeed seen their analytical level rise under Mr. Ocampo’s leadership. But he is aware that becoming a global think tank cannot be achieved overnight: “It takes at least ten to 15 years to consolidate that process.” The path towards a DESA federation is also now shorter, but, as he admits, there is still a long way to go to improve coordination among the department’s divisions.

All in all, he feels that there is more that the Department could do, particularly in publishing the outcomes of many excellent substantive forums and meetings for a broader public. Likewise, he recognizes that, under his watch, major progress had been made in creating an effective multilingual UN website on economic and social affairs, but that more needs to be accomplished in the years to come, particularly in terms of obtaining the buy-in of all UN economic and social entities, so that the site becomes an inclusive UN economic and social portal - a single, jointly-owned entry-point to all their websites and knowledge resources.

Raising DESA’s academic profile

One of Mr. Ocampo’s main achievements has been to raise the Department’s academic profile. Flagship publications such as the World Economic and Social Survey and the World Economic Situation and Prospects have deepened understanding and analysis of issues of current concern in the development debate. So has the Report on the World Social Situation, which broke new ground with the release of its much-acclaimed 2005 edition on The Inequality predicament. Economist Dani Rodrik has praised the World Economic and Social Survey 2006 on diverging growth and development as the best report on this issue produced by an international organization he has ever read.

He has ensured that many good DESA reports, especially those that once had a limited, almost only internal circulation, have gained a broader external audience and are now also the joint product of various divisions. “I will be working to ensure greater collaboration between the secretariats of the functional commissions,” Mr. Ocampo had heralded at the beginning of his tenure. Sure enough now, DESA flagship reports such as the World Economic Situation and Prospects and the World Economic and Social Survey include contributions from the regional commissions and UNCTAD.

A decisive step towards UN reform

Under Mr. Ocampo’s watch and discreet guidance, a major reform of the Economic and Social Council is underway, with the launch this year of the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum. These new functions that global leaders granted the Council at the 2005 World Summit, according to Mr. Ocampo, “ must enable ECOSOC to serve as a bridge between policy-making and implementation,” and serve “to build a culture of accountability at the intergovernmental level as exists in other organizations so that all Member States are encouraged to live up to their commitments.”

A champion of ECOSOC reform, Mr. Ocampo views the Council’s new functions as pivotal to help the body fulfill its Charter mandate, and become a more effective force for coordination, policy review, and dialogue on development issues. “Coordination within ECOSOC,” he stresses, however, “is not an end in itself. It serves to improve the delivery of services to Member States and their peoples.”

Complementing the intergovernmental processes, Mr. Ocampo’s role as chair of the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs, has helped bolster coordination efforts within the secretariat. Working through 11 thematic clusters ECESA brings together all the department and programme heads in the economic and social areas.

At a time when achieving coherence in the UN system is high on the Organization’s reform agenda, Mr. Ocampo highlights the many efforts undertaken in building good relations with UNDP and ILO, among other agencies and entities, and his having acted as the “ambassador” of the United Nations regional commissions in New York.

Missions to Bolivia

Mr. Ocampo’s role as Under-Secretary General has involved advising the Secretary-General on sensitive matters of political economy. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, appointed him as his special envoy for Bolivia between 2004 and 2006. Mr. Ocampo advised the Government of Bolivia as it faced troubling political and economic challenges during those years, and advocated the creation of an Economic and Social Council to institutionalize economic and social dialogue. This Council has now been ratified by the President and is currently under discussion in the Constitutional Assembly.

Mr. Ocampo also assisted the Bolivian Government in the design of its National Development Plan. At the end of 2005, at the request of the newly elected President Evo Morales, he advised the Government on economic and planning policies and coordinated a group of experts to assist in other areas.

An integrated approach to economic and social development:

At the beginning of his tenure Mr. Ocampo strongly emphasized DESA’s mandate of “promoting an integrated approach to economic and social development,” and has consistently called for the “integration of social objectives into economic policy-making, as key to achieving inclusive development.”

Among other notable achievements that round out Mr. Ocampo’s legacy are his championing the theme of international migration at the intergovernmental level before and after the 2006 summit, his placing regional financial arrangements on the international agenda, shining the spotlight on the challenges of middle-income countries in a March 2007 conference co-hosted with the Government of Spain and a set of six policy notes to advise countries in formulating their national development strategies as called for by the 2005 World Summit.

Any major frustrations? Not really. Mr. Ocampo is glad that “all the processes I began are on track,” in particular ECOSOC reform. Yet, he acknowledges that much of the departmental work involving coordination still needs to be consolidated.

Coming home to academia

After his many achievement-filled years in international public service, Mr. Ocampo now returns to academia, where, as he is fond of saying, “my heart has always remained.” He is rather unique among civil servants for having combining his senior international duties with a steady flow of acclaimed academic publications – “a very difficult task,” as he readily admits. As of July of this year he will be Professor Ocampo at the School for International Public Affairs at Columbia University where he will share his knowledge and experience on development and global economic governance with a new generation of aspiring public servants and doctoral students, and be a fellow of the Committee on Global Thought.

He will regain what he misses most: the pleasure of being a professor as well as having time to read and write freely. “There is an almost paternal relationship between professor and students that is very fulfilling and I will be happy to live it again.” Indeed, he recognizes he will miss the team work in DESA and “the capacity to mobilize a large team’s resources.” Academic culture, as he points out, is in contrast very individualistic and is composed of many “lone knights”, rather than consensual teams.

Be that as it may, the comforting prospect for all those who have worked with him is that he is merely moving uptown and that he will, from his new vantage point, continue to deepen, as he has always done, the intellectual foundations of economic and social affairs.

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