Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Fifth Global Forum on Reinventing Government Mexico City, Mexico 3-6 November 2003

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to inaugurate the Fifth Global Forum on Reinventing Government. At the outset, I wish to convey greetings from the UN Secretary-General. I would also like to convey his appreciation to the people and the Government of Mexico for hosting this Forum. The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the issue of governance. He has asked me to deliver his message, which reads as follows:

“I am delighted to send my best wishes to this Global Forum on Reinventing Government, which provides a unique platform for facilitating the exchange of experiences related to improving governance and strengthening public administration.

It is widely recognized that good governance is essential to our ability to reach the Millennium Development Goals. It is also understood that good governance requires the state, civil society and the private sector to work better together so as to be more responsive and accountable to the citizenry. That means the public sector must challenge itself continuously to improve the way it does business.

There are no ready-made, one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges of governance. Governments must find initiatives that best address their particular concerns and fit their own development agendas. Mexico, the gracious host of this Forum, is pursuing an “Agenda for Good Government” that focuses on “doing more with less”. You will thus have an opportunity to learn from Mexico’s experience – and to strengthen South-South cooperation in sharing best practices and forging alliances.

The United Nations will continue to work closely with Governments in developing countries in our joint quest for better, more effective governance as a means to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I hope this Forum will help equip you with new tools and fresh approaches. In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful meeting.”

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the emerging challenges of governance in a globalizing world.

Globalization is the defining feature of our times. It is generally associated with liberalization of markets, international financial flows, trade, technological innovations and greater social interaction across borders. But it is a multi-faceted phenomenon with political, security, socio-economic and cultural implications that are redefining the context in which we operate. It is generating negative and positive consequences, producing winners and losers, creating opportunities and posing new challenges for all.

The Heads of State and Governments that came together at the Millennium Summit recognized that the central challenge is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people. They also recognized that this would require action by States at all levels. To help drive the effort to enable the poor to benefit from globalization, the Summit adopted a series of clear, time-bound, development targets, which were subsequently consolidated as the Millennium Development Goals. They are a measurable set of human development benchmarks that can provide clear indications of whether the world is managing to build more inclusive and equitable globalization called for in the Millennium Declaration. The Declaration acknowledged that success in meeting these objectives depends on good governance.

Governance entails a process of interaction among the state, civil society and the private sector. In this troika, the state has a pivotal role. In the domestic areas, the state assumes a great number of functions, including maintaining peace and security within and outside national borders, creating an enabling environment, providing public goods, protecting the environment, ensuring social stability and welfare, and promoting human rights. These functions cannot be performed by any other actor. Hence, the earlier notion that globalization, marketization and increasing cross-border flows make state an anachronism is proven wrong. The State remains the key actor at the national and international levels.

But the context has changed and the State has to find new and effective ways of performing these functions. Moreover, civil society and the private sector are dynamic and innovative. They have moved very rapidly to adjust to this changing context and they expect the public sector to respond to these challenges in the same manner. Therefore, the public sector should continuously reinvent itself.

First and foremost task for the public sector is to find ways to overcome the state capacity deficit, which is crucial for enabling the state to manage the challenges of governance in a globalizing world. State capacity largely depends on the strength and agility of the institutions, flexibility in the administrative structures and processes, the quality of government and the ability to innovate and respond to new situations.

It is widely recognized that democratic institutions form the core of a dynamic system of public administration. The public sector should be accountable, transparent and responsive to the needs of people. Its administrative structures and processes should be inclusive and participatory. This would help in generating community ownership of the State policies leading to effective implementation and better results. Ownership will also be stronger if the institutions are home spun. Considering the diversity of nations and national needs, the forms of the institutions should be tailored to meet the specific requirements of each country.

Furthermore, it is the quality of normative, strategic and operational interventions of the government that hold key to effective public administration. Quality is a composite of several different attributes like effectiveness, equity and efficiency. It largely depends on knowledge, skill, political leadership, integrity, trust and the ability to capture and reconcile divergent group interests. Quality government works on the principle of catalytic government in which the public officials are challenged to partner with citizen groups and social organizations to identify solutions and deliver public services effectively.

These elements form the foundation of the state’s capacity for effective governance. Since 1999, each Forum has focused on different dimensions of public administration like democratic institutions, e-government and partnerships for democracy and development. This session of the Forum is designed to look at the issue of state capacity deficit in a somewhat holistic manner by focusing on the theme of “Innovation and Quality in the Government of the 21st Century.”

A whole range of innovative approaches has been adopted to overcome the state capacity deficit. Re-inventing government is all about those approaches. One such approach that has gained currency in the recent years is the emerging field of e-government, which is driven by ICT. E-government is generally seen as a means to improve participation, transparency, flexibility, decentralization and a tool for making public administration citizen-centred.

It is expected that information technology and the Internet will transform public administration in the digital era. In the traditional bureaucratic paradigm, public managers focus on internal productive efficiency, functional rationality and departmentalisation, hierarchical control, and rule-based management. In contrast, under the e-government paradigm the public managers should shift from emphasizing producer concerns, such as cost efficiency, to focusing on user satisfaction and control, flexibility in service delivery and network management with internal and external parties.

It is also believed that the new technologies will allow the citizen new access to the levers of power in government. As more information reaches the citizen, the greater potential for them to influence and make informed choice regarding how government touches their lives. That potential could redefine the meaning of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

But how far these expectations have really been fulfilled? What are the conditions in which e-government can become an effective tool for providing quality government and for overcoming state capacity deficit? Of late, these issues have become topics for in-depth analysis and discussion. The 2003 UN World Public Sector Report focused on the theme of “E-Government at the Crossroads” and UN Global E-Government Survey, which will be formally launched in this city tomorrow, provides an interesting perspective on these questions.

Currently, there are 173 governments that are using Internet for their operations. Most of them are developed country governments. But in terms of creating people-centered government websites, countries from the South, particularly from this region has done very well. This includes not only countries like Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil but also the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Chile is, in fact, ranked 22 in the global E-government Readiness Ranking and it is ranked second in terms of its web-content.

There are plenty of examples of truly successful and well-focused e-government applications the world over. A patient in a remote village that benefits from government-sponsored tele-medicine application; a teacher that faces students empowered by access to a vast database of knowledge; a citizen researching on the Internet information provided by the government in order to make a better-informed political choice during the forthcoming elections. These are all milestones of human empowerment that the e-government has made possible. The UN has been a leading proponent and supporter of e-government.

But e-government can only produce these results if it is allowed to function in an enabling policy environment. Application of ICT cannot or will not help in overcoming the state capacity deficit or produce other desired outcomes, unless the overall government policies are geared towards establishing a public administration that is accountable and citizen-centred. E-government is really at the cross-roads and there is a growing perception of a big “delivery gap.” This could be attributed to three major reasons.

Firstly, application of ICT cannot improve or increase the amount of public value in the absence of a clear commitment by the State to produce public value. For example, if a government does not pursue human development, it will not achieve it by applying ICT. Similarly, e-participation may become the single most important act of people’s emancipation to date. But ICT alone cannot produce this positive change. It can do this if it becomes the technical part of a vastly revamped platform for genuine participation. In this context, the results of the UN survey are most revealing. According to the Survey, out of 173 governments with on-line presence, only 15 encourage and provide electronic facilities for commenting on public polices and activities.

Secondly, countries are developing online capacities that surpass the ability and interest of consumers of public services to use e-government. There are expensive on-line e-government applications that do not serve the desired purpose. Digital divide, lack of skills and resources do create a gap between the service capacity developed by governments on line and consumer response.

Thirdly, in certain situations, there is a discrepancy between what people want and what many governments deliver. For them, the “cutting-edge” story is not about the wonders of ICT. But what they want is a profound process of reform and change of the public administration and an alignment of government operations with production of public value. This is what would enable them to exploit the potential of e-government, particularly in managing globalisation.

The delivery gap in e-government flows from the delivery gap in “brick and mortar” governance and public administration. By and large e-government development in the world is reflective much more of inherited capacities, institutions, policy frameworks and policy focus than of seizing the new opportunities offered by ICT. Further efforts to reinvent government through Internet usage needs to go beyond purely technical concerns in shaping information technology management.

It is amply clear from this short overview that there is no single solution or short cut for overcoming state capacity deficits. E-government is just one of the many tools that would need to be deployed to reinvent government. There are larger questions that would need to be addressed by adopting a comprehensive approach to the issues of governance at the national and international levels. These issues cannot be settled in cyberspace but would require action in real time and space.

Some of the essential elements of a comprehensive approach have been identified in the Government of Mexico’s Presidential Agenda for Good Government. I believe that such an approach if tailored to the specific needs of each region and every country will provide an effective framework for pursuing the task of reinventing government and promoting good governance at all levels.