Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Opening Ceremony of the World Civic Forum
Seoul, Korea, 5 May 2009

Excellencies,
Distinguished speakers and participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to join you in this important World Civic Forum on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon. The realization of this Forum owes much to the vision and hard work of the President and staff of Kyung Hee University. I offer my sincere congratulations to Mr. Inwon Choue, President of Kyung Hee University, and to the University staff for organizing the Forum.

I also would like to thank the Prime Minister Han Seung-soo of the Government of the Republic of Korea. I am delighted to see him among us today and am grateful for the productive cooperation between his government and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in the fields of development and governance.

Building a healthy civic life is about creating social capital and fostering trust, among citizens, and between citizens and government.

Civic engagement is at the core of civic life because social capital and trust require citizen participation in decision-making processes. As the Forum recognizes, civic engagement is also at the heart of the United Nations development agenda, an ambitious set of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

The UN development agenda links citizen engagement with development in three major ways: (i) unleashing a process of people-centred development, by aligning policies with the real needs of citizens, including effective service delivery; (ii) fostering open dialogue between communities and their governments, including a clear identification of development goals and challenges in national sustainable development strategies; and (iii) inculcating public accountability in governance, by increasing transparency in decision-making processes, including through effective methods of fighting corruption.

Let me give some examples to illustrate each of these linkages.

On people-centred development, the use of participatory budgeting to engage citizens can help promote pro-poor policies and improve the responsiveness of government to the needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens. The practice of enabling public participation in decisions over resource allocation and public expenditures undertaken in various provinces in Chinai has been instrumental in streamlining the public financial operations and decisions, which have centred on poverty reduction. Citizens know their needs the best and often have the most practical solutions to them. Participatory budgeting allows them to voice these needs and solutions in the decision-making process.

On open dialogue, there is the example of using e-government tools, which make it easier for citizens to find the information they seek and to voice the challenges they face. This contributes to improving development strategies because challenges are better known and alternative solutions are heard and discussed by citizens and governments through the virtual platforms.

On public accountability, promoting and facilitating the involvement of civil society, media and other stakeholders in the auditing of public programmes can help fight corruption and mismanagement. For instance, the portal of the Government of the Republic of Korea that is devoted to citizen complaints and requests provides access, through one window, to the Office of the President, citizen board sites, citizens’ group portals and the Ombudsman.

Citizen engagement is particularly important today, as we face a series of crises, from food insecurity, energy challenges and climate change to the global financial turmoil and economic downturn. Decisions on policies and strategies that are made without the participation of those who bear the cost of crises – that is, the citizens – can hardly be expected to be effective and sustainable.

At present, climate change and financial crisis are the most pressing issues affecting all citizens throughout the world.

The engagement of civil society will be essential to address the global threat of climate change and to put the world on a more sustainable development path. From the vantage point of citizen engagement, we also need to understand the linkages of climate change with poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals. The importance and urgency of these issues have been highlighted particularly since the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon declared 2009 as the year of climate change.

Regarding the financial and economic crisis, it is essential to unlock the reservoir of human potential through appeals to citizen engagement and participatory governance. We must also concentrate on anticipating the crises along with managing them. We need to be vigilant, and take the necessary measures to preempt crises before they arise. We must focus on assisting the poor and vulnerable because crises hit them the hardest. Hence the effort by the United Nations family of agencies and organizations to establish a UN system-wide vulnerability monitoring and alert mechanism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the global age, citizens need to engage with each other and with their governments. In the digital age, citizens need to share information in order to promote greater awareness and transparency. And, in times of crises, citizens must advocate and press for greater public accountability to ensure effective, sustainable and equitable responses.

It is exactly for these reasons that this World Civic Forum is so important. I am confident the discussions in this Forum will help to enlighten us on how best to put citizen engagement in the service of development.

Thank you.


i Wenlin in Zhejiang Province, Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, and Minhang in Shanghai.