SECOND COMMITTEE HEARS INTERNATIONAL PANEL ON PUBLIC-SERVICE REFORMS

1 November 2001
GA/EF/2971

SECOND COMMITTEE HEARS INTERNATIONAL PANEL ON PUBLIC-SERVICE REFORMS

01/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/EF/2971

SECOND COMMITTEE HEARS INTERNATIONAL PANEL ON PUBLIC-SERVICE REFORMS

Nations must emerge from their apparent frenzy for reforming public service institutions and allow time to assess changes made so far, a panellist said this morning during a discussion on “Challenges and Changes in Public Administration around the World”.

The time had come to examine the disruptive impacts of frequent public-service reorganizations and reforms, said O.P. Dwivedi, Professor of Public and Environmental Administration, University of Guelph, Canada.  Institutions needed breathing space to solidify gains made and to strengthen their organizational structure.  Because it was one thing to introduce reforms but quite another to make them stick, progress ought to be regularly and consistently assessed.

Organized by the Division for Public Economics and Public Administration of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the meeting was chaired by Francisco Seixas da Costa (Portugal), Chairman of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), and moderated by Guido Bertucci, Director of the Division for Public Economics and Public Administration.

Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara, President, International Institute of Administrative Sciences and Minister of Higher Education, Cameroon, discussed reforms in sub-Saharan Africa since the period of independence.  Efforts for efficient public administration in Africa had met with some success.  However, one persistent problem was that people tended to look at public administration as the business of someone else –- generally people in the capital.  A major challenge today was to ensure that people felt a sense of ownership in their public administrations.

Gérard Timsit, Director, Centre of Studies and Research on Administration, University of Paris 1-Pantheon Sorbonne, France, said that countries throughout Europe wanted to reshape their States, but that was a challenge involving more than just reform.  Globalization and decentralization had led to a transfer of State power to civil society.  The risk, however, was that criminal and destructive activity, such as organized crime, could also thrive in that environment.  Therefore, the reconfigured State was faced with the challenge of restoring internal unity.

Turning to Latin America, Maria del Carmen Pardo, Researcher at the Colegio de Mexico, said public administration had become an important space for political negotiation, serving as the intermediary between State government and civil society.  Recognized as useful in influencing economic growth, public administration should be more involved in distributing the benefits of development, with an emphasis on fairness.

Andrew Massey, Professor of Government, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, said public administration in the English-speaking world had often been informed by the common law tradition of limited government.  There had been a creative tension between the need for democratic accountability and the dynamic for efficiency and effectiveness.  The quest to reconcile that tension had been at the centre of a generation of administrative reforms, and would prove to be the enduring challenge of the future.

Introductory statements were made by Ignacio Pichardo Pagaza, outgoing President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences; and Michael Duggett, Director-General of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences.

Background

This morning, delegations gathered to take part in a panel discussion on “Challenges and Changes in Public Administration around the World”, organized by the Division for Public Economics and Public Administration of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

The meeting will be chaired by Francisco Seixas da Costa (Portugal), Chairman of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), and moderated by Guido Bertucci, Director of the Division for Public Economics and Public Administration.  Introductory presentations will be made by Michael Duggett, Director-General of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, and Ignacio Pichardo Pagaza, outgoing President of the Institute. 

Presentations will be made by Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara, Minister of Higher Education, Cameroon; Gerard Timsit, Director of the Centre of Studies and Research on Administration, University of Paris 1-Pantheon Sorbonne, France; Maria del Carmen Pardo, Researcher at the Colegio de Mexico, Mexico; Andrew Massey, Professor of Government, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom; and O. P. Dwivedi, Professor of Public and Environmental Administration, University of Guelph, Canada.

Introductory Statements

FRANCISCO SEIXAS DA COSTA (Portugal), Second Committee Chairman, said that the new challenges of public administration were quite clear.  Changes were required in the day-to-day life of the civil service to follow and adapt to new trends, such as globalization.  Among the common patterns around the world was the need to be accountable and productive, which was one of the main problems today.  He hoped the panellists would shed some light on those issues.     

IGNACIO PICHARDO PAGAZA, outgoing President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, said that in 1969, the Institute and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had conducted a review of public administration at the global level.  For that review, the Institute had prepared a questionnaire whose responses were reviewed by experts from the Institute, as well as by professors not part of its staff.  All the regions of the world were represented except Australia and New Zealand. 

One of the conclusions of the review, he said, was that public administration had advanced over the last decades.  It was possible to identify two types of modernization programme.  One was of a general nature, which attempted to modernize whole sectors of governmental apparatus.  The other consisted of institutional reforms.  While almost all countries had attempted reforms, not all of them had been extremely successful.  Today, almost all countries were interested in carrying out administrative reforms of an institutional nature.  Promoting administrative efficiency and reforms was at the core of public administration techniques.

The questionnaires also found that there were different states of progress, he continued.  There were some countries, mainly in western Europe, that were in the third generation of administrative reform.  Most countries were in the second generation, while many, including countries in transition, were in the first generation.  The first generation was like that which was in fashion in the 1960s and 1970s, involving a regrouping of institutions.  The second generation could be called new public management.  The third generation placed citizens at the centre of governmental concern, and involved ethics in public service, citizen participation and respect for the values and traditions of the country in any modernization programme.

He said that the most important conclusion was that the focus had changed from a comprehensive reform to institutional reform.  The other important conclusion was that respect for the values, traditions and culture of countries must be a prerequisite in any administrative modernization programme.  If that was not the case, the programmes were doomed to fail.  He hoped the participants would stress the positive steps taken and the progress made, as well as the deficiencies present in governments and public administration.

MICHAEL DUGGETT, Director-General of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, said that public administration was no more than the handmaiden of a good society.  It enabled the proper business of mankind, such as marriage, business, sports, work and child-rearing, to continue in a structure of security, in which someone else was designated to ensure order, to collect taxes, to watch rivers rise against the dams.  As an Institute, his organization had existed for 70 years to study such activity.

Based in Brussels, the Institute was dedicated to helping public servants, tax collectors, and others conduct their vital but unglamorous business more effectively, more economically and more efficiently, he said.  At present, almost 100 countries belonged to the Institute, which met their needs by offering advice, sharing best practices, enabling networking and giving those countries a chance to meet and share experiences in conferences held around the world.  The panellists today would share their knowledge on a wide variety of challenges and changes in public administration over the last five years.

Panellist Statements

JEAN-MARIE ATANGANA MEBARA, President, International Institute of Administrative Sciences, Minister of Higher Education, Cameroon, said he would examine reforms in sub-Saharan Africa since the period of independence.  Initially, young African States were committed to their survival following the departure of European colonial powers.  That period was marked by a return of many African elite that had gone to foreign countries for training.  The second period, from the mid-1960s to the 1970s, was marked by the broad expansion of public administration.  African countries began to create schools to educate future public administrators.  They realized that public administration created jobs and useful services for society, but that it also led to corruption.  There were tremendous difficulties in bringing this period of expansion to an end.

He said that in the late 1980s, there were structural reforms, which reduced the weight of public administration.  There were efforts to reduce wages and the number of jobs -– which did not always meet with a welcoming response.  The fourth period could be termed the period of governance programmes -– from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.  Those programmes ensured greater transparency and rule of law.  It was too early to determine the success or failure of that period.  There had been some good steps forward in African public administration, however, particularly in creating rules and regulations governing administration.

He added that one problem in Africa was that people tended to look at public administration as the business of someone else –- generally people in the capital.  A major challenge today was to ensure that people felt a sense of ownership in their public administrations.

GÉRARD TIMSIT, Director, Centre of Studies and Research on Administration, University of Paris, France, said that despite the differences in the countries of Europe, the changes and reforms in public administration in various countries were very similar.  There was a great amount of homogeneity of change, and that was evident from the focus of many of those reforms.  The focus had been on such issues as liberalization, streamlining, coordination, the need to strengthen the professionalism of civil servants, and the need to increase accountability.

The challenges facing European States now were in the areas of modernizing and rebuilding, he said.  Countries emerging from communist regimes depended on efforts to create the mechanisms of democracy, especially systems of laws.  Countries under dictatorial regimes were in need greater respect for the law.  But there was a risk of overestimating what the law could do to reform the State.  Clearly, there were limits to what the law could do without public consensus.

Another challenge was to reshape and build a new kind of State, he said.  Countries throughout Europe were eager to reshape their States, but that was an even greater challenge than were reform.  Globalization had been a major factor compelling States to change.  It had led to a transfer of State power to civil society because of decentralization.  The risk, however, was that criminal and destructive activity -– such as organized crime –- could also thrive in that environment.  States needed to meet that challenge.  They must operate to ensure the efficient conduct of global governance.  A reconfigured State would be faced with the challenge of restoring internal unity –- the unity of the communities it governed.

MARIA DEL CARMEN PARDO, Researcher at the Colegio de Mexico, Mexico, said that in Latin America the relationship between public administration and political systems could be one of complete subordination at one end of the spectrum.  At the other end, public administration could be seen as a place of considerable autonomy.  Latin America was not a homogeneous region, but in most of its countries there had been an evolution of public administration.

In Latin America, she continued, public administration had become an important space for political negotiation.  Public administration served as the intermediary between State government and civil society.  Chile had structured parties, while in Mexico, the building of the State had taken place around one dominant party.  The management of public affairs was becoming increasingly specialized and sophisticated.  Techno-bureaucracies proposed programmes for modernization, but rather than corresponding to the values of the majority of the public, those programmes only corresponded to the values upheld by specific groups.  That meant that while bureaucracies were strengthened, they were also increasingly politicized.

How did public administration evolve? she asked.  First, there was a regulatory framework, which served to justify the growing presence of government in the economy.  Those regulations could also be seen in the processes of deregulation designed to reactivate economies.  Secondly, there was the administration of development.  Public administration was recognized as a useful tool to influence economic growth.  Modernization also had a clear impact on programming and planning.  It was important for public administration to be more involved in distributing the benefits of development (with an emphasis on fairness) and to correct the excesses of earlier models.

Lastly, she said, there was the enormous effect of information and communication technology, which impacted the way work was done and the content of public administration.  The issue of connectivity, which had not been there in the past, was now present.  Technological development had become unusual in its strength and speed but had also led to important imbalances, not only in terms of general development but also in creating greater gaps within societies.

ANDREW MASSEY, Professor of Government, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, said that public administration in the English-speaking world had often been informed by the common law tradition of limited government.  Since the eighteenth century, there had been a creative tension between the need for democratic accountability and the dynamic for efficiency and effectiveness.  The quest to reconcile that tension had been at the centre of a generation of administrative reforms, and would prove to be the enduring challenge of the future. 

There were many metaphors to describe a country’s public administration, he said.  Some commentators spoke of it as though it was a machine, while others referred to it as the software or the wiring -– which, when programmed and booted-up, ran the processes of the State.  Perhaps the most telling was the one used by the American analyst, Don K. Price, who referred to administration as the “seamy side of sovereignty” and of politics.  It was what made constitutions actually work.  The tradition in the English-speaking world, and in North America in particular, was to recognize the potential power of government, and to be aware of the opportunities to abuse that power.  Hence government was limited, indeed fettered. 

He said there had been a wealth of work done on exploring the impact of the global economy on individual States and the resultant loss of sovereignty.  In terms of governance, it manifested itself in the growth of supranational institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.  The challenge was to reform political institutions to take account of the need to engage in government through consent, while allowing decisions to be taken and implemented. 

The core of the reforms that had taken place in the English-speaking world over the last two decades, he said, had attempted to address the contradiction between the absolute requirement for democratic control and accountability and the desire for greater efficiency and effectiveness.  While the two did not always sit easily side by side, sit together they must.  

O.P. DWIVEDI, Professor of Public and Environmental Administration, University of Guelph, Canada, said the time had come to examine the disruptive impacts of frequent public service reorganizations and reforms and programme changes.  It was clear that the work was not finished with implementation alone, because there was a danger of backsliding.  Without ongoing nurturing, reforms tended to fade away.  Nations must emerge from what looked like reform frenzy and allow breathing space for public service institutions to solidify gains and strengthen their organizational structure.  

Reform efforts must periodically slacken in order to see what gains had been made thus far, he added.  States also needed to undertake a regular, periodic, assessment of progress made.  Because it was one thing to introduce measures of reforms but quite another to make them stick, progress ought to be regularly and consistently assessed.

Neither had enough attention been paid to weaknesses in governments’ management control frameworks, he said.  For example, the accountability of administrative heads of departments was still not transparent, especially when they were transferred from their posts too often and too soon.  To make those administrative heads responsible for achieving results, they should also be held accountable for creating an innovative and vibrant atmosphere for their public servants.  That was needed because in the final analysis, it was through the efforts of such public servants that results could be achieved.

GUIDO BERTUCCI, Director of the United Nations Division for Public Economics and Public Administration, said it was clear that you could not prescribe the same medicine for different symptoms.  There were some countries with established public administrations that had existed for decades and even centuries.  Other countries were attempting to start from the beginning -- they were trying to create a new set of rules for public administration.  There was strong skepticism over the one-size-fits-all approach.  Some innovations in public administration were to some extent useful to all countries.  But the important thing was to customize.

United Nations efforts to improve public administration were focused on customizing reform efforts for the specific environments of countries, he said.  However, those efforts depended also on public consensus for reform.  There were a number of basic principles and guidelines that could be applied to all countries.  Those included electoral integrity, codes of conduct for public employees, and public accounting and auditing standards.  The United Nations could also help in information sharing and dissemination of best practices.  The United Nations Public Administration Network was an online network to link national ministries, so that policy makers could have access both to successful and to negative experiences.

The United Nations also helped build capacities in various countries, he said.  Those capacities were in institutional, human and technological areas.  Information technology in particular could be a major factor in the delivery of public services.  Another important area to stress was the place public servants had in a society.  Those positions were often seen as being less desirable than others.  Public service had to remain an important value for countries and governments.  To recognize the importance of public service jobs, the United Nations had established Public Service Day, and the Secretary-General had established an award for contributions to enhancing the work of public services. 

Question and Answer Session

Responding to a question on collaboration between the public and private sectors in the delivery of services in the context of globalization, Mr. MASSEY said that governments on the whole were not very good at delivering all kinds of services.  What they were good at was providing a sound legal framework in which the private sector could operate and correcting market failures.  Public/private partnerships should be looked at within that context.  In areas where there was a good private sector, the public sector did not need to intervene.

Asked how developing countries could maintain and better coordinate reforms, Mr. BERTUCCI replied that it was important to create the institutional capacity for reform within governments.  There should be a group tasked with coordinating and reviewing reform programmes, so that reform was an ongoing process and not a one-time issue.  The capacity to change and address change was crucial for all developing countries

Mr. DUGGETT said experience had suggested that leadership was crucial for successful reforms.  Also important was a group of committed and well-connected people in the middle.  Patience and courage were needed to push programmes through, since there were no instant results.  Furthermore, any administration had to work with the grain of the culture in which it operated.  Introducing aspects of other cultures was usually not successful. 

Addressing the role of the public and private sectors in the utility sector, Mr. MASSEY said that it depended on the aims of the society -- which changed over time and from place to place.  Many utility sectors were nationalized because of a lack of private-sector capacity to deliver those services.  Thus, it had often been in the public’s interest to establish a state monopoly. 

However, he continued, changes in technology were such that ways must now be explored to enable companies to deliver utilities in a way that benefited society, and did so efficiently.  One way was to change the culture of organizations by privatizing them, which would free up both resources and access to markets.  It depended on the country concerned.  To ensure that there was no abuse of privatization, it was necessary to introduce a regulatory system which held companies accountable.  It made more sense to have the public sector deliver those services which they could deliver better than the private sector.

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For information media. Not an official record.