Mr. Thomas Gass Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

Opening Statement at the
United Nations Public Service Forum and Awards Ceremony

Minister Plasterk,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to open the 2017 United Nations Public Service Forum.

We are gathered in the Hague, the city of global peace and justice. I cannot think of a more suitable place to celebrate the United Nations Public Service Day.

I wish to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you, Mr. Minister, to your Ministry and to the Government of the Netherlands, for hosting this Forum. Thank you also for the dedication, efficiency, collegiality and creativity that marked our cooperation over the last months. The imposing World Forum Convention Center where we are gathered today only attests to the impressive organization of this high-level event.

Two years ago, Leaders of all countries gave themselves 15 years to transform our world. They adopted an ambitious set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide us through this unprecedented endeavor.

The SDGs call for both domestic and international measures in each country – developed and developing. They reflect the aspirations of all countries and of the many stakeholders that informed the negotiations on the 2030 Agenda.

The SDGs are extremely ambitious. They aim to achieve universal access to many public services. They aim to stimulate action for People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships.

The challenges we face in delivering on the promises of the 2030 Agenda – our shared vision of humanity – are tremendous. But so are the improvements it would bring to people’s lives. We have 13 years left to make good on this promise. Time will pass very quickly. As the title of our meeting states, the future is now.

Governments have the lead role to implement the SDGs. They have the responsibility to act and to galvanize actions by civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders.

Shifting the world to a sustainable development path and improving the lives of all people, including the poorest and most vulnerable, requires a transformation of institutions. We will not go very far if we only tinker at the margin. Only a major shift in the way governments deliver on their functions can rebuild people’s trust in their government, which has been faltering in so many countries.

People demand a new approach to governance and public service delivery. As one example, during the consultations on the 2030 Agenda, combatting corruption was among the top aspirations people expressed.

This is why the 2030 Agenda commits to making institutions effective, inclusive and accountable. In other words, fit for purpose. This is enshrined in the 16th SDG. But this goal is critical for realizing every single SDG.

Effectiveness can be understood as the Government’s ability to fulfill its intended role and produce actual results to improve people’s well being. It translates into the adequate and timely provision of public services … in healthcare, education, transportation, water, sanitation, security, and many others. It also relates to policies in other areas, from macroeconomic to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

Inclusiveness refers to involving people in decision making on policies and public services delivery. It also refers to the key principle of the Agenda, to leave no one behind and target the furthest behind.

Accountability refers the Government accepting its responsibility and reporting on its actions. Accountability is highly related to reviewing progress. It calls for giving people the tool to hold public institutions to account. It is also closely linked to ethics and integrity. It may be pursued by the establishment performance criteria for public sector institutions and public servants.

Together, these three pillars of effective governance remind us of why we first embarked on the journey towards sustainable development, and how high we need to aim.

Reaching the SDGs and transforming our world requires the action of Governments, the mobilization of civil society and the private sector, and an unprecedented engagement of civil servants.

Civil servants are privileged. They have a unique power to improve the lives of the people they work for – within their constituencies no matter how small – or for society at large.

To transform institutions and put people at the centre of public service, we need to mobilize the best expertise of public servants. We need to mobilize their creativity, and empower them to take risks and try new ways of doing things. In brief, we need innovation so that no one is left behind.

Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,

Governments are innovative. As we prepared for this Forum, we saw an impressive set of innovations emerging from the applications for UN Public Service Awards. We will celebrate the winning cases tomorrow along with UN Public Service Day.

Indeed, I know that we will hear about many more innovations during our discussions here, notably in the Forum’s eight Thematic Tracks … on employment, health, energy, water, children and youth, the marginalized, cities, and the circular economy.

We will also reflect on what drives innovation, notably leadership, participation, accountability, cooperation and technology. And, together, we will determine the actions that can shape the kind of government we want. A government that listens to the people, takes inspiration from their multiple ideas, and shapes a world that responds to their aspirations.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations pays tribute to the countless public servants who are dedicated to excellence in serving people. We encourage them to commit to the SDGs and apply their creativity and imagination to pursue the SDGs and ensure the kind of inclusiveness, transparency and accountability that can bolster people’s trust in their institutions.

Ultimately, the achievement of the SDGs will ultimately require commitment to the people and children of this world, that the 2030 Agenda is not just a new deal among nations, but a solemn promise to its people.

Let us make this shared vision of humanity our common cause.

I look forward to engaging with all of you during the next two days of the Forum.

Thank you.

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