Statement to the Ninth Session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Mr. Chairperson,
President of the Economic and Social Council,
Distinguished Delegates and Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address this year’s opening session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome our experts appointed to the Committee as eminent scholars and practitioners of public affairs. Your mission is to support the work of the Economic and Social Council in promoting effective public administration among Member States. I thank you for your participation and I wish you success in your responsibilities.

I am also delighted that the President of the Council is attending the opening session. His presence attests to the importance of the Committee in supporting the development work of the United Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This ninth session of the Committee will focus on the challenges and opportunities for public administration amidst the financial and economic crisis. The Committee’s work this year is especially important and demanding. The crisis has underscored that market economies, when left to grow unfettered by sufficient regulations, can cause catastrophic damage. Clearly, improved government regulation and better public administration is needed to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in - and to prevent similar global crises from happening again.

The role of public administrators, therefore, has never been more critical as the President of ECOSOC eloquently expressed in his statement. Indeed, polls show that in some countries, trust levels in public institutions have hit all-time historic lows. This lack of trust is evident in developing as well as developed countries. Indeed, some of the most developed countries need the most reform. While their people have suffered from unemployment and lost savings, the greatest pain from the crisis has been felt in developing nations.

This crisis, therefore, has created a great opportunity for public administration specialists. Let us grasp the negative circumstances in front of us and elevate public administration as a tool for sustainable and equitable development.

Members of the Committee,

As you discuss the challenges laid out for you in the Note by the Secretariat, please keep in mind that we need to address the root causes of the financial crisis. The dominant trend has been to focus on the symptoms rather than the causes. Increased public spending and bail-outs for ailing institutions can alleviate current pain but cannot prevent recurrences. Time spent on sophisticated economic formulae and mathematical modelling to address today’s problems may help, but more time should be spent on ensuring that formulas for tomorrow are sound.

The root causes of the crisis can be seen in many aspects of public administration. I will highlight a few of them that need special attention.

First of all, Governments need to adopt better regulation of their financial sectors. This point is not new. It has been discussed before. But it cannot be over-emphasized. Serious deficiencies in regulatory institutions were central to creating the mess that we are in, especially those in advanced market economies. There is a moral and political imperative for change at this time, and your input is needed on how to effect change.

What are your lessons learned from these regulatory failures? How can monitoring be enhanced so as to avert a next crisis? Can an early-warning system be created? How can developing countries introduce stricter financial regulations? And how can the international community help them?

Committee Members, please speak to these questions from your rich expertise and varied vantage points. Please make specific and concrete recommendations to Member States on financial reform.

A second aspect of public administration that needs your attention is leadership.

The magnitude of the financial crisis has left many government leaders lost in terms of how to communicate with their citizens. There is a lack of understanding about the need to release accurate financial information to the public. In some cases, misinformation has led to more mistrust and even weaker markets. Governments need to publicize their socio-economic and financial indicators and their policies clearly. They need to present their interventions in timely, well-thought out ways.

Please make recommendations that point to the power of smart, strategic information strategies in public administration. Member States need to know how important they can be in reversing the tides of mistrust and pessimism.

Finally, and most importantly, I ask you to focus on the social implications of the crisis. In 2009 the financial crisis pushed the number of hungry people to over 1 billion worldwide. That represents one sixth of humanity. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 children have died of malnutrition in Africa because of the crisis. By the end of 2010, an estimated 64 million people will have joined the ranks of those who live in extreme poverty – surviving on one dollar and twenty-five cents a day.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These statistics paint a bleak picture, especially for countries in the South that lack social safety nets. In all countries, however, the crisis affects groups in unequal ways. The risk of unemployment differs by gender, skill sets and education levels. The risk of falling into poverty or dropping out of school differs for children from different households.

Public administrations need to be innovative in tackling these inequalities. Some have opted for a piecemeal approach. Separate instruments and financing is put in place for targeted groups. On the other hand, the advantages of system-wide measures for social protection have become quite clear.

How should we advise countries looking to advance social protection? Which circumstances warrant focalization? Which need universal approaches? What policy considerations are attached to each sphere? Please help us hone our guidance to Member States on these questions.

Distinguished Delegates and Members of the Committee,

While many governments and private organizations have already tackled the financial crisis, your input is unique. You represent diverse niches in public administration. You represent many nations but you are here for a common goal of helping all nations. CEPA is the only body in the United Nations dedicated to the debate of public administration issues. ECOSOC counts on you to provide credible and creative policy options for better governments, stronger communities and a brighter future for all.

Your input is especially crucial this year as we prepare for the High-level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in the upcoming General Assembly.

I thank you in advance for your hard work and collaboration. Rest assured that we, the United Nations Secretariat, remain committed to assisting you with outmost energy and determination on that path.

File date: 
Monday, April 19, 2010
By Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs