Welcome remarks at 21st session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Mr. President of ECOSOC Ambassador Kelapile,
Madam Chair of CEPA,
Distinguished Members of CEPA, 
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I would like to join the ECOSOC President in welcoming you all to this 21st session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration. It gives me great pleasure to be among old and new friends, both virtually and in-person here in this conference room. Let me also extend warm congratulations to the Bureau members of CEPA. 

This new term for CEPA brings with it tremendous hopes and challenges. I have every confidence that you are up to the task, as the world’s eminent thought leaders in governance and public administration, and I thank you for devoting your time, expertise and energy to our common endeavour of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering on our promises to current and succeeding generations.

As some of you know, in September 2021, the UN Secretary-General put forward “Our Common Agenda”, a set of proposals encapsulating his vision of a future of global cooperation built on a reinvigorated inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism. In his words, “the choices we make today will determine whether we achieve a breakthrough in the form of a fairer and more sustainable future or sleepwalk into breakdown and perpetual crisis.” Intended to “turbo-charge” the achievement of the SDG of 2030 Agenda, the details of his report are being discussed by Member States. Several proposals relate to issues of concern to CEPA, including calls for:

A renewed social contract
Digital inclusivity
Accounting for the environment in economic models
Strengthening foresight and long-term thinking
Promoting anti-discrimination laws and policies
Tackling corruption and illicit financial flows

And of course: improving people’s experiences with public institutions and basic services, among others.

As my Department, UN DESA has emphasised in its recent policy briefs, by putting stress on national socio-economic systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened tensions and trade-offs among policy areas. In many countries heavily affected by the pandemic, this has revealed a lack of policy integration and coherence, both within and across sectors as well as across levels of government.

While activities geared to strengthening the capacity of public servants to implement the 2030 Agenda have multiplied rapidly since 2015, the available information does not offer a consolidated picture of how ongoing efforts have addressed gaps at the national level.

Your practical insights on these governance matters – and on how to address the linkages among them – are urgently needed.

Turning to the week ahead, the ECOSOC President referred just now to institutional challenges and opportunities related to climate change and the protection of natural resources. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns us that human-induced climate change is affecting the whole of Earth’s climate system in an unprecedented manner. UNEP also points out that biodiversity is declining at an extraordinary rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. Your early advice should be one of many catalysts that can help governments pivot towards a more sustainable future.

You will also take up the question of institutions and State-building in conflict-affected settings and consider lessons from Afghanistan. The longer-term time scale of State-building is well-known in UN circles yet not always at the forefront in crisis situations. What does this observation mean for agencies engaged in institution-building and the potential for durable gains in sustainable development when peace and security are a priority?

CEPA rightly points out that for most subnational authorities a lack of technical capacity to advance global commitments while also fulfilling routine government functions is a major challenge in the implementation of the SDGs. Your initial assessment suggests that the principles of effective governance for sustainable development provide a useful framework for improvements. DESA has developed a series of strategic guidance notes to take the Committee’s recommendations forward. and help operationalize the principles. , These primers can benefit many subnational governments that have  limited resources.

DESA, as the Secretariat of CEPA, is also very pleased to be working in partnership with the African Peer Review Mechanism in this critical area. It is a model of collaboration. I look forward to your ideas on how to further strengthen engagement with international and regional organizations in the application of the principles at all levels.

Later in the week, you will be discussing the connection between digital government and corruption prevention. Experience suggests that digital government will not solve all of the world’s corruption problems, and may introduce new ones, but it is worth recognizing the potential of technology, including artificial intelligence, to identify and constrain corrupt practices while pointing to some of the underlying structural problems that allow such practices to fester. It is an inspiring line of inquiry.

Finally, you will be examining issues in public financial management and budgeting for the SDGs, as well as questions of public sector workforce capacity and legitimacy. These turbulent times demand transparency, responsiveness and resilience in the public sector if trust in government is to be restored. Your in-depth analysis and comparative assessment of recent national experiences - for example in the response to and recovery from the pandemic -  can shine a light on what is possible and encourage others to accelerate action in these fundamental areas of public administration.

I recognize that many of you have been involved in the intersessional preparations and in the review of nominations for the 2022 UN Public Service. Your contributions are valued and appreciated.

This Committee has a critical role to play in setting a course for 2030. I wish you a productive session and look forward to your continued engagement with the United Nations throughout the year.
Thank you.

File date: 
Monday, April 4, 2022

Mr. Liu