Photo:Left: UNDP Montenegro/Milos Vujovic Middle: UN Women/Ryan Brown Right: UNICEF/UNI338937/Vinay Panjwani
Left: In Montenegro, a programme financed by the European Union and implemented by UNDP and UNICEF brings social services to vulnerable populations. Photo: UNDP Montenegro/Milos Vujovic | Middle: A mother displays the newly acquired birth certificate, which opens the door for her daughter to attend school, Cameroon. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown | Right: A health worker explaining proper handwashing technique to a woman, India. Photo: UNICEF/UNI338937/Vinay Panjwanin

Today, as we honour these essential workers and so many more, we must also reflect on how to better protect, recognize and invest in their well-being as we build back better, together. And I say directly to these inspiring public servants: We are all deeply indebted to you for your remarkable acts of service to humankind.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

On the frontlines: honouring public servants in the COVID-19 pandemic response

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected more than 180 countries, infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people. In addition to the health implications and loss of life, the pandemic has strained health care systems, disrupted the education system, wreaked havoc on businesses and economies, led to job losses and disrupted social life with lockdowns, curfews and other stringent measures aimed at containing the virus being put in place globally. All this has happened in the context of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for which public service and public servants are critical.

From frontline healthcare workers and public health officials to teachers, sanitation workers, social welfare officers and more, the humble public servant has been thrust into the spotlight, helping elevate awareness and understanding of the critical role public servants play in everyday life, and in particular during times of severe crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

To honour the work of public servants globally and focus on the critical role frontline public servants have been playing in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety of the Republic of Korea are organizing UN Public Service Day, 23 June, and hosting an outreach and resource platform from 15-30 June.

 

Public service

The role of public service and public servants during the COVID-19 pandemic

For the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to be achieved, effective delivery of public services is needed, including in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If not contained, the pandemic will jeopardize meeting the 2030 deadline, by diverting resources from development efforts to crisis response. The public servant sits at the heart of ensuring effective response to the crisis, whether as a frontline worker in healthcare, or in devising strategies and plans to mitigate its impact.

Origin

On 20 December 2002, the General Assembly designated 23 June as Public Service Day by adopting resolution 57/277.

UN Public Service Day celebrates the value and virtue of public service to the community; highlights the contribution of public service in the development process; recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue careers in the public sector.

To bolster recognition of the Day and the value of public service, the United Nations established the UN Public Service Awards (UNPSA) programme in 2003, which was reviewed in 2016 to align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UNPSA aims to promote and reward innovation and excellence in public services by recognizing the creative achievements and contributions of public institutions that lead to a more effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide in support of sustainable development.

Each year UN DESA organizes the Forum with a host country, using the event to host capacity-development workshops, the UN Public Service Awards ceremony and a Ministerial Roundtable. Drawing together roughly 800 to 1,000 participants, the Forum is a space for world leaders, Ministers, and other senior decision-makers to debate emerging issues and trends, discuss good practices, strategies, accelerated actions, and innovative approaches for effective service delivery and transforming institutions.

Public institutions for the Sustainable Development Goals

Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is recognized by SDG 16 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda also recognized that governments have the primary responsibility for implementing the SDGs and ensuring follow-up and review over the coming 15 years, at the national, regional and global levels. One of the first steps governments take to implement the Agenda is often to shape the institutional arrangements for steering the implementation of the SDGs and reviewing progress.

Public administration - the cornerstone of governments' work- plays an essential and critical role in improving people’s lives. Reinventing public administration is a positive and necessary way forward. Without public administration modernization and transformation to adapt to today’s needs, realizing a better future for all will be impossible. Where capable administrations are lacking, governments are incapacitated; and where governments are incapacitated, sustainable development falls short.

 

The COVID-19 crisis has also brought new needs for digital government services and more demand on existing services. A review of the national portals of the 193 United Nations Member States showed that by 25 March 2020, 57% (110 countries) have put in place some kind of information on COVID-19, while around 43% (83 countries) did not provide any information; but a further analysis showed that by 8 April 2020, around 86% (167 countries) have included information and guidance about COVID-19 in their portals.

Open Budget initiative

The World Public Sector Report (WPSR) has been published by the Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government of UN DESA since 2001. The forthcoming edition will focus on national institutional arrangements of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and their effectiveness. This call for contributions invites individual researchers and experts, as well as policy research institutions to submit inputs and policy briefs highlighting issues, trends, research findings or solutions in relation to the research questions that the report seeks to address

 

Geometric illustration with the Secretariat building at UNHQ, New York.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.