What the demands on and future objectives of government mean to me

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Lab technicians analyze blood samples at Hospital do Subúrbio (Suburban Hospital), Brazil's first hospital under a public-private partnership model, in a low-income area of Salvador, Bahia.
Lab technicians analyze blood samples at Hospital do Subúrbio (Suburban Hospital), Brazil's first hospital under a public-private partnership model, in a low-income area of Salvador, Bahia.

Shortcomings

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed at least three serious shortcomings in the way many governments responded.  First, there were serious limitations in the public health and social protection systems, with poorly digitalized states unable to provide quality public services in a timely and uninterrupted manner. Second, there was a temptation to circumvent – and sometimes violate – the rule of law and human rights to contain the pandemic. This was often combined with a lack of institutional innovation and political will to involve civil society in decision-making processes, undermining citizens´ trust in governments. Third, we have seen a growing sense of nationalism and a visible move away from regional and international mechanisms to respond to global crises, like pandemics, and to deal with the global scale of disruption to trade, movements of people, and access to medical supplies.

The extent of these shortcomings varies from one country to another based on their human development, economic growth, and democratic consolidation. However, in one way or another, all countries are currently dealing with or will have dealt with them. Given this context, it is critical to respond to the question of how governments might shift the way they deliver services , improve their efficiency and productivity, (re)build trust with citizens, and better handle uncertainty and crises.

Gaps

In terms of policy, the priority should be – and we can repeat it as a mantra – “to reduce gaps.” While this sounds obvious, their persistence does not seem to indicate so, and the pandemic has only aggravated them.

Three main gaps have emerged whose effects are harmful not only to the dignity of people but also to countries’ aspirations of speedy recoveries and higher levels of human development – the gender gap, the income gap, and the digital gap.

Reducing these gaps takes time, of course. However, it is urgent to start implementing policies now to prevent them from widening and to close them for good. We should also think about overall policy design from the premise that “the short and the long term start simultaneously.” In other words, the decisions that we must take to overcome the present crisis are the same ones that will lead us to achieve medium and long-term transformations.

Policy areas

I think we should focus on three policy areas to start reducing the gaps. First, reduce economic and gender gaps by setting regulations and promoting attitudes that allow women to participate in the workforce, or in the business and political community, under equal conditions to those of men. Second, support young people by applying an intergenerational lens to COVID-19 recovery measures – through national budgeting, performance reporting, and fiscal sustainability analysis. Third, accelerate the massive use of digital technologies, through more public and private investment, the expansion of fixed and mobile networks; connectivity and digitization of homes, schools, and productive units; and the development of digital industries.

Means

In order to achieve these goals, societies will have to maximize the use of three resources: public finances, technology, and politics. 

Public finances are depleted and will be scarce in the short to medium term, so rethinking expenditure allocation will be mandatory. Governments must invest in a more strategic, efficient, and transparent way to approach this reallocation. Some countries will need to advance fiscal reforms in a way that does not substantially damage growth and inequality, nor result in greater informality.

Technology will allow more and better public participation in decision-making processes and will bring transparency and accountability to public spending. Concerning politics, it will be unavoidable to reorder countries’ priorities within the framework of democratic governance and through social dialogue and agreement, to guarantee transparency, prevent social unrest, and build trust to advance ambitious reforms.

Finally, domestic policies must thrive in regional and global contexts that uphold renewed principles and rules for multilateralism. We can certainly be critical of some outcomes of globalization, but embracing nationalistic and isolationist approaches only makes us more vulnerable to global challenges, like climate change .

The conversations that will take place as part of the Future of Government initiative will allow all of us to contribute and share ideas on how governments can emerge from COVID-19 stronger and more resilient for the future.

What are your thoughts about the Future of Government? You can contribute to the conversation via Twitter @wbg_gov using the hashtag #FutureOfGovernment, via our website at worldbank.org/en/programs/futureofgovernment, or by simply leaving a comment below.

 

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