The 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government: Building Trust in Government


Vienna, 26 June ‏2007




Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the United Nations in Vienna for the 7 th Global Forum on Reinventing Government.  This year's Forum will focus on the theme of "Building Trust in Government".

Do we have to reinvent government?   Is it broken?  Have citizens lost trust in their leaders?

(A.)  There are no simple answers to these provocative questions.

·       In some countries, the government has definitively broken down - at times completely collapsed. But these are of course the exceptions, where government has to be completely rebuilt, not just reinvented. During this Forum, there will be a debate on these situations, from the vantage point of what the international community can do to help "failed states".

·       In other cases, a bit more frequent, the control of the government does not extend to the whole national territory. There are neighbourhoods of cities, or even regions of states that are either lawless, or under the control of armed non-state actors: drug barons, diamond traffickers, and arm-dealers.  Actually, my own institution, the Office on Drugs and Crime was conceived first and foremost to assist in such situations.

(B.)  What about the rest of the world - the vast majority of countries -- where government isn't broken?  Does it need to be reinvented?  The answer in this case is also in the affirmative.

·    The world is changing, so we need to change the running of the res publica. Telecommunications, the internet, globalization, 24/7 news, cheaper travel and unimpeded movement of ideas, goods, money and people are breaking down the barriers of time and space that used to stand between us.

·       The world is also becoming more urban, soon reaching the historic threshold where more than 50% of the world's population will live in cities.  And, let me add, outside the Old World, most of these cities are inhabited by people so young that they never experienced life without skype-communications, virtual reality, cellular phones and GPS.

(C.)  Let me add a third factor:  sovereignty keeps changing - for good, and not so good reasons.

·       Multi-national companies, financial institutions and civil organizations have a growing influence on what goes on within sovereign borders. Also some states are voluntarily surrendering some of their sovereignty to multi-national or supra-national bodies (in Europe especially), or to trade blocks and custom unions.  All this has helped to spread the notion of economic and political governance, introducing checks and balances that enrich democracy.

·       But sovereignty is definitively also under attack from global threats like terrorism, organized crime, or the spill-over of conflicts.  These evils do not stop at borders:  once these forces overcome sovereignty as expressed by the people, they tend to perpetuate themselves causing even greater dislocations. 

All of the above is tantalizing:  it is a carrier of new hopes for humanity, but also of terrifying threats that can be respectively nurtured or opposed by strengthening government and governance.  I believe the notion of reinventing res publica has to encompass all public policy.

Globally, governments and international organizations need to adapt to deal with the opportunity of transnational economic and financial activity, but as well with the consequences of climate change, terrorism, the internet, and epidemics.

Regionally, countries need to band together to deal with common conditions -- like energy, transport, cross-border trade and water management -- and unlock joint opportunities that come through neighbourly cooperation.

Nationally, governments need to address the interests of the people - a people that is changing due to demographics, immigration, and greater access to information. This means engaging civil society. 

Locally, cities and municipalities need to cope with the strains of urbanization, cultural integration, and growing demand for public services.

In all of this work, it is vital that the people are engaged, that they have trust in public institutions. This means that government must be accountable and, above all, honest.  Here I close with a bit of advertising.

One of the biggest killers of trust is corruption. Public servants should be in office to serve the public:  this is not always the case, as all too often the public is robbed of the money that it needs to build schools, roads, sanitation and healthcare. The fight against corruption - as we shall discuss in the afternoon, is another way of reinventing governance.     I therefore urge you all to ratify and implement the United Nations Convention against Corruption that was brokered right here in Vienna, by my Office, in 2003.  Our Convention is a good way of building trust in government.    

Thank you for your attention and I wish you a productive Forum.