Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement at the High Level Political Forum Side Event, "Public Service Excellence : Delivering the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"

Jul 14, 2017

Thank you, Your Excellency Ambassador Gafoor. Indeed, we have to thank you for the privilege to meet here today.

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, I am delighted to be here today, and honoured to join Her Excellency Heidi Berner Herrera, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Chile, and all of you, in this important discussion.

For me, this is a welcome opportunity to mark the 5th anniversary of our Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, GCPSE. I say “our” very deliberately as the Centre is a joint project of UNDP with the Government of Singapore. It has been a pleasure to watch over not just the flourishing of the work of the GCPSE but also, in parallel, the deepening of our close ties.

It is, therefore, truly an honour that this side event is generously sponsored by Singapore, with the stellar leadership of my good friend the Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN, Ambassador Burhan Gafoor.

I am delighted too, that the Centre has gone from strength to strength in promoting important research, holding events for strengthening the capacity of UNDP staff, and training officials from our partner countries.

Let me take this opportunity to highlight the key message of the Centre for the HLPF: that the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals is dependent on the ability of the public services to prioritise effectively, allocate limited resources, promote participation and inclusion, foster consensus, and promote long-term national aims.  The Director, Max Everst-Phillips and his collaborators, who I would like to thank for making the effort to be here today, will expand on this bit more in a minute.

But Public Administration is dependent on context, and the international community has entered a period of profound change, complexity and global interdependence that are creating new opportunities for development – as well as new challenges. 

There are no easy answers. Public expectations of government often seem to be rising faster than the capacity of public institutions to deliver. 

Public officials are still struggling to learn and build on lessons from the continuing fall-out of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, while trying to keep pace with the fast evolution of technological change and digital transformation, which are radically reshaping the way we live, work and communicate.

It is only too easy to forget that huge strides have been made. But real progress is happening, sometimes at an equally incredible pace:

  • Rwandans today can expect to live 32 years longer than they did in 1990 and spend twice as long at school.
  • In almost every country, a more educated population with stronger professional organisations are fostering a vibrant civil society.
  • New technology is enabling openness and citizen feedback that generates pressure for better governance.
  • Civil service is expected, today to deliver assistance with integrity, promptitude and quality. Shortcomings are not ignored or easy condoned by taxpayers. Excellence has become a widely shared aspiration.

More and more, governments are responding to these demands and changes, taking action for improved regulation, less corruption and higher ethical standards in the conduct of public affairs.

But the challenges facing political and administrative leadership everywhere in seeking to implement the SDGs are immense and growing. In response, the public administration needs to re-organise itself – perhaps in a new Whole of Government Approach, combined with a multi- and inter-disciplinary mind-set. This is particularly important in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNDP is supporting partner governments using the MAPS (Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support)  process, working together with others in the UN Development System. This means that we need to ensure that every citizen has a stake in long-term stability, that political leaders offer a clear vision for the future, and that public administration provides a clear focus on its stewardship of society. Meeting this objective requires us to uphold lasting public values.

Continuous learning and a push for public service excellence is an essential prerequisite for SDG implementation. Yet, public-sector innovation is still too fragmented and slow to be brought to scale, and some  efforts can be insufficiently aware of political and cultural context.

UNDP’s message is that the public sector remains a vital engine for development, and it therefore also needs to be at the centre of the SDG planning and implementation process. 

Allow me, then, to conclude by once again thanking the government of Singapore for its generosity, and by commending Singapore for ranking 2nd in the 2017 World Competitiveness Index for the quality of public institutions, for public sector performance, and for overall performance.

We have much to learn from each other, and I look forward to hearing your insights and views.  

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world