Trust as a factor in improving government efficiency

June 23, 2021

In March 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 57/277, proclaiming 23 June as the United Nations Public Service Day, recognizing its value to society and its contribution to the development of countries.

The past year has been exceptional in this sense: the coronavirus pandemic has once again highlighted the key role of public servants around the world, while issues of trust, solidarity and mutual responsibility of the state and society have come to the fore.

Between the hammer and the anvil

Citizens always pay close attention to the civil service, which is legitimate since the entire government is supported by public funding, taxation, therefore citizens are not only recipients of services, but also employers of all civil servants.

At the same time, the explosive development of information technology and globalization affect the quality of public demand for effective management decisions. Against this background, as we all see, a change in the nature of the relationship between the government and the public has taken place. This is because the increased awareness of the population, the ability to compare the decisions of government institutions of their country with those made in other countries has meant that government institutions are in fact beginning to work in quasi-competitive conditions, although by their nature they perform monopoly functions.

On the other hand, civil servants must always find a balance between long-term national interests and the short-term vision and interests of political forces, which sometimes might be influenced by populism, but nevertheless receive a mandate to implement their programme. To a certain extent, civil servants are ‘between the hammer and the anvil,’ because when priorities and programmes change after the next elections, the implementation of these tasks rests on their shoulders. If we use the definition of the American writer J.F. Clarke, “A politician thinks about the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation,” then not all of those who have a mandate meet the definition of statesmen. This is a global challenge to democracy and governance systems.

At the same time, we see that civil servants are people whose successes are perceived to be part of the natural order of things, although their actions are not error free. At the time of the crisis, as it unravelled in 2020, all eyes were focused on the government apparatus: the public expected that civil servants would find a solution, properly dispose of taxpayers' funds, effectively use resources and, at the same time, respond in a timely manner to emerging challenges.

Trust as a catalyst for effective communication

Under these conditions, ensuring the effective operation of communication channels is of key importance. A key element -- civil servants must have the opportunity to reasonably convey key messages to the population, guided by their experience and expertise, and to receive feedback, thereby protecting the real interests of the public. In this vein, the effectiveness of communication channels affects the level of public trust in government bodies: if government is trusted by the public, then, in turn, it will act more boldly in making subsequent decisions. Further, when the government finds correct solutions for long-term tasks, public trust in the government increases, and trust in the civil service and in good governance are a solid basis for promoting the long-term interests of the whole society.

Another factor contributing to increasing public trust in government is trust within the government apparatus itself. Despite the fact that managers received a mandate to implement a programme, it is important that they listen to the expert opinion of civil servants who know the history of the issue and long-term consequences of certain decisions.

And finally, trust is conditioned by respect - both within the government apparatus and in relation to the public. In making any decisions, civil servants should prioritize the rights and dignity of individuals, while within the civil service itself, an environment and corporate culture needs to be developed whereby respect for the rights, dignity, time, and work of civil servants are key values.

Ultimately, trust is not only a social value, but also administrative capital that will forge a public administration that is more resilient to new challenges.