Opportunities in the face of the governance crisis and democratic erosion

March 17, 2022

Faced with the current governance crisis, public, private and civil society institutions must guide the aspirations of citizens and transform them into concrete results.

In March 2020, the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean began to declare exceptional emergency measures in the face of the arrival of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19. Uncertainty grew rapidly about both the health response and the economic and social consequences. We soon also understood about the political consequences and the deepening of the crisis as one of governance.

Reaching the “new improved normality” requires innovative responses based on effective and democratic governance and to recognize that trust in public institutions is essential for social cohesion and development in democracy. However, in Latin America, satisfaction with the functioning of political life has been on a downward trend since 2010. In a previous analysis, we found that the combined effect of perceived corruption and perceived economic performance were the main causes of this distrust.

Faced with the current governance crisis, public, private and civil society institutions must guide the aspirations of citizens and transform them into concrete results. For this, the States must enable opportunities for development and innovation, taking advantage of digital tools in public services, promoting greater spaces for citizen participation, and improving their fight against corruption to regain the trust of society.

Below, we suggest at least two opportunities that can be exploited to respond more effectively to democratic governance.

Integral digitalization of public services

With the context of confinement, many public institutions migrated to a digitization process to adapt to citizen demands.

For example, with adequate interoperability and integration, submitting information or documents to a public institution that is already available to some other State body could be exempted. For this, proposals for solid laws, transparent political agreements and adequate implementation are needed, but it is a path that can substantially improve people's quality of life and have a positive impact on trust in institutions.

In practice, there are already positive examples of the implications of this digitalization. In 2021, UNDP through SIGOB offered digitalization solutions with the Systems on Line (known as SOL). Specifically, more than 20 services such as certificates, trademark registrations or the issuance of health permits were transformed into online format. This benefited more than 500 thousand people in Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

New platforms for binding civic participation

The climate of public distrust of public institutions requires the creation of new platforms that allow citizen oversight to increase transparency and encourage citizen participation in collaborative spaces. In the region, UNDP already has examples of support for civic platforms that citizens can use to promote advocacy and strengthen democratic culture.

The Agora initiative in Panama has been a catalyst to build development in an inclusive manner. The platform registered 186,000 citizen proposals that resulted in 1,361 regional agreements and 187 public policy agreements in 11 thematic areas. This promotes the participation of citizens to seek public policy solutions and provide a voice, within the framework of redefining the social contract of that country (Bicentennial Pact).

Redpública in Peru is another platform for citizen participation to inform, connect and share citizen proposals that are channeled to decision makers at all levels. This platform brings together proposals from the population for the creation of a citizens´ agenda and serves to promote these initiatives at the national and subnational levels.

SIGOB also promotes a methodology called FORO that allows the installation of dialogue platforms in public institutions, bringing problems closer to citizens under a dynamic of co-participation to agree on decisions and propose solutions. The most recent example of this accompaniment was to the Mayor's Office of the National District of the Dominican Republic to generate thematic committees.

These examples are part of a comprehensive response supported by the UNDP that allows for the recovery of citizen confidence in institutions to improve public services and promote the generation of civic spaces where social movements can co-create the public agenda.