OECD Secretary-General

Improving Public Administration: An Ongoing Challenge


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Mexico City, Tuesday 6 November 2012

(As prepared for delivery)

Carlos Reta Martínez, Francisco Suárez Dávila, Ignacio Pichardo Pagaza, President of INAP, José Castelazo, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I feel hugely honoured to receive the Gustavo Martínez Cabañas International Administration Merit Medal, awarded to me by the National Institute of Public Administration (INAP), one of the main forces behind the development of public administration in our country.

Gustavo Martínez Cabañas was a public administration luminary. His contribution to the reform of Mexico’s public sector and various international organisations has left its mark and a school of practice. This recognition is a tribute to him and all public servants who have devoted their talent and energy to enhancing the stature of our country.

Having dedicated thirty-three years to Mexican public administration and, thus far, ten more years to international public administration, I cannot avoid stressing the importance of good governance, institutional capacity and the fulfillment of responsibilities toward citizens. At the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP), the Ministry of Foreign Relations, Nacional Financiera and Bancomext, all of which I headed; as well as at the CFE, DDF, FUNAFE and Inmecafé where I was employed; and up to the present day at the OECD, I have endeavoured to contribute to the country’s economic and social development. I always considered it an honour and a privilege, which I took on with responsibility, devotion and belief in the possibility of change.

I accept this award also as a recognition of the work that the OECD does to support the development of public administration both in Mexico and around the world.

INAP and the OECD share the same goals. Over several decades, we have worked to improve public administration, viewing it as the main source of development and shared progress. Throughout this time, we have promoted habits of accountability, transparency, efficacy, dialogue, respect for the law and a future vision in the public sector. I believe this is an excellent opportunity to recognise these shared objectives and explore how we can collaborate more closely to make a more solid contribution to our country.

Public administration is the key tool for promoting economic growth and ensuring that its fruits are shared among all citizens. Today, it is also a tool for restoring trust in government and public institutions, as well as in the banks, enterprises, rating agencies, etc. We are in a crisis of trust, and restoring trust will depend on the quality of public administrations.

Last month, we held the Meeting of Senior Officials from Centres of Government of OECD Member Countries, which discussed the need to review our traditional economic models, to address the current crisis and restore trust in governments. The meeting identified three crucial elements for building a state-of-the-art, efficient, accountable, and trustworthy public administration.

I’d like to briefly share them with you:


Combating corruption remains one of the basic priorities of public administration in all OECD countries; in Mexico, it is still one of the cardinal points of our development. The passing of the much needed anti-corruption law, promoted by the current government to combat corruption in public procurement, is a very encouraging step, which we at the OECD applauded at the time.

Our Organisation has been working with the different Mexican government administrations to help them improve transparency in different spheres. Recently, we have conducted several studies to promote integrity in public procurement processes in the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), the State Employees Social Services and Security Institute (ISSETE), the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), and Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX).

We have now started work with President-elect Peña Nieto’s transition team, providing advice and international best practices for legislation to combat corruption and set up anti-corruption agencies. As I told the President-elect during his recent visit to the OECD only a couple of weeks ago, we are very pleased that transparency and combating corruption will be the cornerstone of his government programme.

2.      Flexibility

In these times of rapid change, one of the major challenges of public administration is to adapt to changing situations. One of the defining features today, for example, is a constant pursuit of efficiency and efficacy in public expenditure. As governments have very little room for manoeuvre, owing to pressures from markets and rating agencies for them to consolidate their fiscal position and reduce their debt, the mantra of the day in public administration is "do more with less."

In this situation, Mexican public administration will be more robust if it develops the capacity to react and respond flexibly and in advance to new economic and social challenges – ranging from the "fiscal cliff" in the United States to the shrinking of remittances or longer life expectancy among Mexicans – so that "surprises" can be avoided and the necessary strategic and structural changes can be implemented in an orderly and timely fashion by sending appropriate signals to society and markets. 

3.      Knowledge

Government action only produces optimal results when it is based on trustworthy data and innovative capacity. Economic, social and security problems highlight the importance of policy as a tool for change and progress. Nonetheless, too often government measures suffer from a lack of information or are based on obsolete data.

The emblem of a professional and innovative public administration is the capacity to take policy decisions based on up-to-date knowledge of global scope. To support other Member states in developing and sharing such knowledge, the OECD launched the publication of Government at a Glance, which has provided practical data for policymakers by comparing governments performance across Member countries since 2009.

We are also setting up the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, to help governments around the world make best use of the most innovative methods, and develop a government structure that is more solid and flexible and targeted on results.

A competent public administration is distinguished by having highly trained staff; this means investing in the creation of a talented, diversified, high-performance labour force with sound intellectual training. Talented people can only be attracted and retained if competition, merit, equity and professional opportunities are at the core of hiring and promotion policies. For Mexico, persevering with the professionalisation of public administration is a crucial task in fostering development.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The quality of our public administration is closely linked to our quality of life. No matter how many reforms Mexico introduces, they will be of little use if the public administration that implements them does not have the necessary capacity or knowledge.

Mexico needs a more streamlined public administration that is more focused on the provision of services with a long-term vision that is more results-driven. Public administration should be a central part of a Mexican State that has greater strategic direction, so that the reforms can have positive and lasting effects.

Mexico faces huge challenges. To address them successfully, we need a three-pronged co-operation effort and a substantial improvement in our public administration capacities. For that reason, I applaud the ongoing work of INAP and the constant pressure it exerts for our public administrators to improve. I would like to end by congratulating INAP for its commitment to the modernisation and optimisation of Mexican public administration. Its work is crucial for the country.

I’m hugely grateful for the distinction you’ve bestowed on me today. This medal will be a stimulus to continue striving on a daily basis to help the Mexico Government, OECD countries and the world at large, to improve their capacities and knowledge.

My professional life has involved a constant pursuit and implementation of the best public administration practices, both in Mexico and elsewhere. This recognition encourages me to press on with renewed energy, to design, promote, and implement better public administration policies for better lives.

Thank you so much!