Dear Prime Minister Brnabić, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you this morning to the Government After Shock event.
The world is in the grip of an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis. The latest OECD Economic Outlook projects a fall in world GDP of 4.5% in 2020. There is some good news regarding a potential vaccine, but we know that this crisis will continue, even after we overcome the immediate health dimensions of the pandemic. So our work must also continue and adapt to new realities.
Governments have already taken extraordinary and swift measures. Through income support and expanded sick leave, trillions of dollars have been directed towards supporting households and companies across the OECD.
Governments’ responses were not only bold, but also innovative. From experimenting with better approaches to communicate with citizens, to coordinating with communities in new ways during lockdowns, or even massively shifting to remote work – governments have had to try new things under difficult circumstances.
However, more must be done. The crisis is exacerbating underlying issues, such as inequalities, economic insecurity and unevenness of healthcare access. It has also aggravated the crisis of trust, and, most crucially, it has inserted fear in the social fabric of many countries and economies. Urgent action is also required to combat the next global crisis, climate change.
This crisis has highlighted the decisive role of governments and public institutions, underlining how a trusting relationship between people and their administration is pivotal when addressing societal challenges.
High trust goes hand in hand with better compliance. For example, results from 233 regions in 19 European countries show that mobility related to non-necessary activities in high-trust regions was significantly lower than in low-trust regions.
People’s perception of governments’ competence, integrity, openness and fairness matters. OECD surveys in Finland and Korea showed that the reliability and responsiveness of service delivery significantly influences people’s trust in government.
In short, governments matter. More than ever. Let me give you a few concrete examples.
First, the pandemic has disrupted the global value chains behind the production of some essential goods; for example, face masks. This raises the issue of the security of supply. Governments can address this through better use of public procurement, risk mitigation and international regulatory cooperation.
Second, this year has shown us more than ever the importance of digital governance. Now we need to ensure that the digital economy is a strong contributor to productivity and well-being. This means implementing necessary regulation for platform companies, for which we need governments.
Lastly, the pandemic underscored the fragility of communicating scientific evidence. Disinformation threatens the efficacy of policy measures, undermining trust, amplifying fears and leading to harmful behaviour. Governments can and need to fight disinformation, by being more open and engaging directly with citizens.
The OECD has supported governments’ crisis response efforts: our COVID-19 Digital Hub contains over 160 policy briefs and has received over 1.3 million unique visitors. We also held our Ministerial Council Meeting on 28-29 October, on A Strong, Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19.
The phrase “public office is a public trust” has never been truer. The list of policy challenges governments need to tackle goes way beyond the pandemic, from inequalities, to governing digital and advancing climate action, to name but a few. Yesterday we heard the voices of local stakeholders gathered in over 60 events around the world. Today is our chance to reflect on the role of governments. I look forward to this conversation and wish you a productive exchange.