United Arab Emirates

3rd Annual Arab Fiscal Forum: Digital Revolutions in Public Finance


Keynote speech by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Dubai, UAE, Saturday 10 February 2018

(As prepared for delivery)


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The global economy is in the midst of a digital transformation that is making waves across every sector of public and private activity. 40% of the world’s population is now connected to networks, up from 4% in 1995. In 2017 in the Arab States , average mobile broadband penetration was estimated at 47 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and almost 44% of individuals were using the Internet.


But there is still much room for catch-up in the Arab States. Japan, for instance, counts over 150 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. The trend is upwards and the opportunities are immense. It’s up to policy-makers to make the right choices and set the conditions to ensure everyone can harness the digital transformation.


Harnessing the digital transformation for all

We often think about the promise of technology for firms and for individuals going about their daily lives. And indeed, digital technologies have strong potential to increase incomes and social well-being and to promote social inclusion. Developments in mobile technologies have enabled people to conduct daily personal computing and communications activities on-the-go; digital technologies are offering firms new business models and opportunities to enter (global) markets and transform their production processes.


But, as this session rightly highlights, governments too can harness digital opportunities to deliver better and more effective services to their communities. In particular, by reducing the physical constraints to data collection and exploitation, ICT technologies can lay the foundations for more efficient policy frameworks. There are opportunities at all stages of the policy cycle from design through implementation, enforcement, and evaluation.


Let me give you some examples. Often governments are “flying blind”, because they cannot precisely monitor the status of economic, environmental, or social outcomes which are the targets of public policy objectives. But now, Big Data can play an important role in helping to highlight trends and results at a level of granularity and periodicity that was not previously possible.


An obvious area is the use of digital technologies and methods for fraud detection. The potential benefits are considerable – estimates of the value of credit card fraud in the United States, for instance, are in excess of USD 400 billion.


Another example of the potential of digital technologies for governments is in monitoring fast-changing phenomena and risks. Policy-makers are making increasing use of data from online retailers and Internet searches by citizens to get early warnings of emerging market conditions which may generate significant risks to economic stability. One prominent example is the Billion Price Project (BPP) which collects price information over the Internet to compute a daily online price index and estimate annual and monthly inflation.


And if we think about compliance and enforcement, technology can enable policy that is purposely designed to make it impossible or difficult to manipulate or erase information. The Danish Tax Administration’s EasySME is one such example: it requires businesses to use a single bank account for all business transactions, and imports transaction data from the designated bank account into the central accounting system.


Digital technologies can also allow governments to improve the design and impact of their policies, and to boost stakeholder engagement. These are all excellent goals in their own right.


But the benefits are larger. Effectively “digitalising the policy cycle” can help governments achieve their inclusive growth goals.

How? Through a number of channels, for instance:

  • Allowing for the design of policies which target specific segments of the population (be it income, demographics or some other factor);

  • Earlier identification and a faster response to emerging risks which can have particularly pernicious consequences for the most vulnerable populations; and

  • Better delivery of public services and administration for which the less advantaged are particularly important beneficiaries (and for whom take-up is often lowest).

In recognition of the opportunities of the digital transformation, the OECD has been working on a major cross-cutting project – Going Digital – that seeks to provide policy makers with strategic, whole-of-government advice for the digital age.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We know there are challenges: The use of data – which is at the heart of the transformation – poses issues of digital security and privacy; The level of access to and use of digital technologies remains uneven within and across countries; The lack of adequate ICT skills is widening the digital divide among people; and People worry about the impact of technological advances on their jobs. It is our responsibility to ensure that digital revolutions result in a more harmonious, more resilient, more inclusive and sustainable global economy.


As policy-makers you have a crucial role in making this happen. The OECD is ready to work with you and for you to achieve better digital policies for better lives. Thank you.



Also see:

OECD work on Going Digitial

OECD work on Public Finance

OECD work with United Arab Emirates



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