Transcript of video message by Angel Gurría
10 July 2020 - OECD, France
(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to open this session of the Forum della Pubblica Amministrazione, focusing on “Digital transformation and sustainable development: two Italian and European objectives that must be pursued together”.
Throughout this crisis, I have stressed that the choice between health and the economy is a false dilemma. Another false dilemma is the choice between a vigorous recovery and sustainability. We must pursue both objectives together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the most severe recession in nearly a century. Our latest Economic Outlook paints a bleak picture: we project a 6 to 7.5% annual decline in global GDP for 2020, with tens of millions additional people unemployed in the OECD by December 2020.
The pandemic came on top of existing challenges, including climate change, declining trust in public institutions and mixed results on the path to achieving the SDGs by 2030.
Governments around the world have already stepped in with massive support packages and the public sector will continue to play a key role.
At the OECD, we also acted fast to launch a Digital Hub, providing a single entry point for analysis on COVID-19, with over 110 policy briefs published to date. We have also organised two virtual Ministerial Council Roundtables, as well as targeted COVID-19 Ministerial briefings for a number of countries.
The policies we put in place today will shape our economies for decades to come. Therefore, focusing on a sustainable and inclusive recovery, with the 2030 Agenda firmly in our sights, is now more important than ever. We need to act on several fronts.
Whole-of-society crises demand whole-of-government responses. Therefore, strengthened governance practices and policy coherence for sustainable development will be essential to achieve an equitable recovery as well as economic, social and environmental objectives.
We have an opportunity to speed up the low-carbon transition. The implementation of timely and properly designed green stimulus measures can deliver economic and environmental benefits. Improving environmental sustainability also reduces vulnerability to pandemics.
Public policies need to mitigate the inequalities that are being exacerbated by this crisis. COVID-19 disproportionately affects the young, those in precarious or informal jobs, those with limited digital connectivity, and women. Governments should continue to provide well-calibrated safety nets and allow transitions of capital and workers towards expanding sectors.
Leveraging digital technologies to accelerate progress towards the SDGs will be critical for a resilient and sustainable recovery. We have seen how digital technologies have been essential in handling the outbreak and how the crisis is accelerating the already rapid pace of digitalisation, including in the public sector. Governments that were more digitally mature were better prepared to react promptly to the pandemic.
Let me now turn to Italy. The Italian economy will be significantly affected by COVID-19. GDP is expected to fall by 11.3%, and as much as 14% in the event of a second wave of the virus. Unemployment is projected to peak at 12.4% in 2020.
The crisis also runs the risk of exacerbating inequalities. For instance, not every individual or business is equipped with the skills or the means to use digital tools. As Italy moves towards a “new normal”, teleworking, remote learning and virtual living will remain critical. Italy has a unique opportunity to work towards a digitally enabled and equitable recovery. But rapid key policy actions are needed. Let me highlight four.
First, digitalisation will have to be deployed much faster and on a wider scale than in the past. This demands the upgrading of Italy’s networks so that it can go well beyond today’s 6% fixed fibre broadband connections, and to closing digital divides across regions and demographic groups.
Second, keeping the public well informed, with full transparency and accountability, is key. The mobile app “Immuni” is an example of how digital tools are helping governments manage the spread of the virus. While these technologies have the potential to help prevent a new wave, they also have important privacy and data protection implications.
Third, fostering age diversity in public administration would favour a tech-savvy public sector and would create opportunities for intergenerational learning. Our forthcoming OECD Report on Youth Empowerment and Intergenerational Justice shows that Italy’s public administration is the oldest among the 31 OECD countries analysed, with only 2% of all employees in the central government aged below 35 years.
And Fourth, the crisis is a chance to pursue a multi-annual reform programme, in line with the recommendations from the latest OECD Economic Survey of Italy, which we presented in April 2019. The priorities that would have the largest impact on GDP growth are reducing administrative complexity and improving the effectiveness of the legal system.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Digital public sectors capable of collaborating with citizens and businesses will drive the recovery and accelerate progress towards the SDGs. Let us act now, and not miss this opportunity. You can count on the OECD to work with and for Italy to ensure a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Thank you.