The pandemic has had a dramatic impact in all aspects of our lives. On the one hand, it once again showed us that we are all children of one earth and that our destinies are interconnected. This has strengthened interdependence and interaction in the modern world. On the other hand, as regards the characteristics of the modern world, known as VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), the pandemic and volatility of energy prices have led to the emergence of new uncertainties, which undoubtedly represent additional challenges for societies, economies and states.
In such circumstances, the quality of public administration is important. Regardless of the situation, taxpayers have the right to require states to provide quality services, make decisions in the interests of societies and economies, all in the interest of human lives. At the same time, it is very important that, along with the relevance and speed of decisions made, the observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens is ensured. One must underscore that these decisions be made transparently and that the need for quick decision-making does not lead to an upsurge of abuse.
Under current circumstances, this is also a challenge that requires a balanced response. Therefore, the study of best practices and cooperation is gaining additional importance because, due to the technologically uneven development and specific problems of certain governments, successful examples of using modern technologies to ensure the smooth operation of the government apparatus, the service delivery sector and problem areas have been identified as relevant in this situation.
In addition, it seems to me that an important challenge, to which a joint answer should be sought, is the clear conflict of interest between respect for human rights as a fundamental element of any democracy and the expanded use of visual control and tracking tools. Today, certain officials and government bodies in different countries are exploiting the situation with coronavirus and opting to use surveillance and control tools everywhere. In doing so, they are losing sight of the fact that such technological surveillance tools conflict with the rights and freedoms of citizens. It seems to me that the international community will now have to respond to this state of affairs.
The exchange of experience in the application of modern technologies should be accompanied by a similar exercise as regards ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens in the new conditions for regulating the use of monitoring and control tools and for ensuring public control and transparency. This applies both to public procurement, investment and management decisions in the interests of the economy and citizens, and to decision-making in creating and distributing surveillance networks. In such circumstances, cooperation is a key factor both between state bodies and governments of different countries and between governments and their citizens.
In this context, we, once again, have learned that trust is a key factor – not only as a social value in itself, but also as effective administrative capital. At the same time, trust is important not only to the government, but also to professional communities and among different social groups. Today when the global community is under stress from the Covid-19 pandemic, one spark could lead to the emergence of large focal points of social tension. This period underscored the fact that trust is a key factor in the effectiveness of public administration. Therefore, in the current environment it is important to ensure transparency and accountability, while, in the long term, governments should constantly work on building trust.
In crisis situations, a strong sense of public trust is essential in support of the efforts of governments, societies and economies to overcome the crisis. That is why in order to exchange positive experiences, it is key to have such platforms where the data gained by governments and businesses of various countries in responding to a pandemic is compiled. In that regard, it seems to me that the role and importance of such platforms as the Astana Civil Service Hub are growing.
Already, in the first month of the quarantine, we shared with the Government of Kazakhstan and local executive bodies an example of using an application that allows citizens to leave their homes, visit grocery stores and pharmacies without violating the quarantine regime. Special applications for the urgent needs of citizens introduced in Azerbaijan, Greece, the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates are also of particular interest.
Advanced information technologies are becoming part of the public domain, regardless of the country in which they were invented. In such conditions, social institutions must both be ready to use new technological achievements and to create technological innovations on their basis.
As mentioned above, the role of cooperation is increasing. And alongside traditional forms of cooperation, new forms of collaboration are needed. Thus, the Astana Civil Service Hub launched the Virtual Alliance, where interested countries both share their experience in resolving issues in a pandemic and also study each other’s experience.
Every crisis contains the seeds of opportunity. The current situation in the world compels all of us to find new ways and novel solutions without discarding our experience, relationships, cooperation; compels us to strengthen trust and mutual understanding in society and to increasing public trust in the state. For almost three months now we have been living in new conditions – without football, without face-to-face meetings. However, we remained staunch in our belief that trust and good governance are a sine qua non for overcoming the crisis.
Author is Alikhan Baimenov, Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Astana Civil Service Hub. The hub’s mission is to promote civil service effectiveness by supporting the efforts of governments of countries of the region and beyond in building institutional and human capacity. The establishment of the Astana Civil Service Hub as a multilateral platform to reform the civil service has been inspired by the Government of of Kazakhstan jointly with the United Nations Development Programme in Kazakhstan.