Second global forum on reinventing government

  • Executing agency: UN/DESA Division for Public Economics and Public Administration
  • Senior advisor: Mr. Marco Suazo
  • Start date: 1 January 2000
  • Total budget: USD 25,000

The Government of Brazil, will be hosting the II Global Forum: "A Democratic State and Governance in the Twenty First Century". It will be held on 29-31st May 2000, in Brasilia, Brazil. It is intended that this Forum will help in concretizing a substantial and sustainable agenda for future action.

1. Background

In January 1999, representatives of 45 countries participated in the meeting called "A Global Forum on Reinventing Government", held in Washington, DC. It was organized by the government of the United States, in partnership with multilateral organizations (The World Bank, The Inter-American Development Bank) and non-governmental institutions (the Ford Foundation and The Kennedy School of Government).

The Global Forum was aimed at facilitating an exchange of experiences on the process of strengthening the countries’ democratic institutions, with a particular focus on improving the performance of their governmental institutions. More specifically, the Forum aimed to improve the understanding of available alternatives for creating democratic institutions that are compatible with the needs and characteristics of our current information age.

The transformation of government, at the core of all the main issues addressed, implied structural changes in the ways government operates; changes that aimed at improving government performance and enhancing relationships between the government and its people. The forum set the foundation and context for other areas to be explored, including the emerging and changing role of government given the challenges ahead, and their relationship with their citizens.

Over the past decade or so, government reforms initiated simultaneously in several countries revolved around common themes and issues, nearly always focused on reducing the size of government, which is expected to lead to efficiency gains and improvements in government performance.

Common characteristics to all these reform efforts are:

- A quest for an ideal of a "smaller state", that would bring about efficiency gains not necessarily through cuts in governmental programs; - The development of political and institutional re-engineering to enhance efficiency, for example through out-sourcing and privatization; - A focus on the transparency of government action through the clear definition of goals, targets, outcomes and dissemination of information to the public; - The emphasis on citizens as clients and consumers.

The following questions were raised at the first Forum:

- How much importance must governments give to markets when establishing public private partnerships for government action? - How can outcome evaluation systems strengthen these partnerships? - How can governments reconcile these new systems of outcome evaluation with the existing structures and processes? - How can the emphasis on the "reinvention" of government redefine the relations between government and citizenry?

At its conclusion there was interest in instituting the Forum as a permanent event. As we enter the Third Millennium, the challenge and opportunities ahead demand fresh thinking on the shape of future government. Globalization, fast evolving technologies, the importance of market forces, and rising citizen expectations are setting the pace. How can governments respond, and at the same time ensure the well being of all segments of society?

2. Managing Change and the Contextual Framework

The approach to reforming government cannot ignore the importance of the new technological, economic, social, cultural and political challenges resulting from the Information Age. These challenges have necessitated a redefinition of the role of the public sector. The debate on the state’s role centers not anymore on "less state" or "more state", but instead on the building of a "better state" that has the ability to elicit, co-ordinate and articulate interests, expectations and demands with a view to strengthening and broadening the horizons of the public sector.

The "reinvention" of government may often mean the adoption of market solutions and processes. Above all, however, it must mean reasserting the state’s effectiveness vis-à-vis that of the "market" as a consequence of the challenges of the Third Millennium. This does not imply an assertion of a dichotomy between the state and the market; on the contrary, it must be understood as a response to the need for creating synergies between the state and the market to enable them to connect in a manner that results in a "better state".

As this century opens, there is reaffirmation of the close link between democracy and markets as the institutional capital necessary for development and growth. The goal of state reforms, therefore, should not be just reducing the size of the state, but the development and the enhancement of the welfare of its people - a government that serves all of its citizens - through collaboration and cooperation, in this era of globalization.

Globalization, propelled by the revolution in information technology (IT) has been transforming the institutions of societies, and their very culture. But the impact has not been uniform. Neither is access to the new technology. Unequal access to IT and to a trained labor force, has the potential of sharply increasing income disparity and poverty. The so called "digital divide" will marginalize communities within countries and some countries. The potential growth of e-commerce raises serious and complex taxation issues involving municipal, state and central governments, and even international cross-border issues. Most governments depend on sales taxes as and their primary source of revenue.

The nation state is not in danger of disappearing; rather the scope and the responsibilities of political institutions, in general, and of governmental ones, in particular, are expanding. Nations still maintain considerable power and play a relevant and irreplaceable role in managing this change. This power can only be ensured through collaboration and co-operation at all levels: with other nations, within its own local and regional jurisdictions, and other transnational organizations and associations.