On the frontlines: honouring public servants in the COVID-19 pandemic response
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected more than 180 countries, infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people. In addition to the health implications and loss of life, the pandemic has strained health care systems, disrupted the education system, wreaked havoc on businesses and economies, led to job losses and disrupted social life with lockdowns, curfews and other stringent measures aimed at containing the virus being put in place globally. All this has happened in the context of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for which public service and public servants are critical.
From frontline healthcare workers and public health officials to teachers, sanitation workers, social welfare officers and more, the humble public servant has been thrust into the spotlight, helping elevate awareness and understanding of the critical role public servants play in everyday life, and in particular during times of severe crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
To honour the work of public servants globally and focus on the critical role frontline public servants have been playing in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety of the Republic of Korea are organizing UN Public Service Day, 23 June, and hosting an outreach and resource platform from 15-30 June.
The role of public service and public servants during the COVID-19 pandemic
For the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to be achieved, effective delivery of public services is needed, including in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If not contained, the pandemic will jeopardize meeting the 2030 deadline, by diverting resources from development efforts to crisis response. The public servant sits at the heart of ensuring effective response to the crisis, whether as a frontline worker in healthcare, or in devising strategies and plans to mitigate its impact.
On 20 December 2002, the General Assembly designated 23 June as Public Service Day by adopting resolution 57/277.
UN Public Service Day celebrates the value and virtue of public service to the community; highlights the contribution of public service in the development process; recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue careers in the public sector.
To bolster recognition of the Day and the value of public service, the United Nations established the UN Public Service Awards (UNPSA) programme in 2003, which was reviewed in 2016 to align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UNPSA aims to promote and reward innovation and excellence in public services by recognizing the creative achievements and contributions of public institutions that lead to a more effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide in support of sustainable development.
Each year UN DESA organizes the Forum with a host country, using the event to host capacity-development workshops, the UN Public Service Awards ceremony and a Ministerial Roundtable. Drawing together roughly 800 to 1,000 participants, the Forum is a space for world leaders, Ministers, and other senior decision-makers to debate emerging issues and trends, discuss good practices, strategies, accelerated actions, and innovative approaches for effective service delivery and transforming institutions.
Public institutions for the Sustainable Development Goals
Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is recognized by SDG 16 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda also recognized that governments have the primary responsibility for implementing the SDGs and ensuring follow-up and review over the coming 15 years, at the national, regional and global levels. One of the first steps governments take to implement the Agenda is often to shape the institutional arrangements for steering the implementation of the SDGs and reviewing progress.
Public administration – the cornerstone of governments’ work- plays an essential and critical role in improving people’s lives. Reinventing public administration is a positive and necessary way forward. Without public administration modernization and transformation to adapt to today’s needs, realizing a better future for all will be impossible. Where capable administrations are lacking, governments are incapacitated; and where governments are incapacitated, sustainable development falls short.