“in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Albert Einstein
Coronavirus pandemic has affected each and every one of us. It has completely changed our daily routines, social interaction norms, working habits and even our sense of time and space.
No surprise that the pandemic is also transforming the ways in which governments work and deliver services to their citizens. Whether it’s public procurement of medical supplies, access to vital government-held information, delivery of essential public services, or prevention of gender-based violence, all state functions have been equally challenged.
Coronavirus pandemic may have started as a public healthcare crisis, but it has also become a governance crisis. With over 33 million people having already tested positive for Covid-19, it is estimated that the pandemic will cause the first ever increase in global poverty since 1998 as millions of people are losing their jobs.
The pandemic has weakened the governments’ core functions in two ways:
1. Proper functioning of the state machinery and the delivery of public services: It has become more difficult to communicate between various departments due to “stay-at-home” orders and low level of preparedness for remote/digital connectivity; new human resources policies for working remotely; disbursement of salaries to the public servants vis-a-vis the decrease in overall economic growth and prioritization of social protection measures; and most importantly, limited space and capacity for the delivery of public services during lockdowns and curfew regimes.
Although the pandemic has accelerated the digitalization process - 2 years worth of digital transformation took place in just 2 months – it has also made clear just how much governments need to invest in e-governance going forward.
At UNDP, we have been assisting governments to strengthen their public services delivery capacity. For example, in Georgia, we supported the development of an AI-powered civil servant - C Bot - Rustavi Chatbot for Municipal Services, which provides 24/7 online access to the information related to municipal services. In Montenegro, we worked with the Ministry of Interior to develop the mobile app “Be Safe“, which enables victims of violence to reach help with just one click. A message with the phone number and geolocation is received by the National SOS Helpline to provide immediate support to victims of domestic violence. And in Ukraine, UNDP delivered 4 mobile administrative service centers to target communities, which enables easier access to public services by the people living in the most rural areas and/or people with disabilities.
Accountability and openness are more important than ever, with many state operations going remote or digital. In North Macedonia, we assisted 13 municipalities to work closer with the citizens by installing livestreaming equipment, which enables citizens to follow and participate in regular council sessions through Facebook and YouTube without public health risks associated with in-person participation. And in Serbia, UNDP helped the government to launch open data sets regarding the daily statistics related to COVID-19.