Press Releases

    20 June 2002

    Deputy Secretary-General Stresses Pivotal Role of Government in Era of Globalization

    NEW YORK, 19 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to Carleton University, Ottawa, on 15 June:

    I am delighted to join you for this wonderful occasion, and I am honoured to receive an honorary degree from one of Canada's great universities. I want first to congratulate the graduates of the Faculty of Public Affairs and Management. This is your day, and I am very pleased to salute all of you for the work you have done, and for the service I know you will render to society in whatever career you choose.

    My own choice to enter public service -- which, by the way, was accidental -- taught me, first of all, to trust my instincts. But I also made that choice at the time when government was considered central to a society's future, and was an exciting place, full of ideas and opportunities.

    You are about to apply your skills and knowledge in a world that recently has grown again more aware and more appreciative of the role that government can play in meeting the basic needs of the citizenry. After a period in which government was considered less an enabler of progress than an obstacle to it -- a period in which many were tempted to think that technology, the free market and the New Economy held all the answers -- we have been cruelly reminded of the value of government in providing the most basic condition for human progress, namely, security.

    The institutions of State -- policy, defence forces, courts of law -- have rarely been more appreciated, and their neglect rarely more rued. As the president of a minor American college -- Harvard -- recently reminded us: the people running up those stairs in the Twin Towers on September 11th were public servants.

    We have, in short, come to recognize that there are things that only government can do -- including creating rules, setting policies, upholding laws and contracts. This is true for the developing world as much as for the developed one. In fact, for every country suffering from an intrusive or authoritarian State, there is another country suffering from too little government. There, the consequence is often the kind of chaos and anarchy which not only prevents lasting peace or development, but provides the breeding ground for violent or terrorist groups.

    The answer, therefore -- in the developing and the developed world -- is not more or less government, but enough government -- enough to protect citizens from arbitrary violence, and to create the rules and societal framework that allows each of us to pursue our hopes and aspirations.

    That is why the United Nations has made good governance a key element of all our work for peace and development. Where bad governance has taken root, the effects have been devastating. Where the rule of law is replaced by arbitrary rule; where civil society is denied full participation in public life; where minorities face official discrimination; where States cannot assure the provision of such fundamental public goods as roads, education and health; or where corruption instead of contracts is what spins the wheels of commerce -- these are some of the hallmarks of bad governance. They rob people of choice and opportunity and render development difficult, if not impossible.

    Good governance, by contrast, whether national or global, is based on shared values: on the universal values found in the United Nations Charter, in all the major religions and in the constitutions and founding documents of many nations around the world. Such values are no mystery to anyone: they include equality, tolerance, dignity, freedom, justice and the peaceful resolution of differences. Good governance is for all of us.

    It follows from these values that good governance is honest, accountable and trustworthy. It is competent and effective, with transparent institutions. It is local and decentralized, so that it can reflect as closely as possible the needs and aspirations of ordinary men and women. It promotes -- and, in turn, depends on -- democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, from freedom of speech to the advancement of women. Most of all, good governance is based on the will of the people: on the legitimacy gained through regular, free and fair elections; on popular participation in decision-making; and on consensus-building throughout society.

    As I said at the beginning, I have spent my entire career in public service, and I have been privileged to serve Canada in many capacities before assuming my present post at the United Nations. But that also means that I have gained as strong an appreciation of the limits of public service as of its rewards and satisfactions. I have learned a great deal about the importance of opening the public sector to the ideas and initiative of the private sector, and about better connecting government and the public sector to the citizens they serve. That is why I believe strongly in opening the doors of opportunity in the public sector to people from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia -- and vice versa.

    To reinvent government -- to make it more effective, more accountable, and bring it closer to the citizens it serves -- requires energetic and educated people such as yourselves. Remember that public service is not about bureaucrats protecting the bureaucracy. Good public policy requires values, commitment, care for what you do, and a sense of responsibility to the greater public which relies on government to create the framework for the private pursuits of prosperity and security. You may be thinking -- Aha! She is trying to persuade us all to go into government service. That is not -- or not only -- what I am saying. Government can't -- and shouldn't -- do it all. Each part of society has a responsibility to the public interest, and in every profession you can find ways of contributing to the welfare of your community.

    We live in an age where boundaries of many kinds are coming down -- in culture, in politics, between peoples and among all sectors of society. It is no longer meaningful to speak of the private sector as if it does not bear responsibility for developments in the public sphere, nor to speak of the role of government as if it can continue without responding and adapting to the energy and creativity of the private sector. In this age, a society's success will, in large part, be measured by its ability to combine ideas from the public and private sectors, simultaneously strengthening the role of the State and the role of private enterprise and civil society.

    This new understanding of the role of government must be applied at the global level in this era of globalization. Today, insularity is less and less of an option. Cooperation between governments in pursuit of common aims has never been more vital. Today's interdependence -- of people and products, information and ideas -- means that more and more of the challenges we face can no longer be addressed at the national level alone. More and more, the forces of modern life escape the control of national governments.

    We need to manage common affairs in common -- we need to arrive at common principles with which to address challenges that all peoples have in common. In a world without walls, we can no longer think and act as if only the local matters, as if we only owe solidarity and allegiance to those within our own city or State.

    This poses a real challenge not only to political leaders, but to all of us as citizens and, in particular, you in the younger generation. We need to rethink what belonging means and what community means in order to be able to embrace the fate of distant peoples and share our wealth and privilege with them, as well. This may sound idealistic, but it is really a basic matter of realism.

    Of course, it will not be easy. We all feel a deeply rooted sense of loyalty to those closest to us -- families, friends, fellow citizens of city and country. To say that we -- and here I think, in particular, of those of us privileged to live in the developed world -- should include citizens of poor and distant countries in our circle of concern -- to suggest that we have an obligation to help them achieve their rights and opportunities -- is to ask a lot. But I believe the era we live in leaves us with little choice. Either we help the poor and developing countries today, out of a sense of moral obligation and enlightened self-interest, or we will find ourselves compelled to do so tomorrow, when their problems have become our problems, in a world without walls.

    September 11th , among other terrible lessons, taught us this one, too.

    If I have focused today on the role of government and the privilege of public service, it is not only because that has been the career that I chose for myself. I have shared with you some ideas about the role of the State in this new age, because I believe the transformation in our societies wrought by globalization has made the State more important, not less; more necessary to our prosperity and security, not less.

    Ultimately, however, the quality of life in our societies depends not only on the dedication and motivation of those who choose public service as their careers, but also on the commitment of all citizens to respect and serve the public good -- whether they find themselves in the private sector, NGOs or academia. The choice, in other words, is yours, and I am confident that you will discover that serving the public good is a wonderful way of enriching and improving your own lives.

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