Your Excellency, Minister Gerovasili¨
Dear Mr. Ombudsman, Mr. Pottakis
Dear Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Christou
Distinguished guests, friends,
I am excited to address you this morning at the launching of this new programme of the EEA Grants on good governance, accountable institutions and transparency. This is the first time the EEA funds are being used to support a programme of this kind in Greece. Our strategic ambition is to contribute to trust-building between citizens and the authorities by fostering increased transparency and strengthened accountability in public administration, as well as making communication between the authorities and the citizens more effective.
Let me first say a few words about why Norway is present at this stakeholder conference and secondly, why we give such a high priority to this programme in Greece. I will then share some thoughts on our own experiences in strengthening good governance and sustaining trust between citizens and the authorities. This I hope you can bring with you into the discussion.
Norway is represented here today because we are the main donor of the EEA & Norway grants, contributing with approximate 98% of the fund. I know that not everybody present is familiar with this funding mechanism. The EEA refers to the European Economic Area. As Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are European countries that are not formally members of the European Union, we have a separate agreement that gives us access to the single European market through the EEA agreement. In return, we provide substantial funding earmarked for reducing economic and social disparities, promoting economic growth as well as strengthening good governance in selected European countries. This funding also has the aim of strengthening bilateral relations with the EU countries in Central and Southern Europe, and Greece is one of them.
The aim of this stakeholder consultation is to identify how we best can channel the funds to meet some of the main challenges in the areas of good governance in Greece. And our discussions on ideas and challenges in that respect will form the way we will work in the coming programme period.
The good governance programme for Greece has already defined some key institutional and substantive parameters. We will work with the Ombudsman and his office to strengthen anti-corruption measures, and with the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction to improve transparency and enhance digitalization. If we are to succeed in developing relevant projects, I am sure we will observe a multiplying effect in trust-building through increased effectivity in public administration. Both institutions chosen are strategic institutions in this regard, having a mandate to promote more accountability, transparency and direct, constructive assistance to its citizens.
As we all know, Greece is now about to turn a page after years of economic crisis, tough reforms and a most demanding cycle of fiscal adaptation. The efforts the government has made in this regard is highly commendable. Soon a new chapter will open. And Greece has to make new efforts in order to lay a solid foundation for an irreversible and sustained economic growth for the years ahead. Such a project is not about economic fundamentals only, it is just as much about Governance reforms and improvements. We know from our own experience that well-functioning institutions is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth. For an economy to optimize the utilization of its labour force and capital stock, it needs not only a robust framework pertained to the business environment and value creation, but an effective and sound judicial system, and a public sector that provides predictable and stable conditions for market activities. This includes not at least transparency, efficiency and accountability in public administration. High institutional quality will strengthen the foundation for any Government to provide better public services, social security, education and welfare, key elements that must be in place if economic growth is to be sustained.
I am frequently asked how Norway is able to maintain a high level of welfare for its citizens, and why people agree to continue paying high taxes. I think it is fair to say that our model builds on a long tradition of universal coverage of a wide range of risks. The core element of this model is an extensive redistribution policies financed by taxes combined with a large public involvement in the production of health, education and welfare services. The second layer constitutes of proactive family policies combined with active labour market policies, which has managed to ensure a high labour force participation over time.
But there is more into it. And that is trust - trust between the citizens and the authorities, or to be even more specific: between people and governmental institutions. This relationship does actually work as a positive-mutually-reinforcement cycle: when governmental institutions take a direct and supportive engagement in the life of its citizens by effective communication and service provision, people tend to feel that the system is there for them. This creates faith in the Government and helps to create or cultivate areas of consent. This is why the institutions we have chosen to work with in this programme are such important flagships. These institutions have both the ambition and the mandate to enhance people’s confidence in public institutions, to improve the delivery of public services and public goods, and to heed the important principle of governmental accountability.
Working against corruption is key for enhancing public confidence. Not only does corruption undermines democracy and violates human rights; it reduces trust in society by encouraging ways and means to circumvent rules and regulations. Needless to say, this kind of malpractice has serious implications for governmental revenues the growth of the economy. It creates a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Establishing a General Secretariat against corruption is key. Mr. Christou, it is therefore a pleasure to see you here today.
In this context, I would like to draw the attention to the important work of the Ombudsman offices. The Ombudsman represents the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violations of human rights. This is crucial for improved trust and transparency in any society. Mr. Pottakis, I am excited to know that you will participate in today’s consultations, as your experience and insight is truly valuable to us. Today, I hope we can identify possible ways to empower your staff and improve the Ombudsman’s infrastructure in order to increase its capacity.
Another priority to ensure societal cohesiveness is to develop a sufficient capacity to manage and adapt to the accelerating change of scientific and technological innovations. Today digitalized technology is the prime driver of development, including the economy and its value creation. We can today see clear signs of societal structures failing to keep pace with the rate of change. By the time we get used to the change, that won’t even be the prevailing change any more – we’ll be on to some new change. To meet this challenge, we have to think out of the box.
Norway is a small, open economy that throughout history has been dependent on international trade and strong relationships with the outer world. In a rapidly changing environment, Norway needs to adapt to changing circumstances in order to survive. We see digitalization as a key ingredient in modernization. We also see digitalization as a key ingredient in maintaining people’s trust in our Government, our public sector, and our political system.
We are therefore very excited about the efforts made in Greece to enhance e-Government. Digitalisation of the public sector involves using technology to renew, simplify and enhance. It is about providing new and better public services - services that are easy to use, efficient and accountable. Digitalisation stimulates value creation and innovation, increases productivity in both the private and the public sector.
Norway is according to the EU’s own index, Europe’s second most digitised country. We strive to keep up with the global developments and are even forerunners in some fields, like our banking system and our fiscal digital solutions. I want to draw your attention to one innovation that has made a major difference in the relationship between citizens and authorities:
The comprehensive digital platform Altinn.
Altinn is a web portal for electronic communication between citizens, businesses, organizations, institutions and
Governmental bodies and agencies. A common platform has been developed for effective cross-cutting and integrated communication; the communication flow has been accelerated and become highly effective, and all kind of relevant information sources have been much more structured and accessible. Altinn frees valuable work capacity, so that less time is used for paperwork. It avoids overlapping information, thus reducing the administrative burden for the employers. An not to forget, an extra gain of this grand project on digitized adaption has been its user friendliness.
Another example is the online mailbox digipost, a digital mailbox used for safe communication between private individuals and private or public enterprises, which reduces postage cost and the usage of paper – a win-win scenario for the society, enterprises, public bodies and the environment.
As for the public sector in Greece, you have already made some interesting headway in the implementation digital systems. A major one is electronic tax return forms, which has both simplified tax reporting, but also ensured a larger tax payment compliance. Take also the example of e-prescriptions. This provides accountability and contributes to reducing corruption. I know that Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction has currently a wide range of projects underway to strengthen e-government, and Norway is most excited to learn about the Ministry’s interest for our Altinn platform.
To sum up, with this programme – we are hoping to be able to help to contribute to meet some of the challenges we have already described: To reduce bureaucratic hurdles and delays, make the societal communication much more effective, ease the access to relevant information, and fight corruption in all its forms. Being successful in this, I am sure that you will also succeed in installing increased public confidence in your key institutions.
In closing, I will urge you all to be creative and inventive in our discussions today. Make sure that synergies are created, and that all relevant aspects of the potential for good governance, accountable institutions and transparency are being considered.
Thank you for your attention