Presentation of the Findings of the Opinion Poll "Trust in Governance 2016"Feb 9, 2017
UN Resident Coordinator
UNDP Resident Representative
Today’s discussion is fundamentally about democracy, and perhaps at the core of that, the right to self-governance.
Article 21 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948, enshrines democratic practice within a framework of human rights. Everyone has the right to participate in government, Article 21 says, directly or indirectly. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to work for the government, in the public service. And “the will of the people shall be the basis for the authority of government” which, it outlines, should be guaranteed through free and fair elections.
But what we have learned, in the nearly 70 years since the Universal Declaration was written, is how important functional institutions are to the achievement of these rights.
As a citizen, it is impossible to be represented meaningfully in government – and therefore participate in that government – without a professional parliament or municipal council.
As a citizen, you cannot meaningfully engage in an act of self-government, you cannot act confidently in accordance with a set of societal rules, if you cannot simultaneously rely on governmental institutions applying those rules in a fair and unbiased manner to all other citizens.
As a citizen, you cannot participate confidently in society if, when some of those rules are broken, you cannot count on a fair hearing from the courts.
And while elections offer a necessary opportunity to citizens to validate or change leadership at the top, if there is not faith in those institutions themselves to manage the complex social and political processes that comprise a modern state, then we would all be well-advised to focus on strengthening those institutions quickly, so that democracy can function as it should.
As I speak, I am mindful of the events in Romania last week. There, there was a recent election, but bringing a new set of leaders did not solve the problem. Protests in the streets of Romania last week expressed, frankly, a profound mistrust of the institutions of governance. One protester, when asked by a journalist after the government backed down whether he was satisfied, said “only a little bit”. He said he knew that he would need to continue to be vigilant, for fear that his government would take unacceptable steps again.
This is clearly a citizen who is not feeling confident that he is participating in meaningful self-government.
Fortunately, the world has recognized the importance of institutions. In the framework of Agenda2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Member States of the United Nations, Albania among them, signed up for one, number 16, that is committed to the rule of law, access to justice, and “accountable institutions.” This is a first for the world, recognizing universally that the rule of law is essential for development, (alongside other critical steps in education, health, food security, and so on).
But building institutions in which citizens have faith is not an easy task.
There are many ways to measure institutional effectiveness, of course, for example by administrative statistics or outcomes such as literacy levels.
But it is equally necessary to measure the extent to which citizens have trust in their institutions, for without that trust, the whole democratic system, the rule of law, and ultimately the exercise of self-governance, risks collapse.
Low trust in institutions has a damaging effect on both the citizens and the institutions, discouraging civic engagement, and at the same time lowering the morale of civil servants, and thus the accountability and responsiveness of public administration.
So exercises such as this survey are critical additions to basic monitoring, for they offer a real litmus test on the process of institution building in Albania.
The current survey is the 4th annual edition, based on a sound, nationwide methodology that is comparable through time. I am thrilled that we are able to repeat this year after year, for the trend lines are as important as the raw scores. This year, the survey gives grounds for optimism, but also for concern.
Overall, trust in Albanian institutions is low. For half of the twelve selected public institutions, trust remains below 50%.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging that, despite the low levels, the trend is for trust to be slowly increasing.
For example, survey respondents reported encountering corruption less often than before. Only 10% reported to have personally witnessed corruption at central government level, and 15% at the local level, compared to last year where these levels were respectively 34% and 41%.
And in the area of judicial reform, great expectations for change have been raised with last year’s events, whereby 71% of the respondents believe that the reform has the potential for positive change, if implemented correctly.
At the same time, there is much doubt – 46% of the survey respondents – that the reform can be implemented properly. Moreover, some of the most fundamental institutions for democracy are the least trusted. The three bottom ranked institutions are the judiciary (23%), parliament (27%) and the executive (44%) branch of government. Even though the survey results suggest a slight increase in trust this year – one perhaps well-deserved given the fundamental constitutional changes - it remains blatantly clear that the successful implementation of judicial reform presents the most critical of tests for the building of a prosperous democracy in Albania.
The survey also sheds light on the concept of citizen engagement. Citizens still perceive institutional mechanisms for civic participation and other forms of communication between institutions and citizens as deficient. 79% of respondents perceive that they have no space to participate in the consultative processes with the central government and 63% feel that way about local government.
There is much room to improve here, including through building strong civil society institutions, but also through increasing space for their participation. The recent establishment of a National Council for Civil Society is a good step, but should be now used effectively. So is the recent establishment of the Consultative Council, encouraging more dialogue in a structured way with local government.
One interesting finding is that in several cases where views towards both national and municipal governments were tested, often municipal governments were in a more trusted position. This is a wonderful opportunity for the new municipal governments. It offers a chance for them to break with past practices and establish a new democratic standard for Albanian institutions.
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The United Nations and UNDP in Albania work in partnership with Albanian institutions and civil society in many areas of governance. In particular, in collaboration with Italy, UNDP supports the advancement of the national reform of public services delivery along a citizen-centric principle.
Similarly, UNDP, in collaboration with the EU, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and the US, is supporting efforts to improve service delivery at local level as well as improving the capacity and performance of the new Municipal administrations.
This institution building work is not always flashy – but it is both urgent and long-term in nature, and deserves the engagement of both national and international partners.
Finally, I want to say a word about the global environment of trust.
Recently, a global trust-in-institutions – the Edelman Report - was also released. It is discouraging reading, with levels of trust declining across many countries and also many institutions, including civil society and business leaders, not just government. To cite just one fact, two-thirds of the 30 or so countries that they survey are now “distrusters”, that is with overall levels of trust below 50%.
This global state of affairs offers mostly a challenge for Albania. Albania needs to swim upstream, against the global current, because it needs to earn the trust of its citizens and build institutions in the first place. On the other hand, there is maybe an opportunity here, if Albania can succeed, to demonstrate to the world that building equitable, inclusive, fair institutions is not impossible any more, and that the ideal of self-government can be achieved.