We will not be the same after 2020. COVID-19 abruptly descended on us, disrupting our reality and unsettling us all in the process. We have been locked down, sometimes with fear, gradually trying to understand and come to terms with our new world. We have all been personally touched: we know someone who got sick, some survived, and others, sadly, did not. We have praised recovery and mourned loss.
We’ve persevered, trying our best to get to the other side, knowing however that some things are forever changed. We’ve been deeply moved and inspired by those who put up their hands and made a difference: health care workers, delivery and food supply chain personnel, and janitorial workers; heroes working endlessly, constantly taking risks for others.
While our plans may have changed radically, many of us are aware of our privilege, being able to continue with our lives, without the worry that many others face. We are among a small group of people with resources that allow us to continue functioning and living our lives, from relatively safe positions. We are indeed fortunate, able to continually speak, connect, support and work with each other.
We are, however, gravely concerned with the devastating effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in a century. Low-income economies are experiencing unparalleled pressure to respond effectively to urgent public health and social needs with shrinking resources. The Sustainable Development Goals agenda has been derailed. Debt levels are rapidly increasing, adding to the prospect that the public finances of many countries will be under considerable strain in the very near future.
The pandemic has taken away millions of jobs, with millions of people falling into poverty, some at the extreme level. Sweeping interruptions in education have left many behind. Rooted in structural causes, inequality and income polarization has worsened, with the vulnerable, marginalized and voiceless experiencing greater levels of exclusion—levels that are likely to last for many years to come. The pandemic’s adverse effects on public health, education, safety, labor and income, among others, has meant that decades of gains for women and minorities are being lost.
In our field, we know that advancing fiscal transparency, citizen empowerment and public participation helps to set the stage for the better allocation and use of public resources. More importantly, transparency and informed participation enable governments to better serve their people, and give the public greater power to request, demand and defend their rights to public services, including access to vaccines, which is something that is still an aspiration for many. The GIFT community is conscious of the crucial role we need to play. The causes for which we fight are absolutely essential in addressing some of the greatest threats we face.
I recently heard the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Goergieva say that the best memorial we could leave to those lost in the pandemic is to build a more inclusive society (here)
. I could not agree more. She importantly concluded that “everyone has a role to play in building this memorial”. The role of the GIFT community in building such a memorial is crucial. Among us are champions continually willing to collaborate in testing innovations for potential scaling, thus providing opportunities, services and structured paths for reaching fiscal transparency and participation goals, that would otherwise be well out of the reach of individual members. And the pandemic has generated breakthroughs and innovations that were unimaginable until very recently, and which could help us enormously. For instance, new fiscal contracts that redistribute and reappraise the role of informed citizen engagement, and the use of government digital tools for better service delivery and addressing civic and economic rights, are becoming part of the discussions for solutions to the progress we have lost.
At the dawn of the new year, let me express my profound confidence in our stewards and partners’ resilience, as well as in their capacity to adapt to new ways of working together to face the many challenges that lie ahead of us. With gratitude and as always ready to continue our important work together, I wish you a healthy and fruitful 2021.
Juan Pablo Guerrero