The UN has honoured public servants as “heroes” for working undeterred during the Covid-19 pandemic and celebrated the work of public institutions.
Awards were handed to 17 public-sector departments in 15 countries during a ceremony in Dubai on Monday.
Public servants from around the world were recognised with UN Public Service Awards trophies and certificates for programmes covering areas such as education and women’s empowerment.
The ceremony was cancelled last year owing to global restrictions to stem the fast-spreading deadly virus.
Catherine Pollard, UN undersecretary general for management strategy, policy and compliance, said the work demonstrated the importance of accountable governance and the need for more support for public servants.
“While today is a moment for celebrating public service innovation, it is also a time to reflect on the many public servants who have put their lives on the line carrying out frontline work during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
“Healthcare workers, teachers; sanitation, transport [and] postal workers, and many others who provided public services under the most challenging of circumstances are the heroes of the pandemic.”
Although most governments have struggled with limited resources, officials have worked to maintain services during the crisis.
Ms Pollard called on all governments to improve unimpeded access to maternal health care and basic services put on hold or limited in some countries.
“Measures must be put in place to ensure that in times of crisis the most vulnerable do not become more vulnerable,” she said.
“As we look to the future, governments must ensure that women are front and centre of their efforts, policies, plans budgets and service delivery.
“As the pandemic continues, United Nations calls for global solidarity as we build back better together.”
She said technology would be used to ensure the world of work evolved.
“The Covid 19 experience has taught us staff can telecommute effectively, responsibly and doing so improves work-life balance,” she said.
“We call on you to learn from each other as we work towards our collective sustainable development goals.”
UAE recognised for modern government
Ohoud Al Roumi, Minister of State for Governmental Development and Future, praised the award winners for their passion.
“Public servants have shown their ability to adapt, protect lives and save livelihoods,” she said.
“It confirms the pivotal role of government particularly during the pandemic.”
Ms Al Roumi urged officials to further push to develop solutions to meet the 2030 sustainable development goals and improve the lives of people.
The UAE too received special recognition from the UN for sharing knowledge and innovation in governance. The country was given a special award for its role in government modernisation.
The UN awards have been handed out since 2003 to inspire nations and highlight systems that can be adapted by other governments.
Teams waved national flags and some carried framed portraits of their rulers as government employees from countries including Portugal, Botswana, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Ghana, Italy, Spain, Thailand and Bangladesh were called on to the stage.
The categories covered inclusive and gender-responsive services, accountability, digital transformation and preparedness in times of crisis.
Bangladesh women take charge
A team from Bangladesh was praised for recruiting women for disaster management.
The country has more than 76,000 volunteers who are trained to evacuate buildings, supervise refuges and provide first aid. Half of them are women.
Tropical cyclones often batter the developing country, causing widespread loss of life and property.
Encouraging women to join rescue teams had a positive impact during its most recent cyclones.
“This programme encourages women to come out of their homes and work during and after a disaster,” said Kazi Tasmin Ajmery, deputy secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
“Women participate in search and rescue and manage shelters during a cyclone. The number of women has increased from a third to 50 per cent now.
“The training did not stop during Covid. We had to manage Covid and two cyclones. In the past, women were reluctant to come to the shelters but now they are encouraged and this saves lives.”
Brazil education dreams
Officials from north-eastern Brazil were elated at the spotlight on preparatory courses for low and middle-income pupils that ensured their acceptance into competitive technical and high school programmes.
The courses was moved online during the pandemic, with videos posted on the local government’s television channel and on YouTube helping to limit the dropout rate.
It prepared about 6,000 pupils to sit tests so their dreams of progressing to higher education did not die when Covid-19 forced schools to close.
“Education is a most powerful tool to overcome social disparity and in an epidemic, this is twice as true,” said Anderson Ferreira, mayor of Jaboatao dos Guararapes city.
“We need to keep working towards innovation as this brings opportunity for citizens with less income.”
Training Thai contract tracers
The work of Thailand’s department of disease control was acknowledged with more than 1,000 surveillance teams set up to handle public health emergencies.
“It is our pride to receive this because it is vital to prepare intelligent infrastructure for emergency operation centres,” said Dr Chawetsan Namwat, director of Thailand’s emergency health hazard and disease control division.
“It is about training epidemiologists, public health officials on disease control so we now have people to track and trace contacts of Covid-19 cases.”