In the poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” John Godfrey Saxe explains how six blind men viewed a single elephant as six different objects. They looked at it as a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, or a rope.
Likewise, in the Asia-Pacific region, states and institutions differ in the way they see the successes and failures of public administration and governance. They differ in profiles, priorities and commitments in governance. The diversity of political systems has engendered varying levels of democratization in the region. Ethnic and territorial conflicts threaten sovereignty and security among and within states.
In the era of globalization, where we all are “sailing in one boat,” Asia-Pacific region faces greater demands for better infrastructure, transportation and communication systems. This alone is a daunting task for countries that harness limited infrastructure, human and institutional resources. But what poses a more important concern for the region is how its states and institutions can reconcile their differences in interests and commitments towards a public sector that works efficiently.
With a changing regional and international environment, there are demands for political reform. Governance in the region has to be innovative. Institutions have to be stronger than political actors or personalities. The challenge is to balance market mechanisms with welfare state entitlements. All these require rooting out corruption and vested interests.
The Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration or EROPA was established in post-colonial Asia Pacific, at the height of the Cold War. Back then, new agencies and institutions for public administration emerged to aid new states in promoting development. EROPA served as a platform for these institutions to collaborate with each other and exchange ideas and practices in public administration and governance.
EROPA works with key institutions in building skills, capabilities and expertise in public administration and governance in the region. It also continues to uphold the importance of sharing of knowledge and experiences in the field to constantly improve theory and practice in the field. Collaborative activities conducted by EROPA are interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, dealing with areas such as crisis management, fiscal administration, urban development, local government, anti-corruption, and civil service reform.
With an official consultative status at the U.N., EROPA is able to strengthen and sustain public administration leadership and expertise through different activities, such as conferences, training programs, seminars, joint research projects, publications, among others. The Asian Review of Public Administration or ARPA, a biennial journal published by EROPA, gives fresh insights and issues on public administration and governance in the Asia Pacific. EROPA also holds annual conferences that tackle solutions to relevant public administration issues.
EROPA has already expanded its activities online to cope with advancements in information technology. It maintains an online database of public administration experts and practitioners that can provide institutions with technical assistance. EROPA has also utilized social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to expand its online presence. It also maintains an official website as well as an online platform to enhance interaction and cooperation among youth, experts and institutions from across the globe.
Through these activities, EROPA has promoted advocacies that soon paved way for the changes in the region, such as indigenization of public administration, public administration as “administration for the public,” crisis and disaster management, role of non-governmental organizations in service delivery, impact of culture and technology on public administration, and sustainable development. For years to come, EROPA will continue to help reconciling differences and engender a vibrant environment for new ideas.
Today, we face problems that are more complex than efficiency and productivity. In the Asia-Pacific region, we see newly-democratizing states that suffer from weak institutions, weak political parties, and weak mechanisms. Being a regional organization that has been there for more than fifty years, EROPA is well aware of the changes happening in the Asia-Pacific region. We feel the need to beef up institutions and involve the youth in coping with these changes. More importantly, we feel the need to seek new avenues for sharing knowledge and experiences, and most of all, abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and the right, to adopt new ideas from a wide range of political spectrum.
Despite having experienced different problems, Asia and the U.S. both face common challenges in public administration. I believe that EROPA and the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) share common goals to promote the study and practice of public administration, and come up with innovative approaches to address governance challenges. We at EROPA are ready to work hand-in-hand with the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) in exploring new areas for cooperation, and we welcome ASPA’s valuable ideas and insights on public administration and governance initiatives.
I hope that this Conference will be a fruitful learning experience for all of us. Thank you very much, and I look forward to working with some of you in the future.
*Delivered during the International Conference of the American Society for Public Administration on “Governance and Sustainability: Local Concerns, Global Challenges" 15-19 March, 2013