Summary report Reopening public services after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic 10 June 2020


SIGMA organised a virtual meeting with ENP South administrations on the reopening of offices in the context of coronavirus (COVID-19). Over 80 participants from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority1  and Tunisia, as well as from the European Commission, Delegations of the European Union in the region and SIGMA, took part in the online discussion.

Agenda: English I French I Arabic

This summary report is also available in French and Arabic

Introductory remarks from the Head of the SIGMA Programme were followed by a brief presentation based on the SIGMA Guidelines to prepare going “back to work” and reopening services. The presentation focused on risks, challenges and ways forward, and included examples of specific strategies and tools that could be used to address the challenges.

The overall objective during and after the shutdown period was to continue the provision of services while protecting the health of civil servants and citizens. The ENP-South administrations implemented diverse solutions to achieve this goal. All participants of the meeting reported the increased use of automated e-services. As well as this, the functioning of public bodies was being adjusted so that they could receive members of the public safely. This included: working in shifts (e.g. in Tunisia), prioritising certain services, organising pre arranged appointments and adopting entrance protocols (e.g. in Jordan). To limit the number of members of the public coming to their offices procedures were being simplified (e.g. in Morocco) or validity of licenses and other documents extended (e.g. in Jordan).

Coping with coronavirus (COVID-19) required enhanced transparency and communication with citizens. This included increasing awareness about e-services.

To adjust to the pandemic situation and to continue the provision of services, public services had to change how their work was organised. This included using digital solutions that would allow teleconferencing and remote working. For example, in the Palestinian Authority, all ministries are connected using one intranet. Administrations in the region use flexible working arrangements. For those civil servants who cannot come to the office and who are unable to access all required documents online, ministries organised delivery of required documents to their homes (e.g. in the Palestinian Authority or Jordan). Civil servants working at home were also provided with computers, the required software, and guidance on teleworking (Morocco). Flexible working hours and other measures were also introduced to limit physical interaction between civil servants. Participants reported very responsible reactions from staff in their administrations and great commitment to work in this difficult period.

While most of the participants of the online seminar connected from their offices (55%), the administrations in the region are at different stages of reopening offices. Some of them have already done so (the Palestinian Authority or Tunisia), others are still preparing for this move (Algeria plans to start this process as of 14 June). The common feature of the reopening of offices is that the process is gradual and implemented in co-ordination with the relevant ministries, such as the ministry of health or internal affairs. The process is managed in different ways and with differing degrees of centralisation. However, there is often some central guidance and regulation (see Morocco guidelines). Participants from Jordan highlighted the support received from SIGMA in developing their guidelines for reopening offices and illustrated that they had shared their guidance, among other means, on YouTube or Facebook. Participants from Algeria reported thoroughly studying the Jordanian experience. Algerian participants also reported the adoption of policymaking mechanisms, according to which all decisions of the Prime Minister should take into account health-related aspects.

The gradual return to work requires the provision of support for staff. The representative of Egypt drew attention to the challenge of coping with the anxiety of civil servants returning to the office. Most participants reported allowing the most vulnerable staff (as regards their health) to work from home and apply flexible working solutions. Also, persons taking care of children or the elderly benefit from more flexible working solutions. At the same time, the importance of psychological support to employees coming back to work was emphasised. Jordan reported providing such support to their civil servants.

Main conclusions of the webinar:

1)    The pandemic is a test of resilience for public governance systems. ENP-South administrations performed well despite numerous challenges. These challenges were common to most of them and so were the responses.

2)    “Never waste a good crisis”: the crisis was also an opportunity for innovation, creativity, flexibility, responsibility and rapid modernisation of public administration.

3)    Communication and transparency, both within the public administration and with citizens and stakeholders, played a crucial role in responding to the crisis.

4)    IT solutions (present prior to the crisis and introduced as a response to the confinement) allowed the administrations to ensure the continuation of service provision. E-services became much more popular than before the crisis.

5)    Telework and flexible working time arrangements have been introduced to public administrations on a large scale. It remains to be seen whether they remain widely used when things get back to normal.

6)    The process of reopening offices has already started; plans and roadmaps are used to ensure the safety of civil servants and users returning to premises.

7)    Participants were invited to visit the the dedicated SIGMA and EU websites, as well as the OECD section dedicated to research related to coronavirus (COVID-19) and its consequences for many areas of economic and social life.

1. Footnote by the European External Action Service and the European Commission: This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the European Union Member States on this issue.


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