Rebuilding Trust in Institutions after COVID-19

Rebuilding Trust in Institutions after COVID-19

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by Anrike Visser

Covid 19

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Changing regulations and policies can be like moving around deck chairs on the Titanic, Edward Kieswetter, commissioner at the South African Revenue Service said during the OECD-led panel discussion at the International Anti-Corruption Conference. Institutions and businesses looking to rebuild public trust after the COVID-19 pandemic will need to also make changes at the “deep level of DNA,” he said.

Kieswetter spoke as part of a panel on Strengthening Trust and Integrity Through Collective Action at the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference. The panel brought together leaders from the OECD and public and private sectors to discuss the challenges ahead.

Daniel Trujillo, the Global Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer at Walmart, agreed with Kieswetter that organisations need to focus on building cultures of integrity. Carine Smith Ihenacho from Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, one of the largest shareholders in the world, said the pandemic has functioned as a stress test for companies. The businesses that were able to navigate their way through the crisis all have good corporate governance and responsible business practices as a common denominator.

The pandemic has been like a stress test for governments too. “In some countries, there has been a surge in trust in governments due to their handling of the pandemic,” said Gemma Aiolfi from the Basel Institute on Governance. In many other countries, however, the public has lost faith in their government.

The panelists agreed on many of the steps necessary to reestablishing trust. Leaders need to come out strongly against corruption, remove management who are complacent and compliant with corruption, and proactively communicate failures to the public. Jeffrey Schlagenhauf, the Deputy Secretary General of the OECD, said that different sectors could learn from each other’s failures and successes. The OECD launched the Trust in Business Initiative to boost cooperation between governments, businesses and international development organisations.

Kieswetter told his fellow panelists that building and maintaining trust in institutions is a long-term project. He started as commissioner 18 years ago and doesn’t expect the work he started then to be finished for at least five more years. “Actually, it’s never finished,” he said.

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