The session reflects on the implications of the recent publication titled An Opportunity to Build Legitimacy and Trust in Public Institutions in the Time of COVID-19 on the ECA region.
Legitimacy in the time of COVID-19 can be understood as the ability of leaders to secure compliance with new public health orders because people share a widespread belief that everyone is complying. This perspective — building on the logic of game theory, which can help to explain strategic interactions among large numbers of people in a society or polity — yields a powerful insight: that governments in developing countries, as the first line of defense against a life-threatening disease, have received a windfall of legitimacy.
On the one hand, this windfall of legitimacy can be wasted—or worse, used to intensify divisive politics, grab power, and install government at the commanding heights of the economy and society, even after the pandemic recedes. On the other hand, for reform leaders and international development partners that are motivated to improve governance for economic development, the crisis presents opportunities to build trust in public institutions. In this task, international organizations have a comparative advantage precisely because they are not part of domestic political games. But this dynamic may require changing how donors typically approach corruption in developing countries and it may also necessitate a change in how reform leaders in countries use the advantage of external partners to exert pressure for reform.
Participants learned how the pandemic has affected trust and the legitimacy of governments in client countries, particularly in the ECA region and ideas, tools and opportunities for task teams to use in the current context to promote successful reform agendas in collaboration with clients and counterparts.