Trust and legitimacy

Strengthening Trust and Capacity: Rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, 2017–2023

Author
Kate Johnston
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, it devastated the island’s already fragile infrastructure. The power grid, old and poorly maintained, collapsed. Communications systems, the water supply, and many roads, schools, and homes also suffered severe damage. The estimated cost of repair was US$98 billion. To coordinate effective recovery and reconstruction efforts and manage federal funding, the Puerto Rican government established a central agency, the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, later known as COR3. Reconstruction got off to a slow start because of limited capacity, fiscal austerity, and US federal government procedures that assumed local financial liquidity and the ability to come to rapid agreement on the estimated costs of proposed projects. Gradually, as levels of trust between levels of government grew, procedural innovation enabled funds to flow to municipalities and other recipients, which then contracted for repair or rebuilding under COR3’s supervision. By late 2023, six years into the reconstruction effort, roughly 10,600 projects were in progress and Puerto Rico had spent $1.8 billion of the US$23.4 billion the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had awarded. US$11.3 billion awaited FEMA approval before expenditure could begin. Separately, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development had committed over $20 billion in disaster recovery and mitigation grants and disbursed about a quarter of that amount. The first five years of the recovery, 2018-2023 offered important lessons about ways to balance speed, quality, cost, integrity, equity, and alignment with strategic priorities during major postdisaster reconstruction.

Kate Johnston drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with government officials and civic leaders in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., from July through October 2023.  Matthew Lillehaugen and Alina Dunlap contributed to the research. Alina Dunlap authored the addendum. Case published March 2024.


 

Without a Template: South Africa Confronts COVID-19, 2020–2021

Author
Jennifer Widner & Andile Cele
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

News of the outbreak of an unknown virus in Wuhan, China, quickly caught the attention of South African disease experts in December 2019. In the event the virus spread globally, those experts understood that the South African government would find itself face to face with two persistent challenges. First, although an upper-middle-income country, South Africa was also the world’s most unequal. Within the country, household access to health care varied dramatically, as did the vulnerability of livelihoods to economic shocks. Second, there were wide disparities in the levels of readiness across the provinces, districts, and cities that would manage the front lines of any response. During mid-March 2020, as the first South African residents fell ill, the government set up a structure for making policy decisions. It vested responsibility for pandemic response coordination in the security services, implemented stringent restrictions on movement, and used the country’s natural disaster management system to try to align policy with the provinces. The Department of Health, already focused on disease surveillance, testing, and other technical functions, cochaired many of the work streams in those institutions. Nonetheless, during the first wave, poorer provinces and districts struggled to respond effectively, and the national government—with external help—surged assistance to those areas. The investment helped contain the spread of infection and return the country to lower alert levels, but disparities in capacity, illness, and deaths persisted in subsequent waves. The country continued to adapt and performed better on several metrics than did a number of similarly situated counterparts. However, the experience pinpointed the difficulties of boosting local preparedness and addressing underlying inequalities amid a crisis.

Jennifer Widner and Andile Cele drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in South Africa during 2021. Tyler McBrien assisted with some of the background research. Case published March 2024.

Fact Checkers Unite to Set the Record Straight: The Redcheq Alliance and Information Integrity in Colombia’s Regional Elections, 2019

Author
Alexis Bernigaud
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

During Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement referendum and its 2018 election, misinformation and disinformation circulated widely. As the country’s 2019 elections approached, Dora Montero, president of Consejo de Redacción (Editorial Board)—an association that promoted investigative journalism and operated an online fact-checking program called ColombiaCheck—realized it was especially difficult to correct factual errors at the regional and local levels, and she was determined to do something about that problem. Montero and her group assembled a network of journalists who detected and countered false claims during the 2018 campaign. Montero’s team organized workshops on fact checking for local journalists; forged alliances with local and national radio, TV, and print media; and collaborated with universities and civic leaders to produce and distribute articles that presented the facts. During the 2019 campaign, the alliance, named RedCheq, produced 141 articles that clarified and corrected political statements, social media posts, photos, and videos. This case focuses on the challenges associated with improving the integrity of election-related information at the subnational level. This case is part of a series on combatting false information, including both misinformation (unintentional), disinformation (intentional), and fake news, one form of disinformation

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with journalists and civic leaders in Colombia from January through May 2023. Case published July 2023.

Colombia’s National Civil Registry Launches an Antidisinformation Initiative, 2018−2019

Author
Alexis Berniguad
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Translations
Abstract

When a wave of online misinformation jeopardized the integrity of primary elections in Colombia, Juan Carlos Galindo, who headed the country’s National Civil Registry, decided it was time to address this emerging threat to democracy. The registry, which worked with the National Electoral Council, would soon conduct the first local elections since the country’s 2016 peace agreements, and Galindo wanted to ensure that voters had correct information about the process, including the locations and open hours of polling stations. He asked his team to find appropriate ways to respond to misinformation, mindful of low public trust, frequent strategic use of disinformation by political parties, and limited resources to target voters at the local level. Building on the experience of the registry’s Mexican counterpart, head of international partnerships Arianna Espinosa led the design and implementation of a plan to deal with the problem. The team struck deals with social media platforms, independent fact checkers, and political parties to take part in the fight against false information and used an artificial-intelligence-powered platform to detect and respond to false news about the election process during the campaign. By election day, the team had refuted a total of 21 misleading claims and published 59 verified news items and videos on social media, but the limited reach of the publications and minimal engagement with some of the key stakeholders prevented the registry from having the impact it aimed for. After the election, the new head of the registry refocused on building more-transparent processes and providing accessible information for citizens about elections while curtailing some of the initiatives Espinosa had introduced. This case is part of a series on combatting false information, including both misinformation (unintentional), disinformation (intentional), and fake news, one form of disinformation.

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with officials, journalists, and civic leaders in Colombia and Spain from January through May 2023. Case published July 2023.

Enhancing Fairness: Wisconsin Experiments with Nonpartisan Election Administration, 2001 – 2016

Author
Daniel Dennehy
Focus Area(s)
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

In the wake of a 2001 scandal over the use of government employees to assist political campaigns, public interest groups in the US state of Wisconsin pushed for reform of the state ethics and elections boards, which had been slow to respond to complaints about misuse of resources and had declined to refer suspected lawbreakers for prosecution. During the 2002 election period, gubernatorial candidates of both main parties joined the call to insulate election administration from partisan pressure. Five years of negotiation came to fruition in 2007, when the state senate and assembly voted to create a consolidated election and ethics agency directed by retired judges. The first nonpartisan election administration authority of its type in the United States, the new agency, called the Government Accountability Board, replaced a system that had vested governance of elections in a commission made up of members of both major parties. But eight years later, political alignments shifted. Arguing that the board had overreached in its handling of certain sensitive cases, state legislators in 2015 voted to shutter the institution and reverted to the pre-2007 system run by representatives of the two major political parties. This case illuminates both the circumstances that can drive politicians to introduce a nonpartisan election management system and the challenges associated with the design, implementation, and sustainability of the approach. (Note that the lead reformer in this case, Michael G. Ellis, died in 2018.)  

Daniel Dennehy and staff drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in the United States from August through November 2022. Case published February 2023.

Defending the Vote: France Acts to Combat Foreign Disinformation, 2021 – 2022

Author
Alexis Bernigaud
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

After a hack-and-leak operation that targeted a candidate in its 2017 presidential election and a social media campaign against its exports in 2020, France’s government decided to take steps to protect its politics from foreign digital interference. With another national election approaching in April 2022, Lieutenant Colonel Marc-Antoine Brillant began designing a new unit that aimed to detect foreign information manipulation while preserving freedom of speech by separating responsibility for identification of attacks from responsibility for framing and executing a response. After the proposal cleared legal hurdles, Brillant’s team, under the authority of the Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security, set up an interagency governance system, initiated a dialogue with social media platforms, and monitored social media to detect hostile campaigns. During the 2022 campaign, the unit, called Viginum, identified five foreign interference attempts and referred them to other parts of government that could decide whether and how to react. The elections ran smoothly, and the Viginum team started to focus on building stronger public understanding of its mission and activities.  

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in France from August through November 2022. Case published January 2023.

Communication Breakdown: Lessons from Tunisia’s Second Wave of COVID-19, 2020

Author
Mariam Ghanem and ISS Staff
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

In mid-2020, Tunisia stood out as a star within its region. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a high toll in the Middle East and North Africa. But by the end of the second week of August, as the first wave ebbed, Tunisia had recorded 149 cumulative cases per million people—compared with more than 800 per million in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and most of the rest of the region. Tunisia’s epidemic curve was almost flat. However, the good news was short-lived. By mid-August, the number of COVID-19 cases had started to rise, and by October the number of cases per million in Tunisia matched that of other countries in the area. A year later, Tunisia was a regional hot spot. This case study profiles the difficulty of containing the spread of disease when local governments are new and have limited capacity, when public health guidance from a national government modulates or weakens, and when political distrust runs high.

Mariam Ghanem and ISS staff researched and wrote this case based on research conducted during May, June, and July 2021. Case published January 2022. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

The Value of Vigilance: Costa Rica’s First-Year Response to COVID-19, 2020

Author
Miguelangel Verde
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Abstract

In early January 2020, when the World Health Organization announced that SARS-CoV-2 had spread beyond Wuhan, China, and represented a public health risk of international concern, Costa Rica was better prepared than other countries in its region. The Central American nation had years earlier developed preparedness and response plans to deal with swine flu, avian flu, Ebola, and other infectious diseases and had updated them in 2018. There was high confidence in both the country’s universal health-care system and the government health-care teams that served even the remotest regions of the country. Doctors had access to an up-to-date database of medical histories that covered more than three-quarters of the population of about 5 million. However, the country also had some vulnerabilities: more than a fifth of the populace lived in poverty; many jobs were associated with international tourism—a sector likely to be hit hard in a pandemic; and the government was wrestling with a fiscal crisis that had started years earlier. Weeks before Costa Rica confirmed its first case of COVID-19, ministries and national institutions began work to procure medical supplies and equipment, set up financial and social assistance programs, and develop a road map to build resilience for the tourism industry. When the virus appeared in early March, the national government declared a state of emergency within days to ensure that every ministry and institution could contribute effectively to the pandemic response. Initial confirmed infections were relatively low in number, but as case numbers grew through 2020, collaborations with partners both national and international led to innovative solutions to avoid a nationwide lockdown and make Costa Rica the first country in Latin America to safely reactivate commercial air travel and international tourism before year’s end.

 

Miguelángel Verde researched and wrote this case based on interviews conducted during August, September, October, and November 2021. Case published January 2022. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

All Aboard: Nigeria’s Federal Government Streamlines Pandemic Response Coordination January – November 2020

Author
Emily Tenenbom
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Country of Reform
Abstract

When Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, confirmed its first case of COVID-19, President Muhammadu Buhari tapped the former head of the country’s HIV/AIDS control program, Dr. Sani Aliyu, to design the country’s COVID-response coordination system. Aliyu’s coproduction model partnered Nigerian government experts with United Nations agencies and other organizations that had essential capacities and gave each of them with specific roles. Because Nigeria’s federal system of government endowed the states with major responsibility for public health, Aliyu’s team worked to support governors and state-level emergency operations. The team soon realized that lockdowns were very difficult to maintain in a country where most households depended on income from the informal sector, so it employed a hot-spot strategy in lieu of nationwide lockdowns. To help fine-tune the response, the team conducted weekly national polls to assess residents’ knowledge, perceptions, and behaviors and then adjusted its messages to secure greater compliance with safety measures. Gradually, the government also reached several million vulnerable households with social and economic support. Nigeria ended the first year of the pandemic without repeated surges in serious cases requiring medical care, and it was able to close many of the temporary treatment centers it had set up.

Emily Tenenbom and staff drafted this case study based on interviews conducted during August and September 2021. Bunmi Makinwa assisted. Case published January 2022. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

Starting Ahead, Staying Ahead: Senegal’s Rapid Response to COVID-19, 2019 - 2020

Author
Leon Schreiber and Matthew Schofield
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Country of Reform
Abstract

Senegal entered the COVID-19 pandemic with what seemed to be grave disadvantages, among them the inability of most households to adjust to prolonged lockdowns, given their dependence on wages they earned day to day. But the West African country also enjoyed an advantage: it was well prepared for an epidemic. In the years following the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Senegal had built a comprehensive health-care emergency response system, and when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, Senegal moved fast. President Macky Sall declared a state of emergency and announced immediate restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. The country’s emergency operations center became the headquarters for a dedicated COVID-19 Incident Management System, and the Dakar branch of the international Pasteur Institute helped develop a rapid diagnostic test. The government spent 7% of its gross domestic product—more than any other country in Africa—on socioeconomic support measures. The response team credited those measures with the successful containment of community spread during the first wave of the disease. During 2020, the numbers of ill people coming to hospitals and health facilities for treatment remained low, and disease models suggested that subsequent waves were generally of short duration—even after an October religious pilgrimage that had brought thousands together under crowded conditions.

 

Leon Schreiber and Matthew Schofield drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with the help of Placide Muhigana in February, March, and June 2021. Case study published August 2021. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.