Public Sector Reform: An Essential Element to Africaâ??s Development

Fri, 16 Sep 2011 Source: Bottah, Eric Kwasi

By: Eric Kwasi Bottah (aka Oyokoba)

1. Introduction

The timing of this article couldn’t have been better, given the embarrassing decision by Ghana’s President, Prof. Evans Atta Mills, to sideline the world-renowned Ghanaian heart surgeon, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng. The President’s decision will forcibly push a flag-ship medical centre of excellence, the National Cardiothoracic Centre (NCC), under the auspices of incompetent and corrupt administrators who are eager to have access to an imagined pot of gold. Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, who almost singlehandedly established the NCC two decades ago, against formidable odds, is perceived by government officials to be hindering their plan to dismantle the autonomy of the NCC and placing it under the poorly managed and money-losing Korle Bu Teaching Hospital administration.

The inhumane and politically jaundiced humiliation of Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng at the hands of the Ghanaian government, dove-tails into the classic Ghanaian folklore – “Baboon dey work and monkey dey chop” (one person toils and the other reaps the benefit). The Korle Bu Hospital administrators and their paymasters in the NDC government want the NCC to do all the hard work while they get to wet their beaks in the money stream. This case, amongst many others, is a classic example of why African countries are caught up in the tangled web of inefficient management, development paralysis and poverty.

Anybody who is intimately familiar with Africa would agree that Africa is not poor, it is rather poorly managed. It is no exaggeration to say that Africa is generously endowed with great diversity of resources such as forests, minerals, oil, rivers, sunshine, and hard working people. Most of these resources can be harnessed to put Africa in middle-income status within a generation. However, poor management practices in the public sector and poor political leadership have been the bane of the continent’s development.

Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve political independence had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) greater than those of South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia at independence. Over fifty years later, Ghana and most African countries are dirt-poor and heavily dependent upon donor aid to finance their development projects. There are myriad problems that account for the poor performance of African economies. A comprehensive coverage of all of them is definitely outside the scope of this paper. This paper will, therefore, focus on those problems concerning performance management in the public sector. The paper will also suggest possible solutions to Africa’s management and administrative problems.

2. The Case for Performance Management

The broad themes in performance management include efficiency, effectiveness, performance measurement, accountability, responsibility and feeding back into the on-going operations of an organization, the best performance knowledge data and information learned or acquired. Performance management can, therefore, feed into the strategic plan of an organization, to the extent that the overall performance knowledge garnered can be used successfully to guide it to realize its strategic mission, values, mandate and vision.

According to Wouter Van Dooren, performance management is the vigorous pursuance of excellence whereby an agency or organization seeks to efficiently and effectively utilize performance information and incorporates it into decision making (Dooren, 2010). Under the new performance management paradigm, performance management has, as its objective, the incorporation of performance information to inform on the direction of the strategic plan of the organization on how to empower and enhance the competencies of public servants to deliver public goods or value (Grote, 2000).

It is important to differentiate between government and administration, and the role of performance management as the transmitter that unites both. Performance management recognizes the double coincidence of two competing needs and challenges in a modern society – democratic accountability and administrative responsibility – and seeks to provide the guidelines, through the public sector, to coordinate and align both competing challenges to provide public good. In a perfect world, government will initiate policies and the civil service or public sector will implement the policies. The government has democratic accountability and the civil service exercises administrative responsibility. Performance management, a sub-set of the New Public Management, seeks to loop the two facets and makes them interplay seamlessly in the service of the citizen-customer. The principal objective is to provide effective public management (borrowing heavily from private sector management practices) and administration with emphasis on accountability and responsiveness to customer needs (Pollitt, 2006).

The African continent can boast of very little political pluralism that allows fair and open competition for power to govern in the individual states. The continent, with very few exceptions, is littered with predatory one-party dominant governments and autocratic leaders who resent active political opposition. This phenomenon has done nothing but bred systemic corruption, favoritism, nepotism and inefficiency throughout the public sector. Too often, the presidents of African countries remain in office for over 25 years, morphing from military leaders to political leaders swapping army fatigues for civilian attire. These leaders go on to amend their constitutionally set terms office to enable them to run several times. To promote true democracy, enhance administrative effectiveness and turn their development fortunes around, it is critical that African countries build strong political institutions and avoid the “strongman” phenomenon that has plagued them for decades.

The civil service or public service in most African countries is a colonial relic inherited from Western colonial masters. Governments have tended to depend upon the civil service as the pivot to implement their development agenda. It is not an exaggeration to say that as the civil service and public sector go, so does the development of an African country. Most governments tend to overload and overburden the public sector with their cronies and party supporters steeped in rampant corruption and low ethical standards. African countries must reform their public sector, shed the excess load, liberalize and open their economies for private-public participation in order to turn their economies around.

3. Structural Adjustment Programs

In the early 1980’s, the World bank provided Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) guidelines to bolster falling economic growth and reform the public sectors of many African countries. This was necessary because, for decades, the public sector had become ineffective and inefficient in serving the people adequately. For a long time, the public sector had become the proverbial cash cow which everybody went to milk. Many public servants did not hold themselves accountable to the people, and bribery and corruption became the means to getting many things done if one was seeking any service delivery (Hope, 1997). To guide African countries towards the New Performance Management (NPM) concepts, the World Bank initiated the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). SAP was deliberately devised to introduce market reforms, privatize some state enterprises, reform and incentivize the public sector to do more with less human capital, much as it is in the private sector.

The implementations of SAP were troublesome and threatening to the stability of the national governments that adopted them. SAP was characterized by deficit busting anti-inflation policies, the removal of subsidies on most staples, the retrenchment of civil servants, salaries freeze and the divestiture of state-owned companies. Negative reactions to SAP were common and massive; there were huge demonstrations in many African countries.

4. How Public Sector Reforms Can Benefit from New Public Management

In light of the foregoing, one can see many opportunities under the New Public Management concepts where African countries can benefit immensely, especially in the area of public-sector reforms. It can be postulated that the Performance Management concepts will benefit the public sector in Africa in areas of decentralization, managerial autonomy, fight against corruption, performance pay, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), performance monitoring and single-spine salary structure throughout the civil service.

4.1 Decentralization

Decentralization is the process whereby the central government devolves power and authority to its functioning local units for decision making, governance, planning, management and resource allocation. It happens to be the case that in most African countries one would have to travel from the remote corners of the country to the national capital in order to acquire basic things such as passports, business permits and licenses when they could have been processed and obtained at the district capitals. Attendant to tightly centralized administrations are heavy workloads, red-tapes, bottlenecks and contrived delays that can only be overcome by bribery. Further, the centralized system desensitizes and disconnects public servants, making them unresponsive to far-away local needs. The system becomes clogged at the centre and subjected to abuse and corruption. Decentralization will bring the people at the local level into participatory democracy, empower them to marshal local resources for local needs and take charge of their own affairs and importantly, provide more accurate and reliable field data to the central government. As previously stated, one must separate or differentiate governance from administration; the tenets of the New Public Management should dictate that it is not enough to delegate or devolve decision making authority to the local level; the local administrators also should be empowered with all the necessary authority to serve the citizen.

4.2 Managerial Autonomy

In order to improve the performance of public-sector managers, they should be given clear performance targets, the requisite managerial autonomy and incentives to discharge their duties and responsibilities effectively. Performance management dialectics stipulates that freeing public-sector managers from restrictive rules and regulations and allowing them to concentrate on management and taking innovative risks will lead to improved efficiency and better customer service (Aucoin, 1995). This line of thinking that allows managers to manage for accountability and for outputs and outcomes, of course, runs contrary to the current political philosophy of most African governments, which until this time, has been about exerting greater political control over the direction of the public sector. Freeing public sector managers from hampering political controls and processes, to focus on outputs and outcomes, is the surest way to unleashing their entrepreneurial skills to generate revenue and wean their organizations from state subsidies.

4.3 Fight Against Corruption

In most African countries, the government is the biggest player in the provision of goods and services. From the harbours, airports and border entry points, Customs and Excise officials are at the frontlines to ensure that revenue and taxes on imports and exports are properly documented, evaluated and collected. And the temptations for lowly paid officials to circumvent regulations and guidelines are plentiful. In offices and departments involved with logistical work such as the physical movement of goods and the handling of money, temptations are high, hence the necessity to install surveillance systems to deter, monitor and capture theft that goes to enrich corrupt front-line officials at the expense of the state. Import and export duties on various commodities and services should be readily displayed on monitors or screens to inform customers of their tax obligations so that they do not get subjected to excessive charges, most of which ends up in the pockets of corrupt officials and not in the coffers of the government. And governments should move very quickly to reform the tendering and procurement processes for government contracts. Corruption will not abate unless the tendering of government procurements is made transparent.

Deputy Ministers (i.e. Principal Secretaries) and senior bureaucrats should not only be responsible to the people they serve; they should also be subjected to frequent ethical scrutiny and accountability, for example, by legislating the annual filling of their assets. Such a measure will help reduce corrupt practices. Whistleblower laws and freedom to information laws will go a long way to help in combating corruption in the public sector.

4.4 Performance pay

Public sector reform in Africa would not make any significant headway until we find solutions to the huge brain drain that afflicts the sector and the causes thereof (Hope, 1997). Given the small amount of talent pool and human capital around, there is a very acute competition for high functioning talent between the private and public sectors. The general perception exists in most African countries that the public sector salaries and wages are woefully inadequate. It is, therefore, very difficult for governments to attract high functioning bureaucrats. Meanwhile, those in government are constantly looking for opportunities to migrate to the private sector or even hit the expatriate trails to overseas. There is a very strong need to incentivize the public sector with a performance-based pay-scale to reward high achieving managers and technocrats. Morale will not appreciate very much if public servants are made to feel that they have to be answerable to an ever-demanding citizen-customer without some appreciable compensations and remunerations to go with them. Hence, pay reforms should aim at bringing pay into line with comparable levels in the private market. Whereas a single-spine salary scale will do very well to categorize, harmonize and standardize skills and jobs that require identical levels of education and pay identical salaries amongst various government departments, it is also equally true and ironic that wage harmonization and standardization might have the counter effect of not incentivizing civil servants to go the extra mile to excel and perform beyond the average expectation. Promotion within the service should therefore not be a rite of passage but rather a deserved passage based upon competence and performance. Such competencies should be measured in terms of their impact on the overall strategic plan of the organization (Grote, 2000).

Governments should look for opportunities to generously pay some high functioning and performing managers and other employees in order to retain them in the service. If they can computerize the wage payment system and undertake civil service census with the view of weeding out ghost names, the financial benefits accruing from such wage compression can be used to remunerate high-achieving managers and other workers, and thereby, mitigate the exodus from the public sector to the private sector. There should also be educational opportunities within the sector to train and build the capacities of employees so as give them ladders of opportunities to rise through the ranks.

4.5 Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Nowhere in the world does ICT Program presents the greatest prospect of making huge transformational impact and yet faces the greatest challenge than Africa. The potential for ICT Program to revolutionize governance in general and the public-sector in particular is so huge that no African country can afford to be left behind. Moving into what is dubbed as e-government or e-governance will not be easy for African countries unless they overcome inadequate and antiquated fibre optic networks and telecommunication infrastructure. Further, these countries need to build the requisite human capacity in the ICT Program, and overcome significant computer illiteracy. Without using these measures to leapfrog into the information age, transforming the way business is done in both the public and private sector will be difficult. E-government has the potential to increase efficiency, obtain transaction costs reduction for citizens and businesses, and induce greater transparency across all government departments.

The prospects exist for governments to spin-off and outsource certain government functions that can best be performed by the private sector. Overall, e-government is deemed to have the potential to facilitate citizens’ access to information, freedom of expression, greater equity, efficiency, productivity growth and social inclusion. It is expected that greater transparency, accountability and better governance will lead to a reduction in corruption in the public sector and the general society.

4.6 Public Sector Reform Monitoring Commission (PSRMC)

What is the use of good ideas if they are not closely monitored, evaluated, reported and enforced? Exercise in futility, one might say. There is an urgent need for African countries to establish public sector reform monitoring commissions or authorities to spearhead the enforcement of New Public Management concepts. Such commissions or authorities should have the requisite legislative instruments to offer strategic leadership that focuses on results and accountability. They should also have the mandate to oblige state agencies and organizations to implement best performance management practices across the public sector.

Finally, the public sector reform commissions should be able to collect and integrate performance indicators, monitor compliance and communicate performance information and recommendations to all sectors of the public service and stakeholders.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, it will be reiterated that African countries must adopt a series of steps to reform the public sector to jump-start their economies. This should include the establishment of performance incentives and competition for public-sector managers, reorganization of the public sector to include decentralization, outsourcing and privatization. Finally, the functions of government should be strengthened in policy formulation, co-ordination and regulation, and monitoring.

African countries must embrace democratic governance, open up the governance process to greater citizens’ participation and build on very strong institutions. They must vigorously pursue gender equality; do away with antiquated practices; and invest in education and infrastructures. They must reform their public services, applying the concepts of the New Public Management and performance management in order to achieve their developmental goals and uplift themselves from poverty. The Asian countries have been able to move millions from subsistence living and poverty into prosperity and middle income status within a generation, and Africa can do the same. It would not be easy, but it is very doable.

Author’s email: ebottah@hotmail.com . Visit www.ghanatubes.com for all your LIVE Ghana TV Channels

Columnist: Bottah, Eric Kwasi