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25.12.2003 Feature Article

Public Servants Continue to Undermine Economic and Social Dev't Efforts

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Part 2 As we all know the concept of public services, its institutions and functions, were not only inherited from our colonial masters, but were designed to facilitate the administration, management and smooth running of our systems of government for the advancement of economic and social progress. These important foreign concepts, which we rightly had to adopt after independence, were to enable us cross over successfully from the way we managed things in our traditional and parochial African societies to a proper and effective administration of our national governance structures. Unfortunately after 46 years the unchecked operations of these institutions are now undermining our social and economic development, and should become a course for serious concern.

All governments since independence, have been fond of creating the impression that the country is moving forward but the opposite is invariably confirmed by the continuous decay of our economic and social institutions or mismanagement of them, as can be confirmed by current situations in for example organisations like Ghana Airways, the utilities, our City & Town Councils, and numerous other government departments up and down the country. Amongst those kicking their heels in the light of these assertions, are the vast majority of us who have realised that in the post independence era all governments were only happy to inherit these foreign originated setups, their hierarchical structures and the perquisites that goes with the various positions within them, but forgot to take on board the fact that, in order for the institutions to work properly to benefit our country and people, the capable leadership of them, the rules regulating them, the processes and procedures that govern them, should be properly managed and reformed regularly to meet the various challenges that may come our way.

In my opinion a significant part of the problem stems from the fact that, having inherited their archaic organisational structures, rules and regulations, old procedures, decrees and other legal instruments for running them, some of which date back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, we have failed take a critical look at their operations even though the nation’s circumstances have changed dramatically. Some of us have realised that the subsequent procedures and regulatory frameworks which were put into place by the post independent governments were not only designed to be complex and complicated but their user unfriendly nature has allowed those in charge of delivery of the services, the incompetent managers and staff, who vehemently hate change, to sabotage the whole concept of efficient public services for their own personal gain. It allows the operatives within these institutions to go to work every day to do absolutely nothing, and worse of all adopt the mentality of “the king of the jungle”. In the modern world that we live in, is it not a matter of fact that rules, regulations, procedures for achieving efficient public service objectives should not be complex but customer friendly ?. In the realms of effective management is it not a known fact, that the more complex you make something the more you indulge in stupidity since you can impress no one but yourself, a few unscrupulous middlemen and some hapless souls ? Due to the appalling nature of the way the general public is treated anytime they approach these institutions for a service, the reality for most of us is that, the performance of these institutions confirms beyond doubt that they have been actively working against the public interest. Therefore I will not be wrong in saying a wide range of public sector customers, if not 99.9% of them, are today profoundly dissatisfied with the corruption, red tape, sheer incompetence and illegal activities of the management and staff within almost all these institutions of government which have become a huge liability and hindering the Country’s economic and social development. Unfortunately the press and other media in Ghana today are not articulating these very important issues on a daily basis, but are only interested in discussing the antics of “glorious” past leaders and some other unsavoury characters.

Is it any surprising if I may ask, that the negative effects of non performing public services which are stifling investments and wealth creation, adversely causing a degradation and decay of our national infrastructure and environment, in our towns and cities, are becoming worse as our population explodes beyond control ? Another serious aspect of the unsatisfactory situation that I wish to highlight is the way the lack of proper procedures, lack of proper management, and lack of proper monitoring mechanisms has led to a situation where a significant amount of government financial resources, that could be used for national development objectives, continues to disappear into the pockets of unscrupulous individuals within these institutions to the detriment of every citizen in the country. As citizens who have a shared interest in the progressive development of our nation, how long should we allow this to continue if I may ask ?

I am sure everyone understands the need for better leadership and management in our public service institutions in Ghana today, because we have seen how a lot of damage can be and continues to be done to the nation by those incompetent managers in the public sector, who are unable to motivate, manage people or tasks properly. Why is it that within all these institutions, the staff only aspire to be staff members or managers purely to acquire the title and the name, enjoy the perquisites that go with it, but fail to understand their responsibilities and their role in the delivery of excellent services to benefit the public good ? There is something seriously wrong with this sort of attitude which must be addressed with a sense of urgency.

We have all noticed over the years how each time difficult issues like taking action to change the prevailing culture for the benefit of our national development objectives comes up, the Ministers and the powers that be always give an impression that they know what the problems are, but for god’s sake when can we start seeing some bold serious attempts at dealing with the problem, which we all agree is pivotal, and if not dealt with, will continue to undermine not only our meaningful economic growth but our abilities to deal with new challenges as a growing nation.

In the light of the fact that good management makes a huge difference to organisational performance and delivery, why is it that ministers of the state and chief officers of the various institutions, are failing to understand that if institutions under them are not delivering or performing then they should consider resignation and give way to someone else who may be more capable. Time and tide waits for no man as the saying goes, for the powers that be just choosing the easy options and ignoring the difficult issues is surely not going to do anybody any good.

The only way we can improve performance in our public service institutions surely is for politicians to take steps to actively support a change in the prevailing culture, which means, as the ultimate powers that be, the Ministers of the elected government, who have got a mandate to govern, their Chief officers, MUST device an improvement plan which will enable them carry out assessments of all institutions and staff performance under their jurisdiction as part of an inspection process. The assessments could cover areas such as, consultation with service users, procedures in place for achieving objectives, the current level of performance, e.g. prompt processing of documentation, standards of customer care, the provision of up to date service information to the general public, record keeping, asset management and maintenance, to mention a few. I have not experienced, and I do not know anyone who currently has seen any marked improvement in any of these areas. However If by any chance anyone, including my learned Colleagues at GIMPA, has seen any example of good practice somewhere I would like to hear from them for research purposes.

Most of us form the opinion that national development objectives can only be achieved with a good public service input, but it appears almost all governments seeking a mandate to govern have no policies to make things work in this crucial sector. In order to drag these non performing institutions into the 21st Century, we must stop the MEANINGLESS SLOGANS, the necessary legislative structures must be put into place, to streamline and reform procedures and organisational structures hindering progress. If possible proper managers must be headhunted from the private sector to take charge of some of these development critical organisations. A monitoring system must be put into place to force managers to work to deadlines and targets. Furthermore it should not be inconceivable to device a system whereby the organisations and institutions pay compensation to customers for unjustifiable delays and non performance.

Given the above, is it now not time for Ghanaians to start judging the performance of Ministers and their Chief officers, who are the ultimate chief executives of these institutions, by the performance of those institutions under their jurisdiction ? In a situation of organised chaos, red tape and barricades that permeates most of these institutions, the consequences of which we are all feeling on a daily basis, Shouldn’t our media be making these issues top priority matters for discussions ?. As recent developments have shown, no amount of loans or donor and NGO support can sustain the system indefinitely, and the country will continue facing the same predicament like wholesome water leaking from a bucket full of holes, unless we take action to stop public servants from undermining our economic and social development efforts. Stephen Nyako Management Consultant Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Stephen Nyako
Stephen Nyako, © 2003

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: StephenNyako

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