13.01.2006 Feature Article

Public Sector Reform (PSR): the first line of defence

Public Sector Reform (PSR): the first line of defence
13.01.2006 LISTEN

.....Overcoming the barricades

There are so many MDAs and for a successful PSR, it is obvious that same dosage for cure or similar antidotes to the problems will not result in the expected improvements on the weaknesses before the reform process.

The major cause for this dilemma is that MDAs have different characteristics from each other, far as profession, services delivery and impact on customers and stakeholders are concerned .

Therefore to embark on a sector reform of this magnitude it would be advisable to begin from the "known to the unknown" or better still in an empirical formulation; from a dependent (y) to an independent variable f(x), ordinarilly and mathematically.

My consideration for the known variable, for that matter the dependent variable is what I would like to refer to as the frontline public sector desk workers; secretaries, receptionists and special assistants.

I would if you may permit me, to differentiate the later from senior management, who will be in the category of the Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Heads of Departments of the various Ministries and Agencies.

In the above equation the common denominator is the human resource impacting on service delivery or customer service. There should be a new dynamics in which the citizens, clients, user, customer determines the value (which and what?) of services required within the law and reward.

Without money in your pocket, which is a situation with many Ghanaians today nothing goes round for you. For the obvious reasons of low income levels resulting in lower per capita purchasing power in the wake of influx of foreign goods and services, one immediately becomes an outcast.

Yes! Without the smell of huge sums of money no one listens to your ideas or is prepared to deliver a service to you in the Public Sector. That is not to say you do not want to officially pay for just the service that was officially delivered and on time.

You are virtually tossed about like a pinball or looked down upon. The only reason for this phenomena is that many believe if you are "loaded" (pocket filled with money) some will slip down to them. Hence, the whole game of bribery and corruption begins.

You just have go to an office in the ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) or even some banks, in Ghana and the first thing the secretary or anyone in the frontlines will do is to look outside first to see if you came in a car.

The next important thing to the frontline department worker is, what type of car did the client come with to qualified for any services attention. Your car and outward looks becomes the measure by which a public sector worker will perform.

This attitude begins your frustration, to the extent that you would feel like immediately returning to where you came from.

The first and foremost but worst culprits in this developmental nightmare to service delievry and the delivery of public goods are secretaries and receptionists (the frontline enquiry desk worker). They will make you wonder what type of secretarial schools operate in Ghana.

The secretaries (first, second etc.), receptionists or lets say the politically motivated special assistants, for the purposes of this paper I may as well generally refer to as the frontline desk workers (or frontliners).

Just across from St Aquinas SSS, Osu is the Government Secretarial School which is among one of the many (at Obuasi and Koforidua) across the country. It has the has the responsibility to trains public sector secretarial, frontline staff.

Making calls over telephone to book appointment, meet the heads of institutions, get information, transact business of any kind could be a nightmare in Ghana. Because not only do clients have to deal with "regulators" and saboteurs (I wish to carefully say) instead of facilitators.

I would want to distinguish the above school from the training given to top management personal, ministers, members of parliament (MPs) at the Ghana Institute of Management & Administration (GIMPA) Greenhill, the institute for Professional Studeis (IPS) and the School of Administration at the UoG, Legon.

I will excuse all to permit me to leave the issue of top or senior management (first and second tiers) and of course frontline professional workers or staff; like doctors, nurses, teachers, care workers, etc., here for now.

I wish to intensify my discussion on the Ghana's "frontliners," as I have chosen to sometimes call them. They tend to block everything possible that could make service delivery to citizens possible, by putting you on hold. This is why I decided to label them the first line of defence and in fact they act like a barricade.

Knowing very well that telephone rates are exhorbitant in Ghana. It is unfair but it becomes the finest measure by which the "frontliners" assess who can afford the "illegal" payments, if any when services are delivered to them.

All our secretarial schools need an overhaul not only in curricula but also administration and in the extreme case scenario, doing away with them all together with a better approach.

The institutions seem to have turned out graduates who have marred the success of the Public and Civil Services either with the conivance with the heads of the MDAs or individually.

So if there will be any need for the restructuring of the Civil Service or Public Service Reform it should start from or include the secretaries (in the frontlines).

Let is all consider that, if one resorts to phone calls rather than coming in person to seek whatever service is in demand, you may be made to wait online (put on hold). This grim reality of the methods by some secretaries is only to test one's affluence.

That is to say your ability to pay for a service. Over and over again, the longer you can wait without calling it quit, becomes the measure that, you the client (or customer) can pay the "illegals" if they were rendered a service.

While you wait on "hold" you will often hear giggling and chatting in the background, sometimes chewing or eating sounds sometimes music on the radio. These frontliners are wise, because so long as you remain on the line, you can not blame them for hanging-up on you.

Why do they do these things? Most of the time the innocent client is not even aware, but of course it is on for the very reason mentioned earlier on, so in the long run you are forced to go in person. This means you are either coming in a latest car or possibly a "private jet."

The whole understanding of Ghanaians today is that it is all too common for a telephone communication to a ministry, department and agency (MDA) to be truncated by the statement, hold on from the frontlines.

The persistence of the situation has made many to accept it as part of the secretarial training probably; a norm to leave the phone beeping. The receiver has been lifted or not properly placed to leave it in the busy mode the whole day.

If you are lucky get through, the excuse will be "I am coming or just a moment" and you can be sure that the frontline worker will never return to talk to you even if you stayed on the whole day.

Meanwhile you will hear people talking in the background. You will wonder if this only call was the job target for the day, to deserve whatever pay thereof.

These are the actual challenges on the ground for Public Sector Reform, that services will never get delivered in the right time. It is very difficult for any institution to determine which performance models work in the absence of demand for the service.

Since there are persons like receptionists, front desk worker, special assistants and secretaries in the frontlines, who finds a good way of getting rid of work before hand by keeping off clients or if on telephone; engaged the whole day.

The attitude of these secretaries, better still receptionists (frontline staff) is "let him/her wait, if he/she gets tired he will hang the receiver."

They are totally aware that you will be paying Ghana Telecom (one touch if on mobile), Areeba, Buzz, Kasapa, a Communication Centre and if through the phone booths you are at the mercy of the units on your card and sometimes the sentiments of people in the queue behind you.

If you are tired you will come to the office in person and that is where they can gauge you properly by appearance, your car and even you money before you are served. This is creating a country of people living on fake posture and an identity crisis.

Trust me for, you are in for trouble if you go to any office, bank and MDA in sandals, shorts, T-shirt and not a long-sleeved shirt and a necktie.

For instance unless you wore a designer clothing or something of the sort and appeared in person, you can be sure of being turned away or told a blatant lie that the "boss" has either not come to work or is at a meeting.

If you dared to wait for him, the meeting will never end until work is over for the day and everyone starts to pack home. The same old story of go and come tomorrow and tomorrow actually never comes.

There are many who were tempted to believe this statement. The go and come 'tomorrow' and this agony lasts from over six months to about a year and even ten years in some cases.

Some may have been trying to give back to society; call is personal social responsibility, what they have earned or learnt. By way of recruitment to lecture at the University, others to just work as a physician at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital after specialising abroad.

If you find yourself not assessing services, you should know that the aim here is to prevent you from transacting any businesss or meeting whoever is the person in charge. The only reason being that outwardly and sadly so that, you did not prove you were a valued customer (with cash).

Although, incidentally you could be the most exceptionally qualified person to be the position and ready to serve the people as a simple person than the so-called boss, minister or politician but by some twist of fate you were not there.

All of the above including, absenteeism, malingering, a high sickness rate per head in a year, have resulted in administrative overload because clients not attended to keep on piling up.

Nothing gets done in time, so the public sector services delivery gets overwhelmed into succumbing to the vicious cycle of none delivery and no accountability. Whereas, the accountability institutions find themselves compromised, long ago by being barely resourced.

There is therefore no public good, mission is lost, sending shock waves to other frontline departments because their services are interconnected and interrelated.

The question here is remains, how does the public sector develop performance indicators for the frontlines in a situation where it seems there are or were no clients? Since we are caught in the predicament of "once you do not see you do not know."

Probably in future MDAs will have to revolutionarise their service delivery through the use of ICT not to depend solely on the debilitating attributes of Ghanaian frontline desk workers; secretaries and receptionists.

By this way, clients and customers will book appointments, gather information, fill-in application forms, even make payments, and as such do business directly over the internet.

There are proven research results pointing to improvements in performance rates by 30 percent through the use of ICT in public sector delivery services. Evaluation and monitoring will allow for measurement of all performance indicators.

The Information Technology Services Divisions (ITSDs) as announced as a new's year's token is yet to become part of the Civil Service component of the Public Service Reforms as a means of facilitating the deployment and exploitation of ICTs within the Civil and Public Services.

It is obvious that the Office of the Head of Civil (OHCS) is to see to full the implementation whereas, the commitment by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) will enable total e-governance in Ghana.

Perhaps for the benefit of carrier progression these frontliners could form part of the trainees of Chief Information Officers. The major worry is whether new training is given at all, are they going to remain?

Planning and Budget Officers of the National Development Planning Commission like in various district assemblies all left soon after the second-generation public sector reform period of the 1990s. Care therefore should be taken in this regard in any new training programme.

Eventually, I seek to conclude that we all know the problem is out there hence, the right things should be done. Time may be running out.

I wish to suggest that if these frontliners will, as a form of career progression be made to take up a course(s) at GIMPA and other highly rated institutions in order to march the attitudes and mission of their top management towards service delivery.

It is wise to include moneterisation of remuneration to public sector workers. Although it has been announced, the 2006 budget has not sufficiently catered for it. It can work effectively when everyone embraces and understands the application of the principle of equity, quid pro quo (EQPQ).

In effect services should be tailored to the needs of the public, in a manner that will meet the expectations of clients and customers.

How about what was popularly known in most establishments as suggestion boxes, and complaints desk where customer's service officers, even the introduction of part time public sector workers (as in the UK and others).

Whereas the services of paid volunteers are used in Japan who help tackle issues as and when they occur, and indirectly put a check on the excesses of the frontline workers. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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