16.09.2011 Feature Article

Public Sector Reform: An Essential Element to Africa’s Development - Part 1

Public Sector Reform: An Essential Element to Africas Development - Part 1
16.09.2011 LISTEN

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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