16.09.2011 Feature Article

Public Sector Reform: An Essential Element to Africa's Development - Part 2

Public Sector Reform: An Essential Element to Africa's Development - Part 2
16.09.2011 LISTEN

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.

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.

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.

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.

Figure 1: Illustration of E-Government benefits.

Source: Kitaw, Y., 2006. E-Government in Africa: Prospects, Challenges and PracticesSource: Kitaw, Y., 2006. E-Government in Africa: Prospects, Challenges and Practices

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.

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.

Figure2: Adapted from: “A World Class Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting System for Alberta” Report pg 30 Figure2: Adapted from: “A World Class Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting System for Alberta” Report pg 30

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.

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.

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