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Public Service and the Implementation of ‘Next Level’ Agenda

By Prof. Tunji Olaopa

At the June 12 inauguration ceremony to mark the commencement of his second term administration, President Muhammadu Buhari made a significant governance promise to the effect that his government would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next four years.

Public Service
Tunji-Olaopa

As far as promises go, this is a significant one. And it is fundamental to the present circumstance of the Nigerian state because it captures one of the major dimensions of the Nigerian predicament, aside unemployment and security. The President’s statement therefore puts into proper perspective the deep relationship between poverty and unemployment to the extent that intervening in the dynamics of unemployment implies a simultaneous alleviation of poverty. The idea of the “Next Level” is also a significant political slogan that implies moving up the governance reflection on how the government can impact the lives of Nigerians more than the first term of this administration. But most significant, this governance promise alludes to the ‘how’ and the implementation challenges ingrained in delivering on specific goals and objectives based on measurable targets through a recalibrated system and strategic reflection.

The crucial issue then is that of how to move from governance promise to the timely delivery on the governance targets that would bring the “Next Level” agenda alive in the lives of Nigerians. Since the government’s governance agenda is a time-bound one, then it is most logical to ask: What type of changes can be realistically achieved in the next 4 years that will bring the President’s promise to the point of an efficient service delivered effectively to Nigerians?

Asking this question immediately sensitizes us to the need, in governance, to explore the junctures at which government policies will articulate and deliver on the citizens’ expectations and aspirations for a good life. Putting the delivery time for the President’s promise within the space of four years helps us to further transform the question into smaller but fundamental queries: How many jobs could be created on an annual basis between now and 2022? How and what institutions will deliver these jobs? What governmental procedures and processes will hamper the delivery of these jobs? How many young people will need to be empowered with skills and resources on an annual basis and at what cost? What does governance cost in real terms in Nigeria? What about corruption especially at the bureaucratic level?

These broad questions can equally be made more specific: How can the average of nine and half hours it takes for a patient in public hospitals to see a doctor be reduced while they have better access to affordable drugs? How can the time wasted in clearing goods at the port, or of applying for business registration, be reduced considerably to facilitate economic growth? How can we deliver more concretely on food security in ways that undermine poverty? What about determining the efficiency of power supply? How can government guaranty safe and secure environment, and the security of life and properties? How can we do more to enable better access to internet and digital connectivity to expand job available to young ones?

Achieving governance targets and development objectives are the functions of moving from policy designs (founded on such agenda as the Next Level and the promise of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty) to policy intelligence and implementation. Thus, for the present administration to deliver on its economic and development agenda, there are basically just two issues to be worried about. The first critical issue is the consideration of what needs to urgently change in the way the business of government is managed in a manner that will enable the government to facilitate and consolidate its achievements in the last 4 years as the framework for managing the dynamics of the next level agenda. This thought flows from the fact that we cannot expect any significant transformation if we keep doing things the same way that has refused to yield any worthwhile results in the past. At the core of this government business is the public service whose fundamental objective is to facilitate efficient service delivery of government’s policies to Nigerians. The question is: How does the public service transact its business? What administrative model does it use?

The public service operates structurally through the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The MDAs mediate between the government and the public service as the engine room for delivering on the targets of governance, like the measurable one of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the life time of this administration. And this leads us to the second significant issue this administration needs to worry about. This is: Can an MDA whose performance and productivity capacity is seriously constrained by low capacity and capability readiness, poor incentives, low policy intelligence, etc. deliver on the objective of democratic service delivery of that magnitude within four years? These issues assume a troubling dimension given that an average MDA in Nigeria is crippled by the capacity, performance, policy and process gaps. On the average, an MDA in Nigeria is undermined by the following elements of dysfunction: (a) Input process-oriented business model; (b) Skills and competency gaps; (c) Lack of clarity on actions required to execute national plan; (d) Poor alignment between national plans, sectoral activities and departmental/unit programmes; (e) Unclear accountabilities for execution; (f) Inadequate performance monitoring and reporting; (g) Organizational silos and culture blocking of execution; and (i) Undefined rewards and sanctions.

The reform issue of getting the MDAs to function efficiently and optimally takes us back to the initial question we posed, that of the type of business model that ought to facilitate an efficient and effective democratic service delivery to Nigerians as part of the social contract for good governance that the administration tacitly signed with Nigerians. The experience of the countries all across the globe which have reformed and modernized their public service machineries reveal the willingness to either abandon the traditional Weberian bureaucratic structures for, especially the New Public Management (NPM) managerial structures and processes. Others have however fabricated a more hybridized administrative structure that is neo-Weberian—a blend of the new and the old. This reform effort basically implies a recognition of the significance of the operating model for doing government business for the transformation of the service delivery mechanism that will deliver good governance. The end game is the emergence of an MDA business model that is intelligent, professional, flexible, technology-driven, adaptable, forward-looking and entrepreneurial, and have the capacity to learn quickly when conditions change.

So, once the issue of the business model for making the MDAs functionally optimal is resolved, we can all agree that while public service reform is possible, its possibility and success are hinged on the capacity to put in place a rigorous and strict governance approach founded on results management. This requires a benchmark (which in this case is the promise to lift a million Nigerians out of poverty) and some targeted reform interventions that have gone beyond the general institutional amendments. These interventions can then be scaled up into a more medium-term strategy

One fundamental issue that needs to come to the table as an immediate concern is the cost of governance. This is the huge and very steep level of recurrent budget that funds bureaucratic inefficiencies, corruption, redundancies and the capacity gaps that fail to deliver services and outcomes, and hence hinder sustainable development. Cost of governance ensures that efficiency and productivity are sacrificed on the altar of numbers that fails to address infrastructural development. But on second thought, we really need to balance the idea of cost of government with the context of service delivery, and then see whether it is the cost of governance that is really high or it is the return on investment (ROI) of the government, as the good practices around tax administration where increased overhead and personnel cost are taken on within targeted revenue conversation advise. However, what best practices in cases from Brazil, Australia, Singapore, etc. have proven is that in order to deliver good governance outcomes at peak performance, we might indeed need to pay more than what is currently obtainable. This would then imply that the government pay critical attention to the business atmosphere in Nigeria. Something urgent, for instance, needed to be done to build on the Ease of Doing Business gains achieved by the presidential council which has pushed Nigeria 24 point upwards in global index rating. The approach already runs on clear targets that are linked to institutional processes and a plan-action-review cycle that is short in cycle time and if scaled up can create culture change.

Prioritization of institutions and MDAs

Two more issues remain cogent. The first is that the Federal Government needs to prioritize certain sets of institutions and MDAs that would be at the forefront of its governance targets. Which sets of MDAs, that is, should be targeted for their capabilities to deliver jobs, create wealth and deliver welfare-oriented services? These institutions would fall into three categories. One category consists of institutions that implement national priority projects that could deliver jobs or create critical multiplier effects that could trigger inclusive growth. The second category of institutions will be those that regulate rules-based market players, investment possibilities, SMEs, and the rule of law. The last set of institutions will facilitate welfare-oriented social impact, services and human capital development.

The second cogent imperative is that of proper national planning and resource management that will make the new governance framework manageable. This, in my opinion, requires an institutional oversight that brings all the elements of control and regulation under one significant structure of government. I have in mind in this regard four fundamental national structures: the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) to serve as the hub for managing ministerial scorecards while simultaneously reporting the implementation of decisions and conclusions of FEC; the Office of Budget and Planning for project monitoring and reporting via the national monitoring and evaluation system; the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (OHSF) to conduct management audits to account for and redress performance gaps; and the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) to handle backend institutional restructuring and change management, amongst a few others.

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The new governance paradigm will require a restructured service delivery unit to be manned by a service delivery specialist/expert national coordinator. The Coordinator will be responsible for planning service delivery and for holding MDAs responsible for performance while also helping to manage the demand side of the government service compact. The required software to drive this is already in place in the SERVICOM framework if it could effectively be de-bureaucratized. That office would also design incentive structure within peer review process linked to the States and LGAs so we could have tighter performance contracting system across the country within framework of fiscal federalism and performance improvement targeted conditional grant scheme.

It is certainly a long way from President Buhari’s governance statement of lifting one million Nigerians from poverty to its efficient implementation through a critical mass of structural and institutional dynamics and framework that deliver on intention. It is only by following through to policy implementation and measurable outcomes that the next four years could definitely be described as the next level for Nigerians.

Vanguard

 

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