Sunday, June 16, 2024

Basic services shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of NPM

A 2019 article: “New Public Management in Botswana: Contemporary Issues and Lessons” proposes that such initiatives in public administration should be initiated from a technical standpoint, rather than being products of political decisions.

The research article, compiled and authored by Thekiso Molokwane concluded in its findings that “the lack of progress in Africa is partly attributable to governments not according particular reforms adequate time to produce intended results” and further insinuates that “reforms in the public administration will persist but that the NPM as a model would remain unchanged”.

According to Molokwane, Botswana has equally also implemented various public sector reforms over the years. For instance, prior to 1999, one of the leading concerns for the government in the public service was productivity. Reforms were centered around this phenomenon and these included Job Evaluation, Parallel Progression, Work Improvement Teams, Performance Based Rewards System (PBRS) and Methods and Organization (O&M). The focus then was not on systems and the re-engineering processes. The country would later on implement a number of NPM initiatives in an effort to among others, improve performance in the public sector.

The traditional model of organization and delivery of public services based on the principles of bureaucratic hierarchy, planning, centralization, direct control and self-sufficiency, was displaced by NPM which dominated the agenda in public administration in many countries.

The introduction of the modern managerial approach and the adoption of new forms of public management meant the emergence of a new paradigm in the public sector. A new managerial approach in the public sector emerged in the 1980s and early 1990s and it was named New Public Management. Since the 1980s, the NPM has been entrenched in theory and practice across the world.

The basic foundation of the NPM is the use of the economic market as a model for political and administrative relationships. The emphasis is on market competition, business principles, managerial autonomy, customer choice, and performance standards. The NPM is also therefore related to the notion of re-engineering the public sector or the reinventing of the government.

Like other countries in the developing world, one of the key features of Botswana’s public service is the public sector reforms. Public sector institutions in these countries have subjected to a myriad or reforms – political, administrative/managerial and economic reforms, all under the aim of promoting efficiency and effectiveness.

It should be noted that the public sector is the principal actor in macro socio-economic policy making infrastructure and an architect of an enabling environment for national development.

The research concludes that the NPM model of public administration has seen the introduction of various initiatives within it, the trend has been that developing countries often adopt them as a result of external influence, particularly from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. NPM reforms are likely to be around for a long time. What would change will be the reform initiatives rather than the NPM as a model itself.

In yet another research article by Motsomi Marobela titled “New Public Management and Corporatization of the Public Sector in Peripheral Capitalist Countries”, it is acknowledged that capitalist transformation of the public sector is a global phenomenon that affects many countries. The paper sought to examine recent public sector reforms introduced by the government to improve civil service performance.

According to the research paper, in the past Botswana has carried out public sector reforms to enhance the performance of the public sector. Mostly they have been technically driven in the sense that they were more focused on the administrative imperative rather than altering the structure and nature of the public service.

For example, working in the Botswana civil service has always been identified with secure employment. Government workers were employed on permanent and pensionable basis. However, the new reforms are intended to change this in a profound way in that contract and temporary employment is being introduced.

More important, there is now a shift in what was perceived to be the primary mission of the government as to serve and care for the general populace, to a mission where the cost and benefit balance is the determining factor. The aim of the reforms appear to be not only to make the public sector accountable and productive.

The government says it is not the first time that they have introduced reforms in the public sector, for instance, they point out that in the past two decades the government took steps aimed at improving performance of the public service. Hence, the new reforms are said to be incremental since they build on previous productivity initiatives.

“Botswana’s unfolding reforms are said to be internally driven or “home grown” because government is implementing them without outside pressure. Government officials, for instance, argue that unlike other African governments that are forced into structural adjustment reforms because of economic problems, Botswana is different, as it does not have any debt problem or facing economic crisis,” it is vehemently argued.

The government ministers repeatedly emphasize this point to illustrate the uniqueness of Botswana compared to other African countries. A common phrase that is used by officials to underscore this point is that their reforms are, “home grown”. It is true that Botswana cannot be compared with other African countries, as it did not have to implement public reforms under conditional lending.

One thing for sure is that there seems to be a similarity between the reforms being introduced according to the experiences of other countries.

On consequences of NPM, Marobela argues that “though the public sector reforms have been portrayed as the embodiment of efficiency however in practice such has not been the case. Reforms have not realized the intended objectives, improving performance still remains the “holy grail” of the reinvented governments”.

It is further submitted that on the contrary, the outcome has been devastating. For workers the corporatization of the public sector has had serious consequences. Privatization has brought flexible labour relations.

“The health system and education has become inaccessible as governments have introduced cut in social services for example user fees as part of cost recovery, which is preached by NPM. The recent introduction of school fees in Botswana has led to hundreds of school students missing classes because parents could not afford to pay”, argues Marobela in the research paper.

In conclusion Marobela submits that “NPM sounds good on paper from private sector perspective, but in the public sector it is problematic and has far reaching consequences, such as job losses and high prices…Consequently, it is recommended that instead of modeling the public sector along corporate lines it has above all the obligation to provide basic services such as water, electricity, transport in not a profit manner to alleviate poverty. If essential services are privatized many will be cut off from this welfare and therefore more poverty will be exacerbated and inequality intensified.”

Unfortunately peripheral capitalist states in Africa which are integrated into the global system do not shape the political process which is the underlining reason for implementing administrative reforms at the national level. In the public sector the neo-liberal ideology assumes its form through new public management. Essentially, this implies global liberalization of the public service.

Indeed, public sector reforms has been linked to foreign direct investment flow, even though in Sub-Saharan Africa FDI has not materialized. The sweeping acceptance of the neo-liberal ideas by developing countries comes largely from the enormous power of these multilateral organizations.

The central strategy of NPM is the corporatization of the public sector involving different management concepts, such as performance management system and human resource strategic management. These are used in Botswana to achieve “strategic change” in the public service. It is however of significant concern that the use of these practices developed originally for the private sector is highly problematic in the public sector. With corporatization the public sector is being redefined along the entrepreneurial culture.

Although these public sector corporatized bodies are not like the private sector, they are however modelled in such a way that they operate in a commercially orientated environment. Arguably the NPM is one management strategy that has in recent years pushed the barriers to the transformation of government much more than imagined.

In the past new initiatives have been adopted by governments to improve the quality of public services, but not in such an extensive manner where the public sector as providers of social security now see the role as to serve the market. Part of the reason why NPM has assumed a central space is that it appears with the global neoliberal pressure on governments to transform by adopting the market imperative in managing the public sector.

The changes taking place under the rubric of NPM are in line with the neoliberal objective of cost cutting and reducing public expenditure ostensibly to keep inflation under control and at the same time creating opportunities for private sector expansion by restructuring the public service. They are part of the dominant neo-liberal ideology that seeks to alter the public sector in the interests of capital.

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