Saturday, January 23, 2021

Productivity in the public service remains a pipe dream

Government’s recent productivity campaign, epitomized by President Ian Khama’s addition of delivery to his 4-D roadmap, has been met with mixed feelings by some who have adopted a wait and see approach, after previous efforts to prop up productivity hit a snag.

According to a 2008 report titled “Progress of Good Governance in Botswana” and authored by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), all the four prominent micro-level administrative processes and capacity development reforms that sought to enhance productivity and delivery have failed, even though they were implemented over a period of 12 years.

Such initiatives include Organization and Methods (O&M) aimed at classifying and aligning ministerial and departmental goals and objectives, Work Improvement Teams (WITS) and Performance Management Systems (PMS) as well as Computerization of Personnel Manage systems.

The report laments that save for its success in a handful of organizations including the Botswana Police Service, WITS and PMS have proved to be an incomprehensible hassle for public sector employees.

“Employees misunderstood these initiatives, and often confused WITS with PMS, even though they were supposed to complement each other. The monitoring of the two programs was also ineffective” stated the report.

PMS was also aimed at improving individual and organizational performance and capacity for effective public service delivery. However, the report states that most government agencies failed to use the prescribed measurement tools and lacked adequate education and awareness processes to make employees understand the technique. Moreover, it states, the effort was not well- focused in implementation to the extent that introduction at local authorities was delayed and apparently faced resistance in implementation.

A senior official at the government enclave has intimated that BNPC was stopped halfway after being engaged by the Ministry of Local Government to facilitate PMS at the local authorities.

However, John Phatshwe, Coordinator of PMS Unit at BNPC, played down the issue, saying that government had indicated that local authorities were equipped enough to implement the system.

The UN report also revealed in its 10 year period of implementation, the impact of the O & M initiative has never been measured. The computerization of Personnel Management Systems on the other hand was beset with problems of updating records and inadequacy of staff to operate the system. Linking ministerial and departmental human resources management systems with the accountant general payroll system also reportedly remains a major technical constraint.

“The major weakness of these reforms, which were otherwise intended to enhance service delivery, is that there was little compliance to measurement standards to carry out required changes. It is rather difficult to assess the degree of success and effectiveness of O & M, WITS and PMS because of the absence of audits and reviews,” the report said.

UNECA also pointed out that, as is the case with colonially bequeathed civil services, long service rather than performance tended to be one of the principal criteria for promotion.

M. Shamqul Haque of the Department of Political Science at University of Singapore posited that there is a gradual erosion of the satisfaction public servants used to get from serving the public and providing social services.

He said that with the introduction of some of the private sector ÔÇô market induced performance improvement methods to the public service, public employees are more likely to abandon mainstream public service ethics and convert themselves into business like managers to emulate pro-market ethical standards. The effect of this would be an exacerbation of ethical contradictions and a crisis of conscience in terms of the real direction of the reforms and desired outlook of the Public Service.

Against this background there is mounting fear that without a transparent and deliberate investigation of the real cause, nature and characteristics of the inefficiency in the public service, intelligent and hardworking employees risk being fired on the basis of non performance per excesses they could not have premeditated.

Besides, a booklet entitled Vision 2016 Towards Prosperity for all, states that the Public Sector mode of operation must be changed through radical measures.

“Improving efficiency within the current structures of the Public services will only be a short term solution,” reads the Vision 2016 booklet.

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