Saturday, May 8, 2021

Public sector reforms: Where are the results, improved productivity?

Since the 1980s, the NPM has been entrenched in theory and practice across the world. The NPM offers important lessons and analyses for public management throughout the world and African countries are no exception to the process of implementation of efforts. The NPM is also clearly linked to the notion of trust in economic rationalism through the creation of public value for public money.

The NPM movement is driven to maximize productive and allocative efficiencies that are hampered by public agencies that re unresponsive to the demands of citizens and led by bureaucrats with the power and incentives to expand their administrative empires.

Like most emerging market economies, Botswana has also implemented various public sector reforms over the years. For instance, prior to 1999, one of the leading concerns in the public service was productivity and reforms were created to address this challenge.

The focus was not so much on systems and their engineering processes. The country would later on implement a raft of NPM initiatives in an effort to, among others, “improve performance in the public sector”.

According to a 2019 research article authored by Thekiso Molokwane titled “New Public Management in Botswana: Contemporary Issues and Lessons”, the basic foundation of the NPM is the use of the economic market as a model for political and administrative relationships.

It is acknowledged that from the early 1990s into the 2000s, Botswana grappled with issues of low productivity and performance within the public sector that threatened the effectiveness and more, broadly, the impressive socioeconomic gains of the country post-independence.

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

A process of reviewing the public sector performance has been implemented through a performance management system (PMS) characterized by the utilization of performance development plans and the reviews are intended to facilitate effective coordination and monitoring of the overall performance.

“The reform process in Botswana’s public sector, need to be reformed. In this way, government can introspect and subsequently identify a viable way of undertaking reforms”, it is argued in addition to an observation that while the public sector continued to formulate good policy initiatives, take policy decisions and adhered to budget constraints, “the public service performed dismally on policy implementation. As a result, with its capacity overstretched, many development projects and programmes were thus not implemented in line with the National Development Plans (NDPs). This was so in part due to the sensitivity to politics within the NPM movement and managerial approach in general.

Developing countries are advised to embrace changes selectively and draw on a range of public management models that are appropriate to different contexts while putting the needs and interests of citizens at the heart of reform efforts consistent with the New Public Service approach.  

Molokwane laments that while this 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 Development (OECD) countries”.

“It is important that developing countries do not copy such initiatives wholesale but contextualize them to their own setting lest they fail. It has also been evidently clear that management trends tend to stay government agenda for a specific period before being replaced with another.”, emphasizes Molokwane.

Another research paper by Motsomi Marobela titled “New Public Management and The Corporatization of The Public Sector in Peripheral Capitalist Countries” observes that capitalist transformation of the public sector is a global phenomenon that affects many countries.

Marobela‘s research noted that “privatization of public services is more likely to exacerbate poverty and to intensify inequality because the private sector is profit and not needs centered. Moreover, the changes will have serious consequences for the workers. Already some have been retrenched and those remaining face a new work regime. Outsourcing is one of facet of it in Botswana, which is associated with poor pay and working conditions”.

It is also acknowledged in the paper that indeed public sector reforms have been linked to foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, even though in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) FDI has not materialized.

The OECD like Molokwane is adamant “that the NPM is not another passing fad” and “the use of mechanisms to improve performance such as performance contracting and the creation of competitive and market environments within and between public sector organizations”, a thinking aligned to neo-liberal corporate structuring.

The use of private sector management values is a common practice in developing countries. In Botswana, government has increasingly tended to assume corporate values, such as vision and mission statements.

NPM draws more appeal to developing countries because its aims, such as improving performance and efficient delivery sounds realistic. Botswana has been widely praised for its better management of the economy.

As Africa’s role model of free market enterprise, the country has taken a series of steps to demonstrate good governance by liberalizing and deregulating its economy. Thus, tariffs have been removed and exchange control restrictions scrapped.   

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 further observed that “the use of these practices developed originally for the private sector is highly problematic in the civil service”.  It is also  contended that  the “corporatization of the public service is being redefined along the entrepreneurial culture”.

Although these corporatized bodies are not like the private sector, they are however modeled in such a way that they operate in a commercially oriented environment. Ultimately corporatization of the public sector opens them up to the global market. Hence, the introduction of such managerial reforms comes as a prelude to privatization, which is simply not a national policy but rather driven by the international 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. This is clearly demonstrated by its aggressive programme, which not only emphasizes the use of corporate management in the public service, but it also goes further to seek the transfer of government work to the private sector.

It is further argued that 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 this role as to serve the market.

“Part of the reason why the NPM has assumed a central space is that it appears with the global neo-liberal pressure on governments to transform by adopting the market imperative in managing the public sector. Instead of providing services such as refuse collection they are forced through efficiency and cost cutting mantra to resort to mechanisms like competitive tendering thus incorporating the private sector”, it is posited.

NPM apologists further suggest that for the civil service in order to deliver efficiently and effectively it has to adapt to the private sector, by for example, cutting on jobs and reducing expenditure.

“This general sweep to perceived performance problems could complicate matters rather than serving as a solution as problems faced by respective countries are not the same. For instance, poor countries have dissimilar priorities than rich countries. This means diverse problems are likely to be overshadowed by the rhetoric of reforms that preach the market as a panacea to all problems of the public service”, it is argued.

Marobela submits that the “new reforms are intended to change things 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 cost and benefit balance is the determining factor”.

It is further argued that the aim of the reforms appears to be not only to make the public sector accountable and productive. More importantly, they have a wider agenda as the Botswana National Productivity Center (BNPC) argues that “public service organizations across the globe are under pressure to deliver results… public policy must be responsive to the needs of the people, and its implementation efficient and effective to support economic growth and sustainable development”.

Despite a lot of time and resources being spent on the productivity movement, work improvement teams and performance management system, “not much has been realized in terms of winning the commitment and motivation of workers”.

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.

This view is also confirmed by the OECD, which states that “as a result of the low level debt and sizable foreign exchange reserves, Botswana is among the very few developing countries that have not implemented the IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programme”.

In conclusion, Marobela posits that “though the public sector reforms have been portrayed positively 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 grain” of the reinvented governments. On the contrary, the outcome has been very devastating” adding that “these reforms are a disaster for the poor”.

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