Building Efficient Public Administrations in Africa
In Africa, Public Administration handles several services ranging from the issuance of birth certificates or passports to business licenses or title deeds for property. The poor performance of these services is partly responsible for corruption and often times constitute a bottleneck to development, economic growth and job creation. An assessment of the root cause will help us to offer specific solutions to solve this issue.
Root cause of inefficiency in Africa’s Public Administration
The inefficiency in Africa’s Public Administration may be linked to four (4) main reasons. These reasons include:
- A poorly trained or unqualified workforce
- Lack of public awareness leading to passive acceptance of poor service
- Inadequate compensation and
- The Absence of Performance Standards
Poorly Trained or Unqualified Workforce
In most African countries, the admission to public service rank is through a national examination. The public does not trust the results of these exams because of the prevalence of cronyism and nepotism. Oftentimes less qualified people who should have failed the exam or did not even take the exam, are given the position of civil servant. As a result, some civil servants, especially those who are politically connected or appointed, are unqualified for their positions. To make matters worse, they do not receive adequate technical training let alone any customer service training.
Lack of Public Awareness Leading to Passive Acceptance of Poor Service
The public, who is the primary customer of Public Administration, has been abused for so long that they have become used to receiving poor service. This was clearly demonstrated in a November 2010 report which indicated that in South Africa almost 50% of the applications for permanent residence were in the system for more than 6 months. Whenever applications that are submitted are finally handled, most are rejected without explanation. In fact, it appears as if the Department of Home Affairs would rather not process these applications at all. When they are actually handled, they often get lost somewhere within the Department of Home Affairs’ inefficient machinery. And what makes things worse is that there is usually no explanation, apology or recourse for the loss of these important documents. This is unacceptable behaviour that needs to be corrected immediately. This kinds of behaviours are prevalent in almost every Sub Saharan African countries.
Besides some department heads and politically connected civil servants, most of the public sector workforce is poorly compensated compared to the cost of living and rampant inflation. This leaves them vulnerable to bribery and corruption. Once this issue is adequately and properly addressed, we will see less bribery and corruption in Africa. As long as someone is in a place where they cannot adequately meet their basic needs from their salary, there is an incentive for wrongdoing. This is a challenge that the public sector needs to address urgently if we are ever going to see a decrease in corruption.
Absence of Performance Standards
In most public offices, there are no performance standards or expected turnaround times communicated to the public. Even in some instances where there are established turnaround times, they are not respected. If you happen to apply for a business license, you will never know when it will be ready. If you ask for the turnaround time, usually the turnaround time that is communicated is not respected or honoured.
As a result, there is no trust between the public and the Public administration. For those less scrupulous customers, they resort to buying the faster service. What this usually means is that they bribe the civil servant for faster processing of their applications. The practice is so widespread that in some services bribery has become a way of life. This has to stop. Passing unti bribery legislations alone with tackling the root cause of the issue would be simple window dressing.
Solutions to Inefficient Public Administration in Africa
I believe that the solution to inefficient Public administration in Africa encompasses three (3) main areas. These are:
- Pay for performance rather than pay for presence
- Customer centric service training and
- The enforcement of anti-corruption laws and initiatives that are already on the books
Pay for Performance Rather than Pay for Presence
Civil servants are mostly paid on a monthly basis and they get paid regardless of results. Annual performance reviews are usually not data driven. I was talking to the head of HR for a very large government financial institution in South Saharan Africa regarding the criteria for salary increases. Surprisingly, he did not have any documented criteria but confided in me that he rewards the employees based on how late they stay in the office after closing. The official did not have the tools to evaluate his employees so a low performing employee who stayed longer in the office would be compensated regardless of results. When pay for performance is introduced to Africa’s public sectors, things will improve for the public, provided that good customer service is one of the competencies measured.
Customer Centric Service Training
Taxpayers and the public in general, should be treated with respect and care. Unfortunately, that is not the case in most public Administrations. With training and awareness, public servants can change this behavior.
Enforcement of Anti-Corruption Laws and Initiatives Already on the Book
Laws serve no purpose unless they are implemented and applied in relevant circumstances. If needed, a double tier service should be created. Under this double tier service, the public administration should publish a normal turnaround time that should be communicated to the public. Then parallel to that normal service, an expedited service should be created which will cost more money. This will bring more revenue to the government coffers and also remove any incentive for the public to bribe civil servants for faster service.
Because of centralized services, Public Administration is key to getting anything done in Africa. To run smoothly, the above reforms need to be implemented with agility. When done right, the perception of Public Administration will change and the business environment will attract more FDI (Foreign Direct Invest) and create jobs which will in turn drive growth and much needed economic development.