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Agenda, Opinion

Thoughts On Public Sector Reform

Posted: Jun 18, 2015 at 3:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Rasak Musbau, a public affairs analyst based Lagos, identifies the importance of civil service in the socio-political transformation arguing that its needs to be constantly reformed.

American anthropologist and physician, Dr. Paul Edward Farmer, once said: “You can’t have public health without working with the public sector. You can’t have public education without working with the public sector in education”.

Bukar-GoniPublic sector is one institution which drives the activities of government, all over the world.  It consists of the civil service which includes workers in Ministries, Extra-ministerial Departments/Agencies, the local government service and parastatals.  With professionals and non- professionals from whom it demands a special aptitude, training, language, discipline and culture, public service is the major instrument used by government to implement its policies, programmes and plans.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the health of a nation rest on good politicians and men and women who constitute the permanent staff of the department of government. Indeed, going by the very obvious direct relationship between good governance and a virile and visionary public service, no government anywhere in the world has ever surmount the enormous task of turning the fortune of its nation around without resort to fundamental reform of its public service.

The much talk Singapore example of transformation, for instance, came about as a result of instrumentality of late Lee Kuan Yee approach of creating the Public Service ethos – clean, efficient, effective and exceptional service – that exists till date in his country. Added to Lee’s leadership unwavering dedication to keeping Singapore successful was his focus on ensuring that the public sector use all the skills it needs to do the job the public wants it to do. The emphasis in Singapore model is on being accountable to the public interest, and ensuring that public interest is served.

Unfortunately, despite being endowed with all the human and natural resources it takes and requires, to become a great Africa and world power, Nigeria is steadily becoming a bankrupt nation apparently due to shortcomings of both its political class and public service.  It is palpable we found ourselves where we are today because the ‘Nigeria factors’ have produced many political leaders without a vision and the mental acuity to manage resources of government, just as it has produced many dead and unproductive ministries and workers. And the people who suffer the systemic failure of the public sector most are the citizens.

It is against this backdrop that one can rightly say that we cannot continue to rely on mediocrity and people of questionable integrity to run our affairs and expect a ‘Lee Kuan Yew’s’ result. Moving forward on the path of positive change and genuine transformation, it is germane that governments at federal and states levels adhere to fulfilling their electoral promises and carry out logical reform of their public service. There can’t be better enablers of progressive change to having a virile and efficient public service independent of politics and whose credibility is not called to question.

Here, one thing that stood Lagos State out is the appreciable progress in its public service reform borne out of genuine concern to give effective and quality service delivery to the populace starting from when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu took over in 1999 till date. It is also a good signal and cheering news that the new State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, a retired Accountant General of the State is adequately prepared to sustain and improve on the State’s culture of excellent service delivery.  In his inaugural speech, he followed his commitment to the implementation of State Development Plan (2012 – 2015) with that of vigorously pursuing the public sector reform. The governor is on point as in reality hope of enjoying dividend of democracy is a mirage if public service is taken out of equation.

Lagos State Public service was boosted by former Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, with mass recruitments of graduates into relevant Ministries, departments and Agencies (MDAs), training and retraining of officials in the public service, improve welfare and upgrading in the teaching service of staff to reach the highest level among other achievement. Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF) consolidated and improved the sector from where his predecessor stops. His administration, through the Office of Transformation, introduced service charter tool as a restorer of public confidence in government services and a mechanism for making public officers alive to their responsibilities. The service charter has been providing among other things, the experience a customer can expect and the available information about any of the MDAs they approach, as well as the relationship the customer will have with any particular agency of government. This has helped in correcting the age-long practice of unfulfilled promises that have characterized government establishments over the years.

Public servants have also taken it upon themselves to regularly attend training programmes. Some have been in-house; others are conducted by Management Consultants while some others are being undertaken by professional bodies and associations. Yet, others have been held outside the country. Hundreds of civil servants, mostly professionals, have been to Singapore to share the experiences of how the country achieved successes recorded in its tremendous developmental efforts.

Even with all the aforementioned achievements, the new Governor, as an experienced public administrator, quite understands that everything is not yet perfect about Lagos State Public Service. This is reflected in his inaugural speech when he said: “As we all know, the best practices of yesterday may not be good enough for the products of today. In this sense, we shall embark on continuous reforms in the public service. I am determined to demonstrate that the government belongs to the citizens. You have put us here as servants to serve you and not you serving us. Today we are committed to that creed”.

The message is that public service can and should serve as catalyst for transforming the country for the good of all whether at the federal, state and local government level. What can be learnt from Lagos example is that with adequate motivation there are grounds for optimism that public service can be refurbished and reshaped to fit today’s shifting challenges. All officials including politicians in the public service are servants of the masses and not their masters and as such must dutifully and diligently provide public service for the public who are the real masters. While public officials should be accorded sufficient power to deliver good services, there must be effective mechanisms that ensure the public interest is served and not special or vested interests.

As a nation, we must believe strongly and adhere to meritocracy. For Nigeria to come out of its present mess, it’s time to opt for appointment, advancement and promotion of public officials on the basis of their abilities, efforts and achievements, not connections. For Nigeria to succeed, she must start picking the best person for the job, regardless of ethnic, religion, political or family background.

In summation, if Nigeria is ready for enduring change, the maxim in public service must be: “Give your best service to the public; the same excellent service that you would expect as a member of the public”.