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Opinions of Monday, 18 August 2003

Columnist: Asibey, Akwasi

Ghana Needs a Performance-Driven Public Service!

A couple of weeks ago the Head of Ghana Civil Service, Dr. Glover-Quartey, expressed grave concern and disappointment over attempts by some civil servants to doctor their age. Apparently in recent times there has been a rush by some civil servants of all professional categories to change their age so that they could remain longer in the civil service. A good number of these civil servants had even managed to get some clergymen to issue false birth certificates to authenticate their claim.

It may have dawned on these civil servants that after serving their country for several years, they could end up retiring in poverty, hence their resorting to cheating in order to preserve their interests. Instinctively one can sympathise with those engaged in this dastardly act. After all families have to be taken care of, school fees have to be paid and above all, one needs a roof over one’s head. Therefore it should be perfectly normal that attempts will be made to safeguard one’s interest. But is it? Is it in the overall interest of the nation to have a bunch of civil servants whose only preoccupation is to protect their immediate interest at the expense of the needs of the larger community?

A lot has been said about the slow delivery of promises made by the current government. The opposition parties and other social commentators have not lost an opportunity to point out the lapses in the implementation of electoral promises. In a recent straw poll on Ghana web, the majority of respondents (about 56%) concluded that the NPP government has failed to keep faith with the people. Of course one should read such polls with a pinch of salt. This is because those who visit this website are not a true representative of the total population and therefore their views may not necessarily reflect what an average Ghanaian may think. Nonetheless in politics perceptions however distorted they may be cannot totally be discounted.

There is a need to put things in their proper context. Politicians make policies but they do not implement them. They depend on public servants to implement their policies. And there lies the rub. If you have public servants who are motivated by short-term interest, then they are likely to engage in acts that will frustrate even the most determined politician.

Of course it is not all gloom and doom. There have been efforts in the last few years to restructure the whole public sector through the “National Institutional Renewable Programme”. And presumably a lot has been achieved. However the pace of change or renewal has been too incremental to have any meaningful effects on the implementation of policies and programmes. Delivery of services continues to be lacklustre. Domestic and foreign businessmen and women complain of bureaucratic inertia. One can go on ad nauseam. The bottom line is that as a country we do not as yet have a public service that has totally re-invented itself to face the challenges of our time.

The current government is committed to building a liberal market economy. However international experience shows that market economy cannot function properly in countries where public sector institutions are weak. In his book “Globalisation and its discontents” Joseph Stiglitz, a former vice president at the World Bank, stresses the importance of creating institutional infrastructure required to make market economy function better. Ghana cannot be an exception. The Golden Age of Business will remain just a pipe dream unless serious attempts are made to accelerate the re-engineering of the public service so that it can become responsive to the needs and workings of a market economy.

Government must work hard to create a public service that is flexible and adaptable by competing with the private sector to recruit highly skilled and motivated graduates and by changing the basic incentive structure that underpins the public sector. It is totally unacceptable that the best and the brightest are absorbed by the private sector and the public sector is saddled with people whose only preoccupation is personal survival.

The Ghanaian taxpayers must not be shot changed. Ghana needs a mission-driven instead of rule driven public service. This is because rule driven organisations stifle innovation and initiatives. Ghanaian taxpayers must pay for results-oriented public service that is customer driven and is motivated by timely, effective and efficient delivery of services.

We need not re-invent the wheel. There are models out there that we can learn from such as the public service of Canada and that of Singapore. In a recent meeting with the outgoing Singapore High Commissioner to Ghana Dr. Glover-Quartey expressed admiration for the public service of Singapore and declared his intention to pay a visit to that country to learn from them. He also mentioned that a three-year strategic plan has been developed which identifies clear goals and programmes aimed at making the public service performance-oriented. This document should be put in the public domain for debate and input.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.