Public sector performance and efficiency

Wednesday, 5 October 2011 00:35 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It would be pertinent to undertake research on public sector performance and efficiency in the backdrop of the Government’s economic development initiatives.

A development initiative must not be confined to concrete structures and there should not be criteria to measure development through the structures that are going to be erected. The real development of the country must encompass the public sector performance and efficiency, without which the development effort would be meaningless.

We have seen how the then UNP Government made projections when the Mahaweli development scheme was under construction and there were media reports that once the project was over, Sri Lank could even export electricity to India. The reality now on the ground is an absolute farce.

There is one aspect that could have seen the light of the day: The development of the agricultural sector. Has there been a study undertaken by the Government to assess if the full potential of the Mahaweli has been realised? It would be opportune to reassess the potential of the Mahaweli scheme.

Fresh insights needed

The economic development of the country needs fresh insights. We have plenty of infrastructures dedicated for development, but have we really derived the full potential of these institutions?

The missing links are public sector performance and efficiency indicators. Are the people who are manning these institutions properly motivated? At the time of Mahaweli development phase, there was a lot of propaganda churned out for public consumption.

In reality also it was a massive development scheme, but the country seems to be still lagging behind in food security. A commission of inquiry is needed to reassess Mahaweli and whether it requires further improvement.

Although the then UNP Government made projections when the Mahaweli development scheme was under construction and there were media reports that once the project was over, Sri Lank could even export electricity to India, the reality now on the ground is an absolute farce

Achieving maximum benefits

There are indicators for Public Sector Performance (PSP) and Public Sector Efficiently (PSE). The money spent on public sector must be closely monitored in order to achieve maximum benefits.

Idle resources of the Government are a heavy burden on the public and have negative influences on other sectors of the economy. Legislation must be in place along the lines of Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Act No. 3 of 2003 introduced by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

It was indeed a brilliant piece of legislation though it does not have teeth. It too can be reformed with more powers and penalties for noncompliance. Lethargy, which is the bane of the public sector, could to a very great extent be curtailed by introducing mandatory tasks on achieving performance and efficiency indicators.

Four concepts

Woodrow Wilson, who is known as the father of public administration, had advocated four concepts such as (1) separation of politics and administration (2) comparative analysis of political and private organisations (3) improving efficiency with business-like practices and attitudes toward daily operations (4) improving the effectiveness of public service through management and by training civil servants, merit-based assessment.

Policy analysis and evaluation is also an important area and some level of expertise needs to be injected to public sector. This could be through intensive training for public sector employees.

Risk mitigation is also an important area and there should be standard guidelines for public sector institutions. The debacle at CPC over hedging was due to absence of such risk mitigation requirement when entering into large-scale transactions. The Government procurement manual must be reviewed and new guidelines on risk management must be incorporated.

Public administration

Public administration of the country encompasses entire Government machinery such as law enforcement, customs, hospitals, schools, ports and other higher educational institutions. These have a direct impact on the country’s economy.

The worst hit institution of the Government is the Police Department. The evil of corruption had embraced its performance beyond resurrection. Could the ranks of the Police be converted that of Army?

In South Africa the rank of the Police Chief is ‘General’ and not IGP. Perhaps discipline could to a certain extent be restored. One can also argue whether there is discipline in the Army.

Mammoth task

It would be a mammoth task to turn things round overnight. A holistic approach would be required to rehabilitate the public sector institutions.

First and foremost people manning these institutions must be properly motivated and well compensated. There should be active participation of all stakeholders in this regard. Participation would enable them to have a closer look at how systems could be improved.

There should also be a national policy and wider awareness campaign on the issue so that implementation of the ‘efficiency’ and ‘performance’ measures would encompass the entire gamut of public sector.

Innovation in how Government functions is also another area that should be looked into. Could the superior courts access the Police records online? Could a citizen of Sri Lanka obtain a copy of the Police entry online?

Real development of the country comes to play when a citizen confronts a public functionary. For a citizen, development means how fast his or her problem could be resolved by the public functionary.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and a political lobbying and government relations consultant.)

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