Since 1991, the EPRDF-led government has embarked on a series of reform programmes. These have hinged on the ideological shift that took place in the country, from a centralised command economy to a free market economy. In the early 1990s, the government launched the Structural Adjustment Program, consisting of the Civil Service Reform Program (CSRP) as one of its components. The phased reform measures have been taken by the government, and the first phase focused on the restructuring of government institutions and a retrenchment programme.
The second phase was launched in 1996. The five sub-programs of the phase, entailed – the top management system, expenditure management and control, the human resource management, service delivery and ethics. The sub-programmes were further split into a number of projects.
There were six projects under service delivery, including – the development of service delivery policy, grievance handling directives, award system in the civil service, methodical integration of related public service (centre links), and preparation of technical directives for improving civil service delivery and service delivery standard directives. However, even by the evaluation of the government itself, undertaken in 2001, the implementation of the projects remains an expectation. This is attributed to numerous factors. There has been too much focus on technical aspects, rather than changing attitudes of the workforce; impulsive implementation and a lack of committed political leadership
The Ethio-Eritrean war and the split of EPRDF, which was followed by the reformation in the party, were challenges that slowed down the reform process for some time. However, having evaluated the pros and cons of the previous program, the government then called for the accelerated implementation, as a part of the capacity building strategy. Indeed, the Ministry of Capacity Building (MoCB) was established in 2002 to take care of capacity building activities that had previously been taking place in a fragmented way. Also, the intention was to give centralised leadership and directives to government organisations at various levels. The ministry was later merged with the Federal Civil Service Agency, in 2010, and named the Ministry of Civil Service (MoCS).
In 2004, however, the Public Sector Capacity Building Program (PSCAP) emerged, comprising of six programmes – civil service reform, tax system reform, justice system reform, district level decentralisation, urban management capacity building and ICT development. It aimed at improving the scale, efficiency and responsiveness of public service delivery at the federal, regional and local levels. In doing so, it strived to empower citizens to take part in development and promote good governance and accountability. Later, in 2010, the establishment of the MoCS necessitated the revision of the PSCAP, as per the duties and responsibilities of the ministry.
A new implementation arrangement became evident with a series of awareness creation workshops, on – change management, performance management, management by objectives, strategic planning and management, business process re-engineering (BPR) and balanced score card (BSC). The development of quick wins to improve service delivery across all the government institutions became a fashion.
Nonetheless, the major challenge the EPRDF faced from opposition parties, during the 2005 parliamentary election involved the lack of good governance and the unsolved public grievance in relation to service provision. In fact, at this time, the people punished the EPRDF using the ballot box.
This was the reality of events in the Addis Abeba city elections, where the opposition party – the Coalition for Unity & Democracy (CUD) – won. A study on local democracy and decentralisation in Ethiopia indicated that there was a clear lack of inter-agency coordination among the government agencies involved in public service provision. This was especially true in urban areas. It also found that the stakes in the provision of services were not clearly delineated, between the government and the private sector, in many public-private partnerships (PPPs).
Once more, the EPRDF held a series of internal evaluations and identified a plethora of problems that needed to be solved, sooner or later. Together with other development efforts, the government reaffirmed its commitment to improving performance and service delivery, throughout the entire civil service.
Accordingly, the MoCB launched the BPR process in all government organisations at all levels. As the BPR did not bring rapid improvement in institutional performance, a reformulation of Performance Based Management (PBM), accompanying the introduction of Balanced Score Card, as a management, evaluation and communication tool, emerged in 2008.
The experience over the past years, with the introduction of performance related systems, however, points to the need for a coherent and consistent plan. This is necessary in order to avoid confusion and conflicting priorities during implementation.
The five year Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP) put all the reform agendas under the umbrella of capacity building and good governance. The service delivery reform is also an ongoing process, still evolving today.
Some, including the former minister of the Civil Service, argue that the reform tools, such as BPR, failed to address the intended objective of delivering efficient and effective public services. However, the success of BPR in the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the former Ministry of Trade & Industry (MoTI) stands in contrast to this.
The sustainability of the momentum is the question urgently demanding an answer. Of course, BPR is a champion in restructuring the office layout. The budget allocated to restructure the office layout, however, may well outweigh the efficiency and effectiveness of the service provided thereof.
Indeed, the design concept of end-to-end and one-stop-shops were more often recalled than implemented in many organisations. Besides, BPR failed in the sense that momentum in the early implementation stages could not be sustained. This was as it was not accompanied by job grading and incentive packages.
The challenge of designing and implementing an effective BSC is another area of concern. It was introduced as one of the reform tools which would help to manage, communicate and measure. From the very outset, however, there were misunderstandings at the design level.
In the Addis Abeba City Administration, for instance, some bureaus began the design and implementation at the same time. The challenges at the design level included confusion on how to set higher level objectives. The bureaus focused on their own mission. Later, however, among the 18 higher level objectives, almost all bureaus adopted 17 and only one unique objective, relating to their mandates, remained. This resulted in cascading difficulty, as well as performance measuring problems
Despite the EPRDF’s contribution in reshaping and restructuring the public sector for improved socio-economic development of Post-Dergue Ethiopia, there has been a general syndrome in sustaining reforms. The massive bodies of literature indicate that implementation of the civil service reforms in Ethiopia face many problems. Such issues include – a lack of a properly integrated and sequential approach, inconsistency in performance evaluation system, civil servants resistance to change, lack of accountability in performance management system, inefficient technological readiness and the absence of a well-designed remuneration system, to mention but a few. Many experts trained abroad to technically support implementing agencies are becoming private consultants.
The same holds true for trained experts at different office levels. The government neither facilitates to let them stay nor is able to capacitate others to replace them. This attributes to the poor human resource management system existing in the civil service.
Grievance on public service delivery has reached a peak in recent times. An evidence to this is the latest discussion that top government officials held with Addis Abeba residents in which inefficiency, ineffectiveness and unethical practices were raised as major challenges of public service delivery. The long queues experienced at Lehulu payment centres and other service providing government organisations are also worth mentioning.
Of course, we see and hear about the ceremonial commencement of reform tools from different government organisations. Some are even seen misusing the media to exploit the existing misunderstanding and confusion among employees.
The previous pick-drop experience of different reform tools in the civil service sector may perpetuate “a reform fatigue”. This would be an obstacle, preventing future efforts being made. Thus, it is important to put in place knowledge-based, bottom-up and integrated reforms, rather than embarking on multiple models.
Most of the reform tools implemented so far follow a top-down approach. There is no room for a given sector to customise the tools within its own context. This ought to be changed into a wholesome bottom-up approach.
By Fekadu Nigussa
Fekadu Nigussa is a lecturer at Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Published on Addis Fortune July 28, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 691]