Reforming The Public Or The Services

An enslaved mindset cannot create wealth for itself. This has been evident in the enslavement of the elites to self-ignorance. Just as castrated bulls, the elite have no creativity. (African Culture in Governance and Development, The Ghana Paradigm, Nana Kobina Nketsia V).

Just a little over a week ago, the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo, and the Senior Minister, Hon. Yaw Osafo Marfo, launched a five-year reform strategy for the public service of the country.

In launching the strategy, the president is reported to have said among others that “the five-year (2018-2023) reform strategy would review and modernize the current structure, systems and processes and the internal management functions of the public sector to support the government’s development priorities”.

He recognized the fact that successive governments had embarked on various reforms to improve the public sector but all had achieved very little because the requisite level of the public sector was still not attained and that was the reason his administration had initiated the reform process.

The president’s assertions were supported by the senior minister when he was reported to have said “despite the fact that there had been efforts to reform the public sector since the 1960s, we have never been able to achieve the desired results,” adding “we need to look at providing services for the citizenry and the public sector because the people are paying for them”. He might have been sad when he uttered those words.

Ex-President Kufuor placed so much emphasis on the reformation of the public sector such that he created a ministry for it and made Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom the first minister of that ministry. Even though the ministry did not survive the next regime, this did not mean that nothing was done to improve the public sector subsequently. To succeed in its delivery functions, every government needs efficient public sector namely public servants, civil servants and allied operators. Sadly, all governments have complained about the attitudes of public and civil servants at the various public offices.

The public and civil services attract some of the best brains trained in and out of the country. The public and civil service staff in this country benefit from huge training budgets each year to update the staff in modern ways of doing things.  A research into how much the nation spends annually on workshops and seminars in some of the best hotels in the country for our public and civil servants will make the total amounts the financial sector has lost to the country pale into insignificance. There are also those who travel outside for further training while the younger ones are engaging in further studies internally on ‘study leave with pay’ policy. Nevertheless, we are not seeing improvements since every government does not seem to be happy with the performance of public and civil servants.

What is fundamentally wrong then and what type of new strategies is the nation going to embark upon to ensure that the service delivery function of our public and civil servants meet at least the minimum expectations of both our governments and the citizenry? Aside the generally accepted none performance of those sectors, they are also classified as among the most corrupt public institutions in the country.

One of these days, I heard the man in charge of the new reform strategies, Mr. Kusi Boafo, explaining the form the reform is going to take. He talked about holistic reforms; whatever that means, I see it as the use of polemics. The public and civil services have become places where once people are recruited by the state, it is very difficult to dismiss no matter how grievous the offences of the staff are. When I was the district chief executive in the Ahanta West under President Kufuor, a coordinating director engaged in one of the most serious criminal acts against the state.

I instantly reported his conduct to the regional coordinating council and copied the head of the civil service. A team was dispatched to investigate the matter. They found the officer guilty of the offence I had complained of. He was just re-posted to the Ashanti Region to continue with his criminal activities. In the private sector, he would have attracted a summary dismissal. He stayed in the service moving from one region to the other until he retired.

This attitude is found in almost all public and civil services, be it the educational or health sector. The nation itself is supporting the misconduct of some of our compatriots in these sectors by allowing them to walk freely on the streets when audit reports had found them guilty of misconducting themselves in the management of public funds. When I sit before the television and see the public accounts committee of Parliament querying officers of public institutions for the misconduct of other officers who are working in other places instead of the offices they might have misconducted themselves. Why should the person who was supposed to have misconducted himself not be summoned to answer the questions but someone else who was not there when the offence was committed? Are we not shielding the offending officer by this practice?

Service delivery the public pays directly or indirectly is not considered as an obligation by many of our officers in those sectors; they see it as a favour being done the recipients of those services. In many such public institutions, legitimate charges for services are not openly posted in the various departments or offices that render those services. Some of the officers therefore negotiate the service charge with the applicants who need those services.

For example, a son of mine recently went to an assembly to get a validation from the town and country planning department for the purposes of registering his land documents with the lands commission. He was charged GH¢1500 for a plot of land measuring 70×80 for the validation letter from the assembly. I will reserve what happened subsequently; certainly my son wouldn’t pay that illegitimate money.

The lesson here is that all public offices which charge fees for the services they render must by law display the cost of the services openly in each office in the interest of transparency. This way, the public will know how much to pay for any services from that office. The lack of transparency gives room for such criminal extortion of monies from unsuspecting members of the public.

There are some public officers who have personalized their positions in their places of work. Some officers keep official files and other documents that require action by those officers in their drawers even when they are on their official annual leave or have travelled outside their places of work for a long time. What this means is that in such situations, until they return from wherever they went, nothing goes on the files in their possession. Some of them may even be absent on health grounds, yet the ‘healthy’ files remain crippled until the officer becomes healthy. The effect of such practices on private people and the public sector generally cannot be quantified in monetary terms.

The reforms should ensure that no one single individual becomes the sole functionary over certain matters such that in their absence, everything comes to a halt. A certain regional lands commission officer has been ill for about a month and therefore unable to go to work. All activities relating to land registration has come to a halt. Imagine people travelling long distances to the regional capital just to be told that the BOSS is not there. The reform must look at this.

Some public officers misuse public assets, particularly vehicles, and once they get damaged, they are abandoned and expect the tax payer to go and repair them. Reforms must look at some of these. These are the thoughts of a poor man.

Daavi, some three tots as usual.

From Kwesi Biney