Mr. Prime Minister: Here is some advice

By Waqas Farooq

During his recent address (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xRCk8VWI9U) to the nation Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif admitted the failure of state apparatus in fulfilling its role and providing basic services to the citizens. The Prime Minister also appreciated any advice which can be offered to him for solutions on an array of problems Pakistan is facing. Here, I am going to avail myself of that liberty and offer up some sage advice.

Having realized the failure of the administration, there is now a need to act sooner rather than later in order to fix the system. There is a dire need to infuse a performance oriented culture in the civil administration of the country.

The government should adopt a mission to have result oriented machinery that fulfills its obligations. The government should chalk out and document the objectives it has to achieve during its tenure. The objectives should be broad based and should integrate all areas like education, health, human rights, environment, justice etc. These objectives should consider the limited resources available and should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound) and should not be limited to tall claims about building motorways and bullet trains.

The overall objectives should trickle down to individual ministries and departments. Each ministry and department should know the long term objectives and short term targets they have to achieve in order to be effective.  Some examples of the targets that can be set for respective departments are as follows:

–          Covering “X” number of households in a social security net.

–          Enable “X” number of households to have access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities.

–          Enable “X” number of households to have access to quality primary health care services.

–          Enable “X” number of children to have access to quality education.

The overall objectives and departmental objectives should form the basis of a robust Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System (PMES). The objective of PMES should be to assess the effectiveness of the departments in their mandated functions. PMES should take a comprehensive view of the departments’ performance and deliverables in terms of quantitative, qualitative, financial and efficiency targets assigned to the departments. The system would serve as a constant monitoring and feedback tool as to where the government is standing in terms of achieving its objectives and which areas need corrective action. The system should also be utilized to recognize outstanding performance by rewarding the departments and employees who have achieved the targets.

In order to implement this system, the government should establish an independent entity which reports to the Prime Minister and a Parliamentary committee comprising of members from treasury and opposition benches. This entity should be independent of bureaucracy and government operations and should be headed by a suitably qualified person from the private sector, and should be staffed with experienced professionals and subject matter experts from well recognized national and international institutions. The task of this entity should be as follows:

–          To design a robust performance management system

–          Coordinate with government ministries and departments to formulate and review objectives and targets.

–          Produce independent reports on the performance of ministries and departments. The reports should focus on the achievements of the targets assigned to departments, reasons for variance, corrective actions, benchmarking with local and international best practices and success stories. These reports should be widely publicized and should be available to the public to enhance accountability and facilitate understanding of government’s performance.

–          The entity should organize an annual ceremony to declare results, recognize performers and propagate lessons learnt from best practices.

The above system is employed in various countries. India has implemented the performance management system (although the body is not independent and reports to the Cabinet Secretary) in 2009 and it now covers 80 government departments (http://performance.gov.in/). In the United States, the performance management system is governed through Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/mgmt-gpra/index-gpra).

Meaningful civil service reform is a prerequisite to implement the above system or bring any change in the current system of governance.  A lot of studies and reports (the recent one conducted by a commission led by Dr. Ishrat Hussain) about civil service reforms are gathering dust in government departments and over the period the word ‘reform’ has become a joke and even cosmetic changes are publicized as ‘reform’. We live in the world of specialization but in Pakistan a person who has passed competitive exams is considered a jack of all trades. Opening up senior positions for private sector and technical experts is a way forward.

And as far as the performance of successive governments are concerned, what we have seen is rhetoric, antiquated methods of budgeting and spending, verbose planning documents and disintegrated mega projects without realizing resource constraints and priorities. Apart from tall claims and vague promises, the people of Pakistan do not know what to expect from the current government or what previous governments have done.

The current practice of just focusing on the number game once a year through budget, economic surveys and focusing on rhetorical mega projects should be stopped and a concrete strategy to resolve various issues is required.  Hopefully democracy is going to stay in Pakistan, and it is high time to embark on a journey of setting up more responsive and performance oriented governance structures.

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