These things matter in public service: Trust, accountability, integrity

There has been a spate of sackings and resignations at various levels of local government across the country in the last few years. These had become regular and rather ‘normal’ and were beginning to attract less attention.

More recently, however, there have been sackings of top level management in different government boards. While this is not unusual, it is being talked about a little more, and it is easy to see why. The affected public bodies are those that have direct impact on all Rwandans: agriculture, education, health, and water and energy.

On Thursday, April 12, the Prime Minister announced the sacking of top managers of the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB).

This followed closely a Cabinet decision a day earlier to relieve nearly the whole top management of the Rwanda Education Board (REB) of their duties.

Earlier, the water and electricity utilities chiefs had been sacked and taken to court.

There was also a shake-up at the top of Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) sometime back

In all these cases, the reasons given for dismissal have to do with failure to deliver as expected, incompetence, corruption or other forms of unethical conduct.

Ministers too have been dropped when they were judged to fall short of expectations.

In most other places this might look like a crisis in government or signs of a deeply dysfunctional state. There would be a lot of speculation about why they were happening to particular individuals and who would be next. A climate of fear and uncertainty would then be raised among public officials.

It is different in Rwanda, in fact the very opposite. Here it is evidence of an efficient and effective state, one that takes its duty to citizens very seriously. It is proof of the government holding its officials to account. The yardstick for measuring an official’s contribution to the progress of the country is performance, results and personal integrity. And in this, there are no sacred cows.

This is what explains Rwanda’s remarkable progress in the last twenty four years. You only have to look at the figures and various reports. Whether they are about the economy, doing business, health and education, or regional and foreign relations, they point to an upward trajectory.

In all it does, the government places a premium on performance and results that have a positive impact on citizens’ lives. This is because it has a pact with them. Over the last quarter century, that pact has inspired strong trust between the government and citizens.

That trust has been built on a number of things.

First, it is based on the government’s record of keeping its promise and honouring its pledges to citizens. Because of this, government actions are predictable. This is what informs citizens’ expectations: that they will get what is due to them.

Second, the interests of the country and its citizens will always come first.

Third is the assurance that any attempt to break this trust by not delivering or diverting what is intended for Rwandans will not be tolerated.

Finally, the trust is underpinned by what is expected of public officials: accountability, which has come to be recognised as a necessary quality of leadership.

Public officers hold their positions because they are assumed to have some competence to perform their duties, which invariably is to make people’s lives better. They also hold them on the basis of their integrity to perform what they have been assigned to do.

They do not hold office for personal gain, or because they are entitled to it. Nor is office a privilege of some kind.

In other words they are accountable to the people for whom they work, the government that has given them that responsibility and to themselves as persons of integrity.

By the same token, when an individual or an entire team are fired, it must be understood that the decision is based on thorough investigation and evidence that they have indeed broken the trust and failed to deliver to the people through wilful action or inaction. The same standard of accountability must apply.

Fairness, like intolerance to mediocrity, incompetence, corruption and other personal failures, is another pillar of good governance. Others are discipline, hard work and commitment to achieving goals.

The strength of Rwanda’s governance system is rooted in holding public officials accountable, maintaining public trust and taking decisive action, based on evidence, when a breach occurs. That is what inspires more trust.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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