During my relatively short professional career as a public servant, I had the pleasure of working with many officials across various functions.
Despite differences in personality, style and character, they all shared essential characteristics which are the hallmark of our top civil servants.
They are all people of integrity and conviction, steeped in the policy-making process, principled in their views, and with the ability to keep both the strategic picture and the finer details all in the same perspective.
Working with them has reinforced my belief that we have the right system of selection and evaluation in place and that it is essential for the good governance of Rwanda that the public service gets its fair share of the best and brightest from each generation of our young people.
This aspect of continued leadership renewal within the public service is critical for Rwanda’s continued success.
The book, New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Power to the East provides an excellent analogy when considering leadership renewal: “Brazil is a consistent soccer superpower.
To find soccer talent, its scouts visit the upper, middle, slums and working class districts. If they find a boy who can play football, they ask him to play for Brazil.”
Leadership in Rwanda should be no exception, because meritocracy is about realizing that good brains exist at all levels of society.
Leadership renewal with the very best in the society is compounded by the fact that governments across the world are grappling with emerging trends and new challenges such as demographics, terrorism and the threat of new pandemics.
Secondly, globalisation has intensified competition from which the public sector is not immune. Finally, technological advances are also accelerating the pace of change.
With greater connectivity and more information readily available, our citizens expect their government to be more accessible, transparent and responsive to their concerns.
At the same time, the issues confronting the government are increasingly complex.
The economic race is getting tougher every day, population pressures, and the EAC integration are multi-faceted issues which require cross agency cooperation, often involving stakeholders outside the government.
In the face of these complexities, Rwanda’s public service should always aim to stay ahead by anticipating problems and opportunities. We must therefore continue to take the broad and long-term view to lay the groundwork for the challenges of the future, because we cannot afford to focus on short term gains. Thus, it is the responsibility of public officials to make policy recommendations in the long-term interests of Rwanda and Rwandans.
This may mean recommending difficult and unpopular decisions at times. We must constantly be re-assessing our policies and approaches, even though current strategies are still working well for us today, in order to ensure continued success.
At present, the public service is structured along organisational lines, with ministries and agencies each having clear roles and responsibilities.
This arrangement gives individual agencies the autonomy to act fast, and the freedom to innovate. It is responsive to customers’ needs. However, the current structure could undermine our ability to tackle cross-agency issues.
There is the risk of working in ‘silos,’ exacerbating the problem of inter-agency coordination.
We have to strike a balance. On one hand, we must retain the diversity, flexibility and responsiveness of having a decentralised system. On the other hand, we have to find ways of bringing the many agencies together so that they can effectively think and act as one networked government, working towards the larger national outcomes.
The challenge for the public service is to streamline the systems and structures to facilitate networked government at all levels. However, structures and systems alone are not enough.
A networked government requires a common understanding of national priorities, a shared ethos, a culture of working across boundaries and seeing things from the customer perspective.
Public officers at various levels must be attuned to broader considerations, so as to better align their work priorities to achieve national outcomes.
Current and future public officials must also have a commitment to excellence in public service and an unwavering dedication to serving the people of Rwanda.
Without these core values, policy frameworks, inter-agency cooperation and new concepts would only be the hollow shell of governance - lots of noise but little substance.