When I first heard of the plans for a government retreat to Gisenyi, I was at first sceptical, I asked myself what could be achieved in Gisenyi? that couldn’t be achieved in Kigali.
However when I see the positives that came out of it I am tempted to think otherwise; government workers came back with a renewed sense of purpose and a determination to do better.
The message to government workers was clear and could be summed up in this paraphrase, “well done; we appreciate what you are doing, keep it up but we need to work harder, to take more responsibility and be more accountable.”
When one looks at the hard work that government workers do everyday, one cannot help but be impressed; after all, by the time most of us are waking up they have already been working for an hour or so.
They face a Herculean task in turning this country around but I would argue that our bureaucratic system does not allow individuals to take responsibility nor be accountable.
I will illustrate my point with a story most Rwandans are aware of; a friend of mine was trying to get his pay for a project from MINICOM.
He went to the finance office to collect his cheque, he was then sent to the S-G who sent him to the D-G’s office, the D-G’s office spotted a discrepancy and sent him back to the S-G, the S-G sent him back to the finance office, the finance office sent him to BNR, BNR sent him to the D-G and around again.
How Can Anybody Take Resposibility In Such A System?
It will not surprise you that bureaucracy is a French word and the Napoleonic system of official administration inherited from the Belgians has been left largely unchanged since independence with a few minor tweaks here and there.
The colonial system was designed to fail, to obstruct and frustrate; it was never designed to facilitate development. And yet we have tried our best to adjust it to suit our goals, while making a minimum of disruption; we have sought honest and tireless men of honour to push reforms and policy often replacing those who have fallen short.
When I look at our abilities and hard work, I sadly come to the conclusion that this Belgian system has to go- the story of my friend shows how responsibility can be passed from desk to desk without anybody claiming responsibility, imagine if in the course of implementing a project one had to suffer the daily mental torture of going from office to office being shunted around.
In a perfect system responsibility is cleared defined, it is limited to a single department/individual, and above all it has to be simplified and streamlined. In an effort to restrict fraud we have placed barrier on barrier, hurdle after hurdle in order to frustrate potential thieves.
We have split responsibility between several departments/individuals and though this has slowed fraud, it has also delayed the speed with which our institutions can react and by so doing; we are restricting our own development.
Imagine if you had three separate watchmen, one to watch the fence, another for the door, another for the windows. One night you are robbed via the roof, and they all blame each other; they were all at fault but none is to blame.
We have to simplify matters from our banks to schools to public institutions of all kinds; we need to reduce the levels of bureaucracy and above all we should empower people to take responsibility in their jobs.
Credit and blame are the two sides of responsibility; too often we focus on the blame without giving people the credit they deserve, that is why they were right to praise the hard work that government workers do everyday.
But the faults are systemic and ingrained in culture. Our culture is steeped in the banalities of administrative titles. I discovered this when I last attended a wedding planning meeting; the first hour was spent arguing over titles and positions; like which positions and titles were higher than the other.
Before we could even name a venue, we were bogged down in mundane issues like “is the chairman senior to the treasurer” and “who would counter-sign the cheques.”
In the end I did what most Rwandans do and simply donated a healthy amount and left them to their own devices; the wedding has since been postponed, which doesn’t surprise me.