Government challenges in delivering performance and accountability

Rwanda’s Public Service Commission (RPSC) is a central agency that acts to ensure future capability and sustainability within the Public Service.
Public Service Commission Executive Secretary,  Angelina Muganza
Public Service Commission Executive Secretary, Angelina Muganza

Rwanda’s Public Service Commission (RPSC) is a central agency that acts to ensure future capability and sustainability within the Public Service.

The Commission promotes good practice in managing people, supports good leadership and learning and development in service delivery, and fosters ethical behaviour and workplaces that value diversity.

The Commission also has an important evaluation role in working with agencies to ensure that the civil service is per forming effectively and consistently with respect to national values.

For the Commission, accountability is fundamental to good government. It is one of the cornerstone values of an open democratic society.

In His constant national addresses to heads of agencies and the Senior Executive Policy Makers, the President of the Republic has often intoned that the Government’s agenda included rebuilding a culture of accountability across all levels of government.

A contemporary challenge for the PSC is to improve accountability but in a manner that does not constrain our ability to provide advice and services in an innovative and agile way.

The ongoing innovative government reforms have indicated that experimentation in innovative policy and administration should be a major theme of the current refashioning of national relations, and that modern policy innovation requires the loosening of hierarchical routine.

If we lived in an innovative world, we would always be able to work out in advance the best way of achieving our objectives and work methodically to do so.

Highly prescriptive approaches have served us well in the past, and remain appropriate in some cases, but in a complex and uncertain world, full of shadowy doubts and possibilities, decision-makers can’t always know whether their strategies are appropriate or what the consequences of those strategies might be.

Governments around the world are recognising that networks and markets provide flexibilities and rapid learning that are not available in traditional rules-based organisations.

These mechanisms allow for levels of responsiveness and citizen engagement that are not always possible in a rigid hierarchy. We need to learn how to maximise the opportunities provided by these new mechanisms.

In some cases, that means removing prescriptive and rules-based approaches that are barriers to innovation, or finding new ways of measuring and evaluating performance that are open to uncertainty and experimentation.

But we need to do this in ways that preserve proper levels of accountability for the way that public funds and services are used and delivered.

The PSC has twin challenges: removing unnecessary obstacles to innovation where this is required to improve the quality of outcomes achieved in complex and uncertain policy areas; and developing more variegated accountability and performance arrangements that are better suited to new modes of policy implementation and the needs of a diverse, informed and networked society.

I hope that this paper, which has benefited from the contribution of many colleagues, will stimulate discussion and encourage public sector managers to reflect on these important challenges.

Governments and the citizens they represent have long expected the public service to provide advice and deliver services in a transparent and accountable way. Accountability is fundamental to good government.

It is one of the cornerstone values of a modern, open society. Over time, complex and sophisticated systems of accountability and performance management have developed to ensure that money is spent in accordance with the wishes of the Parliament and that public servants are properly accountable for the ways in which they perform and behave.

Rwanda’s accountability and performance management systems have been updated and extended over the last few years.

They now incorporate components of horizontal accountability that were not present when the last major review of the public service was undertaken in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

Though accountability arrangements have evolved over the years, they still reflect the techniques and values of the industrial era in which they were developed.

They are based on hierarchical modes of decision-making and sequential approaches to problem solving, and they require single points of accountability.

These arrangements have served Rwanda well, and continue to be appropriate to many if not most of the functions of government.

But governments are facing new policy challenges such population growth, climate change, water scarcity, indigenous welfare, and diseases linked strongly to lifestyle, problems which traditional techniques do not seem able to address effectively.

These problems are difficult to identify and solve as they have multiple causes interacting in complex ways that are not well understood.

As President Kagame has often indicated … a business as usual approach … is not working. Most old approaches are not working. We need a new beginning.

In recent years, governments have attempted to deal with problems of this kind by employing a range of new public policy implementation models.

Examples include the whole of government arrangements, the use of networks of public and private sector providers working together to deliver services, and the application of market mechanisms to achieve public policy objectives.

These models, which tend to work more through networks than linear approaches, often include social processes in distributed decision-making rather than hierarchical authority.

Indeed, the current governments’ reform agenda is likely to encompass a variety of these new models for delivering services and programmes. (To be continued)

The author is a Development Policy Analyst.

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