Partnership Key to Improved Service Delivery

Published on 18th June 2009

For much too long, African Public Service organisations were considered centres of consumption and corruption, rather than centres of innovation, partnerships and service delivery. Indeed, amongst many in Africa and the world, such perceptions continue. The tide has turned and African Public Service organisations and individual Public Servants are beginning to demonstrate that they are very capable of leading Africa into a new era of innovation and service delivery. 

For much too long, our intellectual reflections have been intertwined with simplistic theories on the Public Service Reform experience, with our analysis also embedding itself in populist rhetoric on the failures of Neo-liberalism and New Public Management. Very seldom do we experience a willingness to move beyond ideology to focus on what is actually unfolding and the immense positive development across African Public Service organisations.  

We must move beyond the surface and engage with actual practices to understand what lies beneath in order to be in a better position to guide future policy. If we remain in the realms of intellectual rhetoric only, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and the imperatives of responding to the day to day demands of our people. We must avoid such a situation, if we are to make the partnership between practitioners and academics a real and productive one.  

As we move forward in this globalising world and with Africa’s agenda of integration, it becomes necessary for us to begin to reflect on commonalities as much as we recognise our diversity. The realities of what we are experiencing across the world do indeed push us in this direction. Integration is a reality and the commitment expressed by our Heads of State and Government in this direction, needs to also reflect itself in the policies and practices established by our Public Services. It is in the realm of Public Service that commitments are implemented and demonstrable to all our people. Whereas political commitment is absolutely necessary for service delivery, this should not detract us from recognising that such commitment becomes meaningless without an effective, efficient, innovative and responsive Public Service.  

While we focus our attention on all that is good in our Public Services and we ultimately find ways of encouraging further excellence, let us not do this at the expense of recognising that our Governments and Public Service organisations are faced with some immense global and local challenges. The pressures on Government and the Public Service have multiplied as a result of a series of crises, including the financial and economic crisis, major shifts in energy prices, climate change and food supplies. The combined effect threatens economic and social breakdown as our people suffer unemployment with the resultant effect of entrenched poverty. Whatever the role of the public sector has been in contributing to the crisis, few would doubt its role in shaping our responses. Governments are therefore compelled to intervene in an unprecedented way in private markets to stem the current tide of collapse.  

Now, more than ever, the Public Service must discharge its functions efficiently and effectively. This must also be done in a context where very few have established a track record or reputation for excellence. On the face of the realities that stand before us, the approach to reform and change cannot and should not be about skimming the surface of what needs to be done. Our efforts need to be broader, deeper and faster. The crises provide both the chance and necessity for change on a larger scale, with the attendant need for an immediate and decisive intervention. Thus, to postpone reforms until a crisis is resolved may not be the best approach, as we know too well that a crisis period is usually the best time for us to engage in change.  

If we recognise that reform is a necessity and not a choice, it would become more and more imperative that Governments and our Public Services look towards partnerships to respond efficiently and effectively to such crises. In this respect, we must, as a matter of urgency move beyond the rhetoric of private versus public modes of delivery. Circumstances warrant that the shape of delivery and the institutions involved will vary from one circumstance to another. However, in all delivery efforts, partnerships would be fundamental to having the best and most appropriate delivery framework.  

The idea of partnerships and collaboration for sustainable delivery of services embodies within it a commitment towards civic engagement as a critical norm and value for reform efforts, an emphasis that we have placed at the centre of the draft African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration.  It is evident that when we reflect on partnerships and collaboration, we must pay attention to the gap that often exists between the rhetorical commitment of government and the actual participation that leads to concrete results, benefiting the poor and marginalised in all our countries.  Such a focus would require that we engage with the practicalities of participation in public sector activities such as policy development, budgeting, service delivery and public accountability.  

There are many occasions in our history when we confront a voice of scepticism to the Charters established by Member States. To this end, we must begin to affirm that the Charter our Ministers adopted and which will be presented to Heads of State and Government is a living document; a document demonstrating to all that Africa has the capacity to build an effective and integrated public service and will take a lead in shaping a better and more sustainable future for all.  

In all our diversity and in the peculiarities of the challenges that stand before each Member State, there must be a recognition of all that binds us. The Charter provides the foundation for this and helps us to ensure that there is commonality in commitment and a willingness to establish common and high standards of Public Service.  Article 5 on Access to Public Service for instance, provides that the ‘Public Service and Administration must establish mechanisms for the participation and consultation of the civil society in taking in charge the provisions of Public Services’. Whilst there might be room for strengthening the existing provisions, the general principle of collaboration and partnerships is embodied in the overall sprit and orientation of the Charter. As the Charter will be instrumental in shaping future interactions between African Member States in the area of Public Service, it would be essential for all of us to continue engaging with the Charter with the seriousness that it warrants.  

 Article 5 is a further testimony that our Ministers of Public Service are indeed committed to collaboration and partnerships as basis for service delivery. It now stands to all of us to explore the diversity of strategies that have and are being established and to find ways of doing what we are doing in a better way. This is as much an exercise in moving beyond excellence, as it is an exercise in reflecting on the challenges that stand before us.

By Julia Dolly Joiner

Commissioner for Political Affairs

Africa Union Commission


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