Nigeria Matters

Civil Service Reform In Nigeria: The British Example!

Going into the year 2000; Millennium age began with several far-reaching changes and processes like globalization, information technology and electronic communications, developing countries like Nigeria have to devise appropriate administrative policies and framework as a matter of utmost priority and urgency. The policies are to be directly aligned to the nation’s visions and the people’s aspirations. Expectations of the sovereign country in terms of their socio-economic development have not been met, since the infrastructures of governance did not undergo that metamorphosis as warranted over the past three decades. There has been a sharp deterioration in the integrity and discipline of the public administration institutions themselves, a trend, if unchecked, would corrode the standard and the quality of the system of governance. For that reason; the Nigeria civil Service Reform Office headed by Dr. Thonia Ikpa is providing information to local government , central government and the private sector on local authority practice through management and administration of that gesture. It is our firm belief that administration is the master key for all aspects of good governance.

This write-up proposes to look at the recent changes in the public administration in Britain and to offer some comments on and assessment of the Nigeria scenario in this context. Though the British Civil Service has been undergoing continuous changes throughout the last century, the radical transformation from 1979 has been the outcome of a clear strategy and of pragmatic instrumentalism, as some critique note, pursued with vigour and determination during the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1997. The Labour government continued with these changes, modernising the system further in tune with its own approach to governance.

The Conservative government’s reform program commenced with the efficiency initiative directed at reducing public expenditure, making civil servants cost conscious, implementing managerial ideas and practices and encouraging the creation of enabling environment and infrastructure for managerialism culture to develop. Every department had to examine its area of work and bring about ‘efficiency saving;’ although the real saving were disputed, self-discipline helped create a climate of management change – encouraged a ‘value for money’ administration culture.

Next step taken was the restructuring of the civil service to enhance its flexibility, ensure performance management and incorporate a new people management approach. In the performance management approach, the goals and objectives for the organisation and for each constituent element within it are clearly defined in a strategy framework. Performance measures are specified and targets are set, against which performance can be assessed. Performance indicators are used as tools for management control and cost reduction.

Post-1991 years witnessed a new public service orientation that warranted responsiveness to service users, along with quality standards, public accountability and restraints on public servants’ power and control. The government reviewed the process in the mid-1990s and decided to pursue the revised strategy for ‘continuity and change.’ This aimed at promoting higher levels of awareness and efficiency through internal reforms in the civil service structure and personnel selection, and through external competition with the ever-increasing ambit of markets and non-governmental entities. Perhaps one of the most crucial in energizing the system was to bring in the cutting edge competition and comparison of performance. Total quality management as a technique practiced by the entrepreneurs soon became a mantra in the administrative corridors.

The government launched the ‘Citizen’s Charter (1991)’ with the commitment to responsive and high-quality public services, and interestingly, privatization and competition were considered to be the means of achieving these goals. Along with the white paper ‘Competing for Quality (2001),’ this laid out the government’s continuing initiative. The charter defined standards for each of the public sectors and these were widely publicized to allow the public to judge performance against these expectations. ‘Competing for Quality’ put three imperatives for the departments – to concentrate on the core activities; to introduce greater competition; and choice of services and to improve standards of quality provision to the people. The government’s strategy spelt out in ‘The Civil Service: Continuity and Change (2004)’ highlighted the further scope for greater efficiency and quality in the provision of civil services. Efficiency plans and market testing techniques followed earlier were aimed at value for money outcome for all public sector activities.

All these with other private sector techniques like business process reengineering, benchmarking and total quality management, were being utilized to galvanise the public administration system into a value-for-money mode, with continued, strong commitment to sustaining the key principles on which the British Civil Service is based – integrity, political impartiality, objectivity, selection and promotion on merit and accountability through ministers to Parliament. A new senior civil service of around 3,000 professionals, from administration and outside, including retired officials with strong career record, was set up in a new pay and contractual arrangement.

With the parliament’s support for the changes, the government responded in ‘Taking Forward Continuity and Change (1995)’ by introducing a civil service code and strengthened the Civil Service Commission’s powers to ensure unbiased recruitment. Further steps to increase civil service efficiency included containing the recurrent costs, undertaking of fundamental expenditure reviews and so on.

In essence, a profound impact of this process of transformation was visible, first, in the significant changes in the civil service composition, with a staggering 35 per cent reduction in the permanent staff. There was, however, an increase in the part-time and temporary staff.

Secondly, a significant change in the approach to people management has taken place with a new staff-appraisal system linked to performance evaluation against predetermined objectives and targets. It is of special importance to note that poor performance up to a point resulted in training, close review or transfer, but continued poor performance could end up in dismissal. Training was given high priority, especially in new management and IT skills. Personnel administration has been given a new meaning as human resources management, with staff being considered as key resources in the organizations and as assets, rather than costs.

The Labour government went on strengthening the new civil service with its policy paper ‘Service First (1998)’ with added dimensions of greater emphasis on participation by citizens and accountability to service-users. While addressing a civil service conference in 1998, Tony Blair described civil service as ‘a priceless asset,’ but one still in need of reform. ‘The civil service is good at preparing legislation and managing policy. It is less good at focusing on outcome or ensuring effective implementation… Many parts of the civil service culture are still too hierarchical and inward-looking and too short-termist. Above all the Civil Service is too risk averse,’ he added. The latter point highlighted the need for: initiative, bold ideas and for avoiding the culture of playing safe and passing the buck in terms of decisions and actions. ‘Modernizing Government,’ a 1999 White Paper, set out a long-term programme of change with a vision of a future with better government ‘to make

life better for people and business.’ Public services are clearly identified as key agents of change in forging new partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors and deliver to the people the promises of the government.

Successful people management (modified HRM) is the ‘X-factor.’ ‘X-factor’ basically refers to the way people (or personnel) are organized, motivated, supported and looked after, which is critical to how well the organization or company performs. London’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has been of late using it fairly frequently. Several elements in this factor are usually missing in administration framework elsewhere, making it perform way below its potential capacity. An organisation, especially the one working in the public/government sector, should not be seen as something of a machine that is controlled by order from the top, but it should be developed rather as a form of human and knowledge capital, able to adapt, learn, improvise and self-commit to goals and growing demands. This has been duly recognized and a high powered corporate development and human resources unit has been set up in the Cabinet Office – in effect, to oversee the HR function for the civil administration as a whole, winged, so to speak, on the powerful Cabinet Office.

The Civil Service privileges cleverness above all, but good management is about quite different qualities: ‘courage, humility, empathy, terrific communications, self-belief.’ One of the most crucial lessons, however, one learns relates to the gradual but firm climb up the reform ladder – reforms themselves have been allowed to grow and take firm roots over time. And that political changes in the government have not affected the reforms already achieved, rather the process has been strengthened and is being taken forward. Such political wisdom obviously is in the better interest of the people and the nation.

It will be appropriate to recall that the emergence of Nigeria was based on a sensitive perception that Nigerians were not being allowed to have their legitimate share in the public services, armed forces and the like, apart from finally being denied their lawful claim to the overall governance of the country itself. It was envisioned that Nigeria should design a welfare-oriented, pro-people system of administration in a democratic framework of governance.

To ensure an efficient public administration and it’s strengthening over time to enhance its capacity to uphold the overall objectives of public welfare are the reflection of good governance. It was realized that Nigeria which faces similar range of challenges, issues, and problems as any other developing nation, needs to implement basic reforms in public administration and a process has to be spearheaded for reengineered and reoriented structure and contents. In this process, major features of a good government like accountability, transparency, efficiency, incorruptibility, and above all, non-discriminatory and welfare-oriented application of the laws, rules and regulations of the land, are to be effectively introduced and reinforced.

The Nigeria government, ‘in pursuance of its constitutional obligations, is committed to the nation to ensure good governance.’ The government in the fifth five-year plan (1997-2002) document stated that ‘it will also require redefining the role of the state and reorienting the mind-set of the bureaucracy.’

The vision of such a framework is to enable the society to meet ‘the basic needs of the people in an exploitation-free, informed environment, encompassing social, economic and opportunistic equality.’ The parliament serves as the apex deliberative body to reflect the will of the people. Wisdom of the intellectuals, activists, thinkers and others and their deliberations and thoughts, views and suggestions can contribute to the public good and the welfare of the nation. In fact, reports, analytical write-ups, thought-provoking editorials in the media also could provide valuable inputs for improving the countrywide administration and delivery systems. Institutional and procedural arrangements to utilise the best of these continuous flows shall indeed enrich the administration process and make it more responsive and people-oriented.

The success of an administrative system is very much a function of its enabling environment. In the initial years, Nigeria had set up a number of training institutes like Civil Officers Training Academy, National Institute of Public Administration, several staff training institutes with Nigeria Administrative Staff College for training of the senior officers at the policy level. Later, policy dimensions on training were revised and consolidation, rather than proliferation, guided the amalgamation of the training institutions. An umbrella Public Administration Training Centre was established combining all these at a large complex and with all possible facilities. However, to emphasise the professional competence and specialisation, several other institutions were also set up.

In 1982, several major steps were taken to decentralise administration with adequate powers and financial allocations at the field level. In 1996, an administrative reform committee was constituted to further streamline the administration. Several reforms in fiscal and monetary management, budgetary and expenditure control system and in the nation’s financial institutions including banks, insurance, investment companies in public and private sectors have also been affected. Though, not much has been made public about the reform committee’s work during the years since its inception, its reports and recommendations should be taken into serious consideration for appropriate review and revision and perhaps phased implementation.

A modern Nigeria, like many other developing countries, has undertaken a process of acting on and responding to fundamental changes sweeping across the globe. Market economy and private sector dynamics characterise the new international economic management scenario. The trend for globalisation and phenomenal strides in communication technology has brought in new horizons. Secondly, an intensive thrust foe civil society and good governance has led the administration to seek a greater degree of transparency, accountability and welfare-oriented approach in the management of state affairs, be that in public or in private spheres.

Thirdly, in the global village, information flows freely and isolation and unilateral imposition of unacceptable administrative fiat in any facet of the life and living of the citizens are no longer sustainable. For a global system, a regime of global values and norms is becoming operational. Hence, every developing nation’s administration and its delivery system and mechanism need to reflect such realities and compulsions to ensure the welfare of its citizens. It is no longer enough to deliver; transparency of the processes themselves is to be maintained.

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