Civil Service Reforms: A Precondition for Sound Economic Growth

Civil Service Reform is a necessary condition for improving the economic growth prospects of Mauritius. As a partner and active participant in achieving the goals of government, the Civil Service has a defining role in implementation of policies. Any weakness in its organization is bound to have an impact on the future prospects of the country

We start on the premise that the stumbling block halting our ambition to take the leap to our desired state of a “high income” economy from a middle income one is a “systemic” problem.

It is therefore necessary to focus on each of the constituent parts of the system in order to find the solutions which will allow us to move forward. Getting all parts to move in sync is a necessary condition for maximizing “synergy” from the sum of those parts. The role of leadership is in turn critical in minimizing friction in the bringing together of the parts.

One of the essential parts of the system is undoubtedly the Civil Service or the administrative arm of government in implementing its programmes and achieving its objectives. The role of the Civil Service in Mauritius since the country achieved independence has been remarkable and a reflection of this is the way in which many observers have praised the Public-Private Partnership which has characterized governance of the country over the years as one of the principal causes of our economic success.

It is no secret though, that for some time now, there has been a general sentiment that the administration seems to be lagging behind in terms of what it needs to deal with the emerging scenario of economic liberalism and the greater opening of the economy due to the forces of globalization. In this context it is clear that the private sector has taken the lead and transformed its “modus operandi” by engaging in a protracted programme of restructuring and mergers resulting in greater concentration and centralization of decision-making so as to deal more effectively with the demands of the new economic environment both local and global.

Surely, the public sector cannot expect to continue to add value to the development process, by partnering the private sector as it did in the past, if it does not carry out its own transformation. The only sustainable partnership for managing the macro-economic environment so that private sector enterprises can take maximum advantage of business opportunities while respecting the desiderata of government in terms of its economic, social and environmental agenda is one where there is a dialogue between equals. Of course this will result in constant horse-trading and occasional disagreements but we must agree that this is the stuff that governing is made of.

We are not concerned here with the classic debate when it comes to Civil Service reforms about an inevitable choice between “increasing the quality of government” and “decreasing the quantity of government” (the latter referring to over-staffing rather than to the more fundamental issue of the extent of the role of government). The real issues are those of how to adapt the organizational structures of the administrative machinery to the needs of the hour as well as building the capacity in the Service by attracting the appropriate talents to populate those new structures while providing necessary training to those who are already in place. Equally important would be the need to reignite the public service ethos and introduction of a culture of engagement. Of course the salary structure is part of the problem.

Re-inventing government has been on the agenda of several countries but it has been hailed as a success in only a few. It would probably need the appointment of a team of professionals to carry out a thorough study of our existing Civil Service structure and make recommendations for its overhaul. Nevertheless it is possible to identify some of the most patent weaknesses of the organization and suggest some remedies.

Foremost among these is the need to make a distinction among the three functions of Agenda Setting, Policy Formulation and Implementation. The introduction of a layer of ministerial advisers, admittedly a necessary addition in view of the more and more complex nature of issues with which Ministers have to deal, has not helped in this context. While it is admitted that there are no clearly distinguishable sequences and stages for these three functions which overlap in practice, it is still important to assign ultimate responsibility to some identifiable person or persons.

Agenda Setting is an eminently political function and Ministers who are constrained by the electoral settings are responsible for defining this. Policy formulation is a more delicate subject which cuts across the political and the administrative. Senior officials must work hand in hand with their political bosses in order to define the right policies which meet the objectives of the politicians while safeguarding the integrity of the administrative process. Finally as regards implementation, it is clearly the sole responsibility of the administrative cadre. An institutionalization of the distinction among these three functions would arguably go a long way towards clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each of the parties.

With regard to the administration, an interesting approach suggested by famous researcher Herbert A Simon is to view the organization as a three-layered cake. A first layer of repetitive or routine tasks is performed by people who apply existing rules and procedures. Then come what are defined as Programmed Decision making processes, which deal with tasks which may require some form of judgement but only to the extent of choosing from the appropriate existing manual of procedures or referring to the right precedents. Finally, Non Programmed decision making processes are all about judgement.

Simon goes on to state that the best technique for improving the process at this level is by “selection of the men (and women) who have demonstrated their capacity for it, further development of their powers through professional training and planned experience, protection of non-programmed activity from the pressure of repetitive activity by establishing specialized organizational unit to carry it on.”

Civil Service Reform is a necessary condition for improving the economic growth prospects of Mauritius. As a partner and active participant in achieving the goals of government, the Civil Service has a defining role in implementation of policies. Any weakness in its organization is bound to have an impact on the future prospects of the country.

 


* Published in print edition on 1 May 2014

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