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Submitted by Richard Hogg on
Alexander Pope's famous line has some resonance for those of us in the field trying to do 'public sector reform' in difficult places. And there is no more difficult place than Kabul, where we have been implementing public sector reform with mixed results since 2003. Quite honestly there is no substitute for learning on the job. Ideas are one thing but implementation is another, and its that aspect of the public sector reform discussion that needs to be brought to the surface. No matter how good the ideas on paper-and quite frankly a good public sector management expert can argue for just about anything-its what flies that mattters,and quite frankly our time horizon is far too short to often judge what is a success or a failure. Over the last few years we have probably done it all-we have done all the classical and not so classical things; we established a Civil Service Commission, introduced merit based recruitment, pay and grading, HRMIS,we went for an asymmetric approach at first, then under pressure from those parts of government that felt they were missing out went government wide, and have now gone back to the first approach or a variant of it. In the meantime we have been told by several observers that what we are trying won't work, can't work given the political economy context. Yet in the time I have been here- on and off since 2003- I have seen significant improvements for the better. Development agencies, and the World Bank is no exception, expect change to happen too quickly. Public sector reform is painfully slow, and the setbacks are many, but its not always about the set of instruments at your disposal but the ability to keep going-not in the face of approaches that have clearly failed but with the idea that reform and change take time to take hold, and that the high risk of failure doesn't mean the risk is not worth taking. When the Bank asks for comment on its next generation strategies and approaches it should not be just about a discussion of technical public sector approaches, but a discussion of the Bank's own appetite for risk, its appetite for taking the long haul, and how it judges success, which it often too narrowly defines in terms of technical project indicators and money disbursed. The effort to arrrive at better instruments of reform in other words need to take account of the institutional culture of the development agency itself and what is feasible in terms of that culture and internal set of institutional incentive structures.