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Submitted by Sylvester Obong'o on
The debate on public sector reforms is interesting and has come at the right time. There are great lessons that can be deduced from past experiences in charting the way forward. In most African countries, the modern day public sector reforms started from structural adjustment programs, to civil service (administrative) reforms, to sector wide (public sector) management reforms, then somehow emphasis started veering again towards, sub-sector reforms (public finance, transport and so on), with specific sectors receiving special emphasis. In all these there are critical lessons. From civil service to public service, there seemed to have been a need for coverage- (consider the entire equation) and may be moving back to subsectors seems to be pointing out towards needs to focus on specifics- finance management, etc. The need for results led to performance management and perofrmance contracting and so on. One critical lesson that I have gathered from all these is that each aspect as been considered as project with a time line and therefore fades away with time. Despite numerous acknowledgements that reform is a long term undertaking, practical experience seems to be deployment of short term measures. Arising from the above, it seems as if there is no aspect of the public that has not gone through some sort of reform. Unfortunately, in our reform endeavors, the public sector especially with the advent of NPM has be portrayed as being so bad and the private sector as the angle to be emulated even in countries rated poorly in all those indicators that need to be changed. Public servants do not operate in isolation of the rest of the public. Within a country if public servants are corrupt, chances are that the private sector is equally corrupt, so replacing public servants with people from the private sector in the same old institutions may not be of great help. Therefore, as we we focus on the changing circumstances public sector reform must also change its primary focus, the old and great divide between public and private is getting very blurred with the emergence of an array of third party organizations pursuing what was primarily considered 'government' or public. The next phase of public sector reforms may not therefore be focused so much on internal performance of the public sector, organizational efficiency, management, restructuring, important as these may be, but on how the government interacts with the private sector. And hence development of effective 'Tools of Governance' To that extent, I would expect the operations of institutions such as the professional bodies not only to keenly pursue standards within the private sector but also within the public sector. Such that if an engineer working within the public sector is sanctioned or deregistered by the professional body, such should automatically stand suspended from their public service employment. Civil Service need to cease to be a profession, but an institution comprised of registered professionals with their respective bodies, within a country. In brief I am saying that may be the future is in focusing on development of mechanisms or tools that transcend the 'public sector' and bringing together various government or public sector and private sector institutions in pursuit of development results. Sylvester Obongo, University of Newcastle.