Money can’t buy citizens’ love, but integrity and performance can


This page in:

We know very little about governments’ willingness to take risks. Technologies to enhance public sector performance are widely known and available nowadays, but we still can't predict when governments are likely to take risks in the implementation of complex public sector reforms. One prerequisite for any government attempting to implement reforms is that it has sufficient political capital. Governments and politicians seeking trust and legitimacy try to win or buy approval, but they do not always succeed in winning anything approaching legitimacy. We are still grappling with how to objectively measure the extent to which governments are effective and even demonstrate that citizens are good judges in perceiving and distinguishing good-performers from bad-performers, or in translating that perception into political endorsement or trust.

Our argument is that a government that shows early returns from Public Sector Management (PSM) reforms in terms of delivering better public services, showing fairness in the interactions with citizens, and enhancing the quality and performance of its street-level bureaucracy will build the necessary political capital to undertake more far-reaching and politically costly public sector reforms at a later stage. Further, these improvements are likely to increase citizens’ trust in governmental authority and their willingness to comply with government taxes and regulations, which in turn will improve a government’s capacity to become more effective and to evoke deference, which will further enhance the credibility of future reform packages.

Using survey data, we analyze the sources of political capital, specifically trust and legitimating beliefs, in a wide variety of settings: Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Our findings suggest that the source of this capital comes from service delivery, bureaucratic competence and honesty and procedural fairness. Across Africa, when evaluating governments, citizens’ perceptions of procedural fairness and the honesty of the bureaucrats swamp governments’ service delivery activities. In Latin America in particular, we found that governments were able to rapidly re-build trust in government institutions at the local level, by focusing on delivering quick improvements in sectors which were very visible and a priority for citizens. For example, these early gains allowed the Mayor of Medellin to gain enough political capital to break with past clientelist politics, and to introduce a new public management framework based on the delivery of services and responsiveness to citizens’ needs. His calculations were right: investing in improving very visible, relevant public goods, and making an extra effort to share the results with citizens paid off. He left office with 90 percent approval, without having to resort to clientelism as usual.

Thus, PSM reforms are more likely to generate short-term positive political returns and longer-term gains for a government if it is able to improve perceptions of its bureaucracy’s competence and the fairness of government procedures. The importance of procedural justice in eliciting support for governments is a strong finding of a large body of research. How we are to promote procedural fairness is compatible with PSM reforms: good public servants and transparency combined with institutional arrangements to provide effective voice and grievance procedures to those who experience discrimination. We also know from experiences around the world that governments are more likely to elicit its citizens’ approval when bureaucrats including teachers, nurses, and agricultural extension agents treat those individuals with whom they interact on a day-to-day basis with dignity and provide services with a manageable amount of red tape and corruption. 

While improving services may not harm an incumbent government’s popularity, enhancing service delivery is unlikely to directly generate any significant short-term political returns for a government. Why is this the case?  Introducing service-enhancing reforms in a clientelist context is costly and may trigger rent-seeking. In addition, because the public has limited information about what exactly the government does and how, individuals may not assign credit to government for service delivery improvements even when the credit is due.  Rather, citizens may be attributing the improvements to other actors including sectarian groups, the private sector; NGOs and community-based groups; religious institutions; traditional leaders; and, donors.  From looking at the results in our two pieces of research, we conclude that politicians will only engage in reforms to improve the provision of public goods when the chances of receiving credit and political capital are high. Therefore, we argue that projects which involve visible government agencies and address citizens’ top priorities will increase the chances that citizens correctly attribute improvements in welfare to the better performance of government.

If this is the case, and politicians are only going to be tempted to follow the risky path of reform when the gains are feasible, then how can the World Bank, other donors and NGOs work with governments to ensure that governments at least receive the credit when it’s fairly due?

Photo Credit: Javier Volcan



Alejandro Guerrero Ruiz

Public Sector Management Specialist

Join the Conversation

Lanre Rotimi
September 29, 2011

Thanks for the submission. The direct answer to your question is that the World Bank Group itself should undertake honest evaluation of its own contribution to international development cooperation in the past 50 years and actually learn lessons from lessons learnt.

It is interesting that many of the issues raised in this submission had been raised in Nick Manning’s “The World Bank and Public Sector Management: Where do you come out?” The PSM Discussion Nick started generated many good ideas and suggestions that he summarized in “The World Bank and Public Sector Management: Taking Stock”. The World Bank is yet to publicly act to move forward these good ideas and suggestions.

It is interesting that Christopher Pollit’s “30 years of Public Sector Management: Has there been a pattern?” was inspired by Nick’s first posting, yet the salient points he made generated low traffic (we sent him our private comments). Our fear is that this submission, with PSM as a Pillar did not build on the earlier 3 Postings and is likely to generate low traffic like Christopher Pollit’s Post.

Christopher Pollit’s Post points out that New Public Management, NPM; Public Sector Management, PSM; and Public Sector Reform, PSR issues are not just problems facing Developing Countries but Developed Countries as well. Please find link to Meta Analysis Paper on Public Sector in European Countries.…

The concluding remarks are damning. The real situation on the ground today in US, Canada, Japan, Emerging Nations is more or less the same. The situation in most Developing Countries is worse. Given findings of the Meta Analysis, Can answers to How questions be found; fully implemented with effective monitoring, evaluation and assessment of this implementation without effectively addressing real and complex New Public Management; Public Sector Management and Public Sector Reform issues raised in Nick Mannings two Posts, Christopher Pollits Post and this Post in all Countries - Aid Giving and Aid Receiving Countries, Worldwide?

Please recognize that the Acid Test of the World Bank Group New PSM Vision is the Quality and Quantity of answers to How Questions and the contribution of these answers towards:-
a) Improving Loan / Aid / Budgetary Allocation Effectiveness
b) Achieving MDG / MDG 2 Targets / Goals
c) Improving Monitoring, Evaluation and Assessment of all Policies, Programs and Project Interventions in (a) – (b).
d) Identifying, Empowering, Promoting and Protecting Professionals – Officers, Managers and Commissioners on Service Users side and Professionals – Consultants, Subject Matter Experts and Partners on Service Providers side to Build Capacity – Hard Competencies: Learning and Skills and Soft Competencies: Character, Courage and Mindset; on sustainable basis, adequate to operationalize in practice (a) – (c).

We urge Bloggers and Guest Bloggers to focus more on answers to How Questions and less on answers to What and Why questions. It is our hope that these answers help Achieve increasing Convergence between NPM / PSM / PSR Global Vision Intention and Reality and in ways that address Fundamental Issues:-
1. Underestimation by both donors and partner countries of the required political and technical investments to translate the agenda into practice.
2. Calls for political engagement and decision-making to be addressed by emphasising links between aid effectiveness implementation and global development policy forums, like the G20.
3. More focus should be on facilitating country level implementation and global monitoring
4. Concentrating on the present aid effectiveness agenda while others want to open up this agenda to cover broader “development effectiveness” policies, programs, projects.
5. Key for making further progress is continued political attention to the need for more coherent, joined-up policy, program, project making and the successful adoptions of policies, programs and projects meeting such criteria.

The World Bank Governance Blog should be an effective Platform for operationalizing (1) - (5) in practice, with more emphasis on (5). This way the answer to your question will emerge naturally and deliver successful and sustainable Win - Win Solutions to real and complex International Development Cooperation problems on the ground challenging Governments on both Developed and Developing Countries; World Bank Group, other International Institutions e.g. All UN Agencies, EC, IMF etc and CSOs' / NGOs' across the World.

In view of the above, it is our hope that ultimately, the Discussions on World Bank Governance Blog are not academic debate to advance frontiers of knowledge or professional dialogue that anyone may use in any way he / she deem fit; but effective Policy Dialogue Platform for generating ideas from the Best Minds; and Meaningfully involving all whose ideas are accepted as helping to chart clear ways forward, in the implementation; monitoring, evaluation and assessment of the implementation of the ideas thus Marking Turning Point in International Development Cooperation; that is help solve real and complex Global NPM / PSM / PSR problems on the ground, in ways that help solve real and complex World Fuel, Food, Finance, Trade, Terrorism and Climate Change problems on the ground on Developed Countries, Developing Countries and International Institutions sides.

Lanre Rotimi
Global Center for Learning in Evaluation and Results
International Society for Poverty Elimination /
Economic Alliance Group