Monday, 11th December 2023

Civil service reform not rocket science – Part 2

By Tunji Olaopa
20 September 2023   |   1:50 am
This is both the theoretical and administrative background that set the tone for the direction in which the Tinubu administration must situate its civil service reform framework. To even be able to jumpstart its resolute determination to hinge the success...

Federal civil service

This is both the theoretical and administrative background that set the tone for the direction in which the Tinubu administration must situate its civil service reform framework. To even be able to jumpstart its resolute determination to hinge the success of the administration on a reform of the capability readiness of the civil service, the government needs to first pose to itself and answer three fundamental questions that lies at the heart of institutional reform in Nigeria.

The first question concerns the nature and dynamics of government business: what needs to change in the way the business of government has been conducted so far in order to transform its efficiency through change management dynamic that enables it to deliver the government’s development agenda?

The second question has to do with the temporal shelf life of the administration: how does the administration manage what it can realistically achieve in the period of four years that will enable its 8-Point Agenda to effectively manage a democratic service delivery to Nigerians?

And the last question is procedural: which of the MDAs are critical to delivering the policy expectations contained in the 8-Point Agenda and, as a corollary, which governmental procedures and processes have the negative capacity of hindering the positive unraveling of the government’s development agenda?

These three critical questions are motivated by the axiom that Nigeria cannot expect any fundamental transformation if we keep following the logic of governance and institutional reform that have failed to yield any cogent results in the past. And, as we hinted earlier, the Tinubu administration does not need, in any way, to reinvent the wheels in answering these three questions.

It has at its disposals not only the institutional errors and false steps of the past sixty-three years, but also many significant and heavily researched policy, governance and administrative documents that detailed critical reform issues since 2001. A critical example suffices.

Specific researches have outlined the critical issues involved in the fundamental dynamics undermining the conduct of government business. These include, among others: (a) transforming the current outmoded input- process that underlie the business model to include an output-outcomes result framework; (b) undermining the skill and competency gaps; (c) achieving clarity on actions required to execute plans, sectoral activities and departmental/unit programs; (d) putting in place an adequate performance monitoring and reporting system; (e) removing the existing organizational silos mentality and the culture of hindering policy execution; and (f) adequately defining a framework of rewards and sanction.

These initial questions only prepare the Tinubu government for confronting the big issues involved in really summoning the political will to tackle the complexity of reforming the civil service. And the first really crucial point to note is that it will be somewhat counterproductive to take on the reform of the civil service in the mold as confronting the fuel subsidy removal or the policy dealing with the multiple exchange rates for the naira.

One good reason is that the present fiscal challenge Nigeria is currently undergoing will not make that reform policy strategy a good one. In other words, institutional reform and its implementation complexities are too expensive to be taken on in one fell swoop. Nigeria’s current fiscal travails cannot handle it at all. Reform methodology specifies the critical policy choices that governments make in determining the framing of the reform strategy in terms of program design and the change management strategies.

One of such policy choices involves determining whether reform methodology to adopt will slide in favor of comprehensiveness or selectivity. Taking on a comprehensive—root and branch— systemic reform, in the mode of the National Strategy for Public Service Reform (NSPSR) document of 2007 (which is the framework for reform implementation actions to date), should strictly be avoided by the Tinubu administration.

One immediately obvious reason for this is that since institutional reforms take time to sufficiently gestate for results, the time frame they need to come to fruition does not adequately align with the four-year tenure of most administrations. This is one of the fundamental reasons past reform efforts failed to make huge impacts in the lives of Nigerians. And, for this administration, this reason is equally in tandem with the earlier argument that Nigeria’s fiscal condition forbids a comprehensive reform methodology.

The reform wisdom in this case therefore insist, as a matter of administrative and governance imperative, that rather than going all in—especially as counseled by existing reform documents which quite unfortunately are largely process oriented—it is more strategic to adopt a mix of reform selectivity, more competent phasing and sequencing protocols as well as a significantly creative change management dynamics. Within the confine of a really smart and globally compliant change management protocols, modernising the public service and making it capability ready for backstopping the developmental state Nigeria wants to be, entails committing the government’s political will to achieve the following:

Basic housekeeping changes; getting the basics of reform sufficiently right; implementing system-wide performance improvement programme; and implementing deep-seated systemic and structural changes usually through a mix of restructuring, reengineering and culture change, ostensibly for paradigm shifting from the bureaucratic to performance-rooted neo-Weberian model underpinned by a mix of the entrepreneurial and technocratic which benchmark protocols like the ISO 9000 world-class rebranding as one of its value propositions.

Let us then assume, for the sake of pushing forward our line of argument, that the Tinubu administration will adopt the methodology of reform selectivity in moving forward its 8-Point Agenda for transforming the Nigerian economy, and in a critical sense, therefore, making a strategic decision to deliberately choose the battles it can fight and win, then there is a specific and time-tested direction for a reform action plan.

Two dimensions of this action plan are strategic and should be immediate. The first one is that, given the urgent need for the symbolic significance of signaling governance achievement on the psyche of Nigerians, and hence the need for low-hanging fruits, the Tinubu government will be wise to adopt the method of phasing its reform programme, starting with those that will enable the rewiring of the institutional IQ of the civil service system, as well as rehabilitate its capability readiness to be able to adequately provide the support the administration badly requires to succeed.

Again, in tandem with the earlier warning about reform comprehensiveness, there are too many damning creative and systemic destabilization that the labour unions will resists and which will keep bogging the administration down.
It will also be a huge and strategic policy move for the administration to prioritize its attention not simultaneously on all public service institutions.

Rather, a few MDAs must be targeted and situated at the forefront of the governance and administrative reform. These will include in the first category (a) those institution with the capabilities to deliver jobs and create wealth, (b) those saddled with the mandate of maintaining peace and security, and (c) those implementing national priority programs. In the second category will be institutions that regulate rules-based market players, investment, SMEs and the rule of law.
To be continued tomorrow.