Thursday, September 29, 2011

Public Sector Reform: It Ain’t The Money, It’s The Love

File this under, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that”. But pay close attention to the last couple of paragraphs (excerpt, emphasis added):

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

…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…

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.

…Our findings suggest that the source of this capital comes from service delivery, bureaucratic competence and honesty and procedural fairness…

…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…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?

We’re looking at two separate pieces of research here – in the first, radical reform is found to be only possible if government institutions are already credible. A bit of a chicken and egg situation here if you ask me. Second, the effort expended by politicians for further reform is related to how much credit they are likely to get (duh!).

More seriously, this puts the ETP and GTP programs in perspective – the insistence on “quick wins”, the pervasive communication of ETP updates and investment pledges (as irrelevant as they might be) – start making more sense in political economy terms (bearing in mind I’m no political theorist). It’s an effort to lay the groundwork for changes to come.

Nobody gets it right or wrong all of the time. So let’s give credit where’s it due…and the brickbats when its not.

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