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E. Gyimah-Boadi, Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana); and Dept of Political Science, University of Ghana, Legon TOPIC: THE SEARCH FOR A DEVELOPMENTAL PUBLIC SERVICE IN AFRICA:. CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS. Introduction.

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challenges and prospects
E. Gyimah-Boadi, Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana); and Dept of Political Science, University of Ghana, LegonTOPIC: THE SEARCH FOR A DEVELOPMENTAL PUBLIC SERVICE IN AFRICA:


  • The attributes of “developmental” states and public services are well known by now. They embody the following capacities:
Regulatory capacity – ability to establish and enforce rules throughout the society, including the traditional and religious realms
  • Administrative capacity - ability to manage the personnel and resources of the state and to ensure accountability and efficiency in service delivery
Technical capacity- expertise and knowledge required to make and implement technical decisions as well as the policy tools and instruments necessary to implement those decisions effectively
Extractive capacity - to raise the revenues needed by the state to pay for the expenses of implementing state policies and goals – which of course includes the revenue for hiring, paying, and providing public servants with the resources to work with
Developmental states and public services (by the above definition) are rare in Africa - outside of South Africa, Namibia Botswana and Mauritius; the quest for the developmental state elsewhere in Africa is understood to have proved highly elusive.
Relatively short time span: the development of a high level of state and bureaucratic capacity took several centuries in other parts of the world:
Compared to other developing countries, African states are very new - formed during colonial rule and emerged as a nation state less than 50 years ago. (Compare with most places in Latin America where European colonialism had ended by the mid-19th century; or with Asian societies that can can boast of bureaucratic traditions that predate those of Europe).
The colonial factor is also relevant to post-colonial failure to develop developmental states and effective public services in much of Africa (outside of the settler colonies):
The colonial state’s neo-mercantilist orientations - in which it sustained itself largely on taxing surpluses generated by peasant grown primary commodities, exports of minerals and timber extracted by foreign companies, and imports of consumer goods;
The colonial state that relied very little or not all on direct taxes (and almost exclusively on the mechanisms of marketing boards and other forms of official monopoly; control over export/ import business through licensing; and foreign exchange/currency control) – leading to………….
Emergence of a political economy and politics whose central feature was contestation for control of the rents generated by central government through the control over the trading activities of the state.
The often heterogeneous character of the state created by the colonial rule and the many and varied forms of social loyalties and identities available to be mobilized politically to make sectarian claims on the state and to seek exemptions from regulations, extractions and bureaucratic administration (Note the continuous struggle over the power of eminent domain between central government and traditional authorities rulers in Ghana).
Vast expansion of state activities and public service to cater for nationalist ambitions and to meet high popular expectations – well beyond existing capacities to deliver - and without commensurate levels of resources
  • Extreme politicisation and accompanying erosion of bureaucratic restraints and norms in state organizations.
Complicity of public servants (especially those in the top and middle ranks) in bureaucratic corruption and economic mismanagement.
  • Flight of already insufficient bureaucratic personnel and chronic inability to retain good talent or attract new ones into a demoralized sector, especially from the late 1970s.
Re-emphasising and adhering to Weberian rational–legal bureaucratic principles (particularly meritocratic hiring, promoting and rewarding)
  • Insulating key or strategic units of the public service from partisan and sectarian pressures.
  • Reforming administrative procedures to enhance clarity and transparency.
  • Meaningful salary reform/rationalization.
who should do it what incentives
Who should do it? What incentives?
  • Government?
  • The public service/public servants?
  • International development partners?
  • Public servants?
  • The public/private sector (in multiple and overlapping roles as taxpayers, service users, citizens)?
  • Notionally, governments have an inherent interest in building state and public service capacities. But
  • African governments lack the discipline to voluntarily follow the logic of such capacities: They tend to regard bureaucratic principles as a form of nuisance. For instance, meritocratic values undercut short term patronage advantages available to them.
They often lack the political incentive and capacity as well as moral authority to protect public servants or strategic units from sectarian pressures;
  • They themselves are often the principal bearers sectarian pressures on the service for dispensation of favours and granting exemptions; and
  • (Until recently) they largely relied on cooptation and repression rather than effective service delivery and popular acceptance for survival.
Governments also lack the incentive to promote meaningful salary reforms because it often entails vigorous internal revenue mobilization, which could provoke tax payer revolt and stimulate popular demand for representation. And
  • They have also learnt to expect donors to provide bail outs: paying for expensive technocrats and consultants, and thereby saving them from suffering the full effects of governmental inaction
public servants
Public servants
  • They have a direct interest in building or restoring capabilities
  • But they are not in a good position to initiate reforms; and
  • They tend to resist or sabotage reforms that threaten their short term interests.
donors development partners
Donors/development partners
  • Donors/IFIs have been responsible some of the important public service reforms in Africa in the past two decades – rebuilding revenue secretariats, introducing user fees, salary reforms, admin decentralization, etc.
  • But effectiveness of donor-driven reforms blunted ‘ownership’ problems.
  • MDBS and other donor approaches to reforms which acknowledge the sovereign mandate and aim to enhance local ownership are generally promising.
  • But the implicit ceding of external oversight may ignore persistently weak governmental accountability and inclusion deficit; due diligence gives way to expediency and managerial costs savings. Thus, donors relaxing pressure on govts despite deficits in micro-economic reforms, control of official rent-seeking and anti-corruption.
the democracy advantage
The democracy advantage?
  • Democracy generates negative pressures against public service reforms. For example, it intensifies pressure for patronage; populist politicians bring pressure to bear on bureaucratic decision making; social groups and private sector operators demand exemptions and concessions etc. But
  • Democratic politics also enhances ‘voice’ for the public and demand for accountability and responsiveness. Votes increasingly tied to performance in competitive elections.
  • It also generates political legitimacy, which enables government to introduce and sustain painful but necessary measures such as vigorous internal revenue mobilization. E.g., Ghana improving revenue mobilization efforts under elected governments.
With democratization, Africa may well be approaching an era of enhanced multi-stakeholder and multiple opportunities to resolve its public service reform impasse.