OP-EDs

OP-ED: INNOVATION IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR IS HIGH ON THE GOVT AGENDA

By Samonyane Ntsekele

Samonyane Ntsekele is the Minister of Water Affairs. This is the edited version of his speech delivered on behalf of the Minister of Finance Dr Moeketsi Majoro at the Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) 10th Annual Conference at Avani Maseru on Wednesday 23 October 2019.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this momentous occasion, Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) 10th Annual Conference. I am indeed honoured to be here and would like to thank you all for coming.

The theme for this year’s conference is Accelerating Public Sector Performance in developing countries.

This topic could not have come at a better time, when Africa as a continent and Lesotho in particular are taking major strides in reforming the Public Sector to ensure that it levels the playing ground for economic activity.

It is common knowledge, that Public sector in both the developed and developing world plays a vital role in providing public goods, such as defence, public order, property rights, macroeconomic management, basic education, public health, disaster relief, protection of environment, and coordinating private sector activity.

As such, a capable public service is essential for creating a favorable investment climate and facilitating people’s participation in economic life. As countries get more globalised, governments face increasingly complex challenges in cross-cutting issues such as economic volatility, climate change and migration.

Wide use of the internet has made citizens more aware and impatient and this puts public servants under greater public scrutiny.

Against this backdrop, public service delivery has acquired new dimensions as governments need to respond not only to changes in the global environment but also to the demands of an active citizenry.

Formulating integrated policies and their effective implementation would require an adaptable and efficient public sector that can anticipate emerging challenges and ensure that potential strategies are informed by better understanding of future contexts. It must also learn to empower people and be able to work with them to efficiently deliver services.

It is therefore imperative that we have the right people in the right places. There is a widespread perception that public servants in many governments have not delivered what was expected from them. On the other hand, returns from improving effectiveness of the government are immense.

An efficient public service is necessary for benefits to reach the socially and economically weaker sections of the society who have fewer alternatives to services provided by government. Mere allocation of funds for programmes that do not work effectively would be a waste of public money unless extra efforts are spent on improving government efficiency, and also to ensure that the poor are able to participate and put pressure on public administration to deliver so that they receive the intended benefits.

The importance of good governance and having honest and competent public sector institutions for a country’s economic and social development is now widely accepted. Daniel Kaufmann, who worked as the World Bank’s Director for global governance, states that, “countries that improve their governance effectiveness raise their standard of living, as measured by per capita incomes, by about three times in the long run”.

Poorly functioning public sector institutions and weak governance are major constraints to equitable development in many developing countries. In addition, governments must work with the people to ‘build anticipative capacity, inventive government and foster an innovative society in order to create emergent solutions to the complex challenges that the society may face in future.

In other words, the Classical model that saw government as primarily a provider of professional services is no longer sufficient today. Public interest now is a collective enterprise that involves government, citizens and civil society as value creators and co-producers of public goods.

Governments and governance the world over are undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in their traditional roles and structures of inflexible control and procedure orientation, towards result orientation, flexibility, facilitation and a citizen-centric approach.

This is the approach to be followed by all the developing countries. Success however would, to a large extent, depend upon a cultural change in the Civil Services. Excessive caution, reliance on precedents and following the beaten path have to give way to innovation and inventiveness and to trying out new methods.

However, any external effort towards reforms should take account of the economic, social, cultural, constitutional and political context of the state in which they are implemented. Reforms that have evolved in some developed countries and have improved accountability of their civil service cannot be replicated elsewhere unless local social and political conditions are kept in mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the major factors in accelerating public sector performance is sound public financial management (PFM). PFM is an essential part of good governance as it supports the efficient and accountable use of public resources, helps foster macroeconomic and fiscal stability, and guides allocation of resources to address national priorities.

As resources can leak wherever systems are weak, public financial management covers all phases of the budget cycle including budget preparation, internal control and audit, procurement, monitoring and reporting.

When the European Union (EU) funded the implementation of our new professional accountancy programme – LePAP, they argued that their interest is in improved public financial management for that this would go a long way in minimizing corruption and fraud in the public sector an aspect which will boost investor confidence both local and international hence increase in economic activity.

This year’s conference focuses on a number of sub-themes which when applied can lead to improvement in public sector performance. Some of the topics are Integrated Thinking which is one of the latest developments in reporting, aimed to improve the usefulness of corporate reporting; Fourth Industrial Revolution, which we can no longer afford to ignore.

Strong Institutions as a pillar for good governance and professionalization of public sector. The discussions will also include Agenda 2063; towards Lesotho we want.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the Institute for pulling up such a high level conference, they are always raising the bar, we are indeed humbled as government. I will also like to commend them for being able to bring such a high profile person, with versatile skills, Professor Lumumba as the key note speaker.

His knowledge and experience in issues affecting the African Continent and how as Africans we can do it for ourselves.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and hope the discussions you are going to engage in will indeed go a long way in accelerating Public Sector Performance in an attempt to stimulate economic growth in Africa. NW

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