Speech by Tove Degnbol, Danish Ambassador to Ghana at IMANI’s 6th Public Sector Awards on Thursday 22nd December 2016.
Good evening Your Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The theme for this year’s programme, “The Virtues of a Leaner Government in the Face of Fiscal Difficulties’’ is important and timely. Any government should constantly consider whether better service to the public can be delivered for the same resources, and the current fiscal constraints facing the Ghanaian economy is a further incentive for the Government to address waste, be more efficient, support productivity improvements – in short – to aim at a leaner government.
In 2015, the Government of Ghana signed on to a programme with the IMF with the aim of fiscal consolidation and strengthened policy and reform implementation, including focus on strengthening control of the wage bill; improving revenue administration, and enhancing public financial management. Since its inception, a number of reform measures have been introduced, and progress has been made in achieving some of the targets set.
The challenges, however, remain, as Ghana has a growing and a very young population, the demand for more and better services is increasing, and with the attainment of Middle Income status, the population has higher expectations. There is a widespread demand for changing the way the public sector does business and interacts with its clients.
The new government that will soon come into office has defined it as an ambition to improve efficiency. This will require improvements in the form of streamlining complex procedures, revisiting processes and seeing how redundant procedures can be scrapped and necessary ones improved for more efficiency.
The Government of Denmark has some experience with the process of leaning the public sector. Over the past years, there has been a lot of focus both on improving efficiency of individual ministries, municipalities and public institutions, and on measures to cut down costs across the entire public sector. There is no question that a lot has been achieved, and that we are much more cost-conscious now than we were some 10-15 years ago.
In a number of areas, it has been possible to improve the service provided to citizens without increasing or even while reducing the costs. This regards much of the service provided by municipalities to citizen, where digitalisation and more information displayed at interactive web pages have implied simplified procedures and cutting away redundant steps. A small but important example is the public libraries (one in every town and several in the larger cities), where a person who wants to borrow a book is scanning the book and his or her ID card both when collecting and returning the book. The long queues at the counter are gone, and the service is improved by automatic emails sent to the borrower when the deadline for returning the book is approaching. These initiatives have made it possible for the administration to work more efficiently with less staff.
I have to say, however, that the experience is mixed. It is a delicate balance to maintain focus on improving efficiency and service delivery and not turn a leaning process into a cost-cutting exercise where the aim of improving the service disappears.
One of the areas, where we must admit that a leaning process went too far and resulted in both poorer service and a significant financial loss, is the attempts made to improve the efficiency of the Danish tax administration. Significant staff reductions had the unintended impact of weakening control procedures, so it became too easy to avoid paying tax. When the system was attacked by organised international criminal gangs, which identified loopholes in control mechanisms and managed to have the tax system transfer large amounts out of Denmark, it took a long time to discover and stop it.
Our experience tells us that before undertaking changes in a public sector organisation, it is important to assess its mandate and consider whether this is still relevant. It is important to assess whether the organisation is already delivering on its mandate and how efficient its delivery is. It should be assessed if the organisation has a client/customer orientation, and the customer satisfaction should be assessed. If the organisation is not meeting client expectations, an assessment of its capacity should be made, and main constraints should be identified. Staff of the organisation plays a key role in the assessment, and one of the strengths of learning is that it both causes and allows the people, who actually do the work, to lead the way in taking the waste out of their processes.
Thus, leaning government activities is about meeting expectations of the people and improving efficiency and it is important not to embark upon leaning just for the sake of leaning.
Another experience from Denmark is that leaning government is a process; it is not achieved in a single year. It requires commitment and sustained effort; it means transforming mindsets, and it may require changing decades-old organisational cultures. It requires that not only is there an assessment of progress, as we are showcasing here tonight, but it also requires having in place a whole public sector reform programme, wholly committed to by the leadership of the country, having the full backing of the public sector organisations’ managers, and the creation of a shared vision across each organisation.
Through Danida’s support, IMANI has been conducting the annual Inspirational Public Sector Leadership Awards (IPSLA). It is an annual public service excellence award which seeks to reward the successful and effective delivery of service by public institutions in Ghana to their stakeholders. The institutions are assessed according to their ability to deliver on their mandate.
The award recognizes public institutions primarily on three factors; 1) Public engagement, 2) Independence and 3) the Promise of Transformation. Examples of factors considered are engagement with stakeholders, demonstration of transparency and accountability in its activities; practicing good management principles; efficiently implementing a well thought out policy plan, as well as showing innovative leadership.
Denmark is proud to support IMANI under our ‘Tax and Development Programme’. This is part of our efforts to strengthen domestic accountability in Ghana with an aim to improving public awareness on budgetary and tax issues and strengthening capacity in the non-government sector to understand and communicate how the government budget process is informed and executed. The efforts of IMANI are important as they contribute to stimulating public interest in the tax system and the subsequent budgetary allocation and execution of public funds.
With a new government, organisational changes are likely to come. New directions will emerge as new policy measures are introduced. These new directions offer both opportunities and challenges to making refinements and improvements in the way the public sector delivers on its mandate and on how it engages with citizens.
It is my hope that the Inspirational Public Sector Leadership Awards does not end with the annual awards ceremony but that public sector institutions selected as the top five winners this year will strive to maintain and improve on their delivery. For the other remaining institutions, the next assessment should hopefully find them as evidencing improvements worthy of being highlighted.
On behalf of the Embassy of Denmark, I would like to wish you all a Happy and interesting (- and challenging – ) New Year!