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Opening Remarks by

Mahmood A. Ayub

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative

Venue: TOBB ETU University, Congress Center Ankara


Key Challenges in Public Administration Reform

Allow me to begin by thanking you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important event, both on my own behalf as well of the United Nations.

The topic of public administration reform is a complicated one, because it involves so many factors—factors related to the commitment of the government to the reform, the objectives of the reform, and the capacity of the government to undertake the reform.

But let me begin by stating some of the objectives of public administration reform. I would include three main objectives.

First, to recruit and keep the right staff

Second, to make staff productive and motivated

And third, while doing so, to ensure that the reform is fiscally sustainable—that is the country’s budget can support the wage bill.

It is very important to have government’s objectives very clear at the start of any civil service reform. Too often the process of public administration reform is haphazard and ad hoc, largely because the objectives of the reform have not been well-articulated.

Let me now turn to the main issues and challenges in public administration reform. I would highlight four main challenges:

First, to depoliticize the civil service management.

This involves the establishment of a competitive recruitment and selection process. 

It involves checks and balances in all major personnel actions, in proportion to the significance of the personnel action.

In practice this means requiring any civil service recruitment to be advertised, as well as establishing criteria and procedures for agreeing on a long list, then a short list, and finally coming up with a single candidate. The government should not only do this but be seen to doing this. It is critically important that transparency at the highest level is seen as the rule and the standard/

The second challenge of civil service reform is to establish a redress mechanism mandated by a Civil Service Refrom Law, such as a Civil Service Commission . Civil servants—as well as candidates for civil service positions—should expect the Civil Service Commission to back them should they need to avail themselves of this redress mechanism.

The third challenge is to establish a civil service salary scale that makes civil service salaries more competitive in attracting and retaining good candidates. In many countries the low salaries are a demotivating factor, and lead to bribe-taking and corruption.

And the fourth and final challenge is to establish a monitoring mechanism so that the success and failure of the reform process can be judged. Some indicators that can be used are (i) total employment (overall and by organizational unit) both as total as well as relative to the total population; (ii) employment composition; and (iii) total wage bill, in absolute terms as well as share of the Gross Domestic Product and to the share of total recurrent costs, in comparison to the government’s adopted target.

Finally, what are some of the factors that make some public administration reforms more successful than others?

I would suggest three main factors.

First, the scope of the reform should not be too broad. The reform should be narrow enough in scope to make the political costs small enough so that the champions of the reform are willing and able to bear these costs.

The reforms should also be manageable in terms of the needed challenges in the organizational culture.

The ambition should be modest enough to allow at least some visible impacts within the time horizon of the political champion.

Also modest reforms will ensure that the fiscal costs are affordable.

Therefore, it is advisable that the initial phase of the reform should be limited to the professional and managerial staff in the central administration.

And the reform should be realistic enough to allow targeted organizations to be able to absorb the reforms.

The second success factor is to seize the window of opportunity. Occasionally there is a favorable set of conditions for reform success: existence of top political leadership committed to the reform, and supported by technical level champions of the reforms.

Ownership of the reform process by the country’s leadership has to be there. Public administration reform cannot be imposed from outside.

And the final success factor is the existence of a domestic constituency for reform. Sometimes citizens are so opposed to the absence of voice and the level of corruption that a powerful domestic constituency exists for the public administration reform. And this facilitates the implementation of the reform.

Let me conclude by saying that:

Public administration reform should not be viewed as a project, but as a journey.

It should not be the outcome of a crisis-driven event, but a long-term effort to change the government’s role, institutions and services to better meet the needs of the citizens.

And it should be fully owned by the country, and not be an imposition or a conditionality of bilateral or multilateral donors.

Thank you.

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