Essay: Public service and service delivery

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Service delivery is more complex in the public sector as it is not just about meeting expressed needs, but finding out the needs that are not expressed, setting priorities, resource allocation and publicly justifying and accounting for what has been done (Gowan, et al., 2001). In most developing countries like Nigeria, the public sector plays significant role in service provision as it controls much of the economic resources. In today’s globalizing and competitive world, the delivery of quality and effective service is strategic for success and survival (Reichheld, et al., 1990). In view of this, public agencies have come under pressure and debate in recent years in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery with respect to the needs and rights of the citizens. This according to Carvalho et al. (2010) is in line with the principles of New Public Management (NPM) which aims at meeting the needs of the citizens rather than that of the bureaucracy.
The essential elements of NPM as explained by Pollitt (1995) are budget cutting, disintegrating traditional bureaucratic organizations into separate agencies, decentralization within the agencies, separating the function of public service delivery from purchasing, introducing market mechanisms, working to performance targets, indices and output objectives, flexibility in public employment, and laying more emphasis on service quality and customer responsiveness. Hence, it has become expedient to rethink public service delivery in order to improve their quality (Roy and Seguin, 2000) to satisfy public needs, please people and firms as much as possible, favour good governance and national economic competitiveness (Carvalho et al.,2010).
A good and effective governance aids public service delivery in the public sector as it encourages better decision making and the efficient use of resources and strengthens accountability for the stewardship of those resources. Effective governance is characterized by robust scrutiny, which provides important pressures for improving public sector performance and tackling corruption. Effective governance can improve management, leading to more effective implementation of the chosen interventions, better service delivery, and, ultimately, better outcomes. People’s lives are thereby improved (Darma, and Ali, 2014).
Therefore, the provision of public services in the country is the primary responsibility of the government, complemented by the private sector. The financing of projects for the provision of these services such as education, health, agriculture, water and sanitation, power, housing and urban development, justice, defence and Security among others is usually carried out through annual government budgetary provisions. The responsibility of the public service is to deliver services that the private sector may not deliver at all or to deliver services to those who cannot afford the market price of the product. However, the distribution/delivery of public services in Nigeria just like in many other developing economies is often fraught with discrimination, low quality and access, lack of fairness and equity between urban and rural areas. This discrimination in the provision of public services is responsible for the gap in development between urban and rural areas in Nigeria presently (Darma. and Ali, 2014).
The problems faced by the public service in Nigeria and other African countries in terms of service delivery, started in the 1980s, where African countries experienced severe economic decline. There was also a sharp decline in the quality of governance and the delivery of services. In fact, two of the important explanations for poor economic performance are the decline of governance and the quality of services (Adamolekun, 2002:124).
The concept of governance means different things to different people and it refers to a change in the meaning of government, referring to a new process of governing. The concept is as old as human civilization but however, it has acquired new meaning and has gained great usage in contemporary public administration. Many theorists in the field believe that the term governance is an organizing concept that guides administrators as administrative practices shift from the bureaucratic State to what is called the “hollow State” or what Osborne and Gaebler (1993) call “third-party government”. The World Bank (1989) defines governance as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources. Given the fact that government is a major actor in governance, the three levels of the political and economic framework identified by The World Bank in its definition of governance, covers the formal level (the form of the political regime), the process level (the process by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources), and the capacity level (the capacity of government to formulate and implement policies and discharge government functions) (Chappatte, 1996).
Yaqub and Abubakar (2005), defined governance as the totality of the process of constituting a government as well as administering a political community. Similarly, Ninalowo (2005), defined governance as the totality of executive or administrative functions of the state, with a view of fulfilling terms of social contract or constitutional obligations to the citizenry. Igho Natufe (2006), defined governance as the process and system by which a government manages the resources of a society to address socio-economic and political challenges in the polity. For erstwhile governor of Lagos state, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (2008), governance is the process of decisions making and the process by which decisions are executed or not implemented. Therefore, governance is the sum total of ways by which the general affairs of the commonwealth is managed in the interest of all.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its 1997 policy paper, defined governance as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”.
According to Johnson (1997), governance is associated with issues relating to the mechanisms required to negotiate various interests in the society. It encompasses a series of mechanisms and processes designed to maintain the system, in order to empower the citizenry and domesticate the process by the society.
The meaning of public service is contained in section 277 (91) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1979 now section 169 of the 1999 Constitution as encompassing the civil service (ministerial departments), statutory corporations or parastatals, judiciary, legislature, educational institutions, financially wholly or principally owned government at the State, Local and Federal levels, Nigeria Police or Armed Forces and other organizations in which the Federal or State governments owned controlling share or interest. In Nigeria, the Country’s government bureaucracy is the public service. This is because government at whatever level enunciates and implements policies, programs and projects through the instrumentally of the public service. Most public services are service-oriented. (Junaidu and Aminu, 2015).
Public services are defined as those services which are mainly, or completely, funded by taxation. Most typically, public services would include the following areas of public management: central and local government, the health authorities, education, defence, justice/home affairs and non-commercial semistate organizations. As such, they can differ markedly from commercial private-sector services in a number of ways. (Humphreys, 1998).
Flynn (1990) has observed that certain of the public services’ established activities may be contracted out operationally, in some countries, to private firms but the delivery of such services may continue to be funded from taxation and remain governed by public service criteria. Examples of this type of arrangement would include the contracting out of local government services, such as refuse collection and local transport, to private companies, as well as the privatization of certain central government functions, such as the prison services (Humphreys, 1998). In some cases, compulsory competitive tendering resulted in similar services still being provided by public service staff but on different terms and conditions of employment than those which applied before contract out (Escott and Whitfield, 1995).
Murray (1990:151) stated that public servants have to be careful that, in rebutting the ascertion, they do not inadvertently give the impression that efficiency is either irrelevant or satisfactory in the public sector. Flynn (1990) noted that public services do not normally operate for financial profit or require immediate payment for goods and services prior to delivery. If public services are charged for, then they are not usually sold to customers at commercial prices set to produce profits.
In the public services, different guiding principles such as equitable treatment and the allocation of resources according to need, pervade the processes of decision making, management and provision. As a result, financial subventions many be given to the service providers (e.g, in transport) to ensure that such services are maintained, albeit at a reduced level, outside peak times and in less densely populated rural areas. Murphy (1997a:2) captures this issue extremely well:
I want to stress that the principles of fairness and equity are most important when we come to examine the concept of quality in public administration. Of course efficiency and effectiveness are key elements, but unlike his or her counterpart in the private sector, the public service customer or client seldom has the choice of an alternative competitive supplier. Equity of treatment is, therefore, very important and should not be lost sight of when efficiency measures, including, for example, contracting out of public services are implemented.
Within the public service, a different culture prevails internally. This can place demands upon the management of public service delivery. For example, public service managers often have to balance the needs of the general public as users, with accountability to their elected representatives. In addition, the demands of the mass media acting in the ‘public interest’ have to be managed. Another key aspect of the organizational climate within which the public service operates has been described by Murray (1990:93) in the following manner, ‘I remain convinced that in assessing the confidence rating of the public service, account must be taken of the political culture in which it operates. Most commentators agree that the dominating feature of that culture in Ireland is clientalism’.
It is amazing that our various governments in Nigeria always acknowledge commitment to good governance. Yet what we see is a far cry from this. Indeed, people are always bewildered when we consider the state of governance in Nigeria. This is because of the high level of poverty and infrastructural decay in spite of the abundant resources with which God has blessed the country. This failure is as a result of the way the government goes about its day to day activities. (Omotose, et al, 2006).
After over three decades of military rule, from 1966-1999(with the exception of 1979-1983 and eighty-two (82) days in 1993 when the Interim National Government held sway), Nigeria transited to democratic civil regime on May, 29, 1999. Unfortunately, since restoration of democratic rule, Nigerians is nowhere near the realization of the ideals of good governance. In the area of the rule of law, Nigeria is replete with abuse of rule of law. The judicial arm of government for example, which is the one saddled with the responsibility of protecting the rights of the people has either assisted or impeded course of good governance in areas such as revenue allocation, status of local government, intrigues associated with impeachment of certain political office holders, human rights, etc (Ayodele,2008).
Accessing the state of governance in the country requires identifying how the pillars of governance come into play in public policy making and service delivery in the country. These pillars of governance are; participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equity and inclusiveness, as well as rule of law. These are in turn used to analyse the essence of public policy covering; distributive, redistributive, regulatory, reorganizational, and symbolic, among others as well as in the provision of such services as security, education, infrastructure, health, environment protection, privatization, etc. (Omotose, et al, 2006).
The level of participation of the government is very low as government employs top-down approach, and government plans for the people and not with the people. As observed by Ajakaiye and Akinbinu (2000:218), the record of political participation and political freedom in Nigeria has been dismal. This they argued has most concretely been reflected from the way people have been denied their right to choose their leaders and the incidence and prevalence of other human rights violation.
Transparency and accountability are two interrelated and complementary concepts in our understanding of governance. Obadan (2003:211) described them as crucial elements of good governance. The concept of transparency has been described as openness in government activities and entail the features of freedom of expression on the part of the citizenry, willingness on the part of the government to receive and evaluate new ideas, easy access to information and leadership, among others. It is observed that transparency in government operations is increasingly regarded as an important precondition for good governance and sustainable economic growth. Central to the concept of transparency in public service is fiscal transparency. Everything relating to the use of public funds should be done in the interest of the state and with a view of ensuring the benefits and development of the citizens. It equally involves accurate and reliable data. In the main, the importance of transparency is underscored by its role in enhancing good governance and accountability as well as in eliciting confidence in government by the people. (Obadan, 2003:213).
As it is today in Nigeria, good governance and public administration are facing some obstacles. One of the obstacles standing in the way of good governance in the country is corruption. According to Ologbenla (2007), corruption is one of the three-monsters the country is grappling with. Others are bad leadership and bad governance. Nigeria continues to feature prominently amongst the most corrupt countries in the past three decades. According to a survey result on corruption index, conducted by the Transparency International, Nigeria is ranked 2.4 same as the Philippines, Sierra-Leone, Togo, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe, out of possible 10.0(occupied by Denmark), the world’s No 1ranked less corrupt nation (Daily Trust, 2010: 31). The effects of corruption on the nation’s development cannot be overemphasized as it disrupts efficient public service delivery and also prevents a fair distribution of national resources and broadened the gap between the ‘haves’ and the’ have not’.
The inefficiency of the bureaucracy is another obstacle in the way of good governance. Bureaucracy is inevitable in any country and inseparable part of an organized society. But Nigeria bureaucracy is not efficient in management and administration. Put differently, Nigeria bureaucracy is no longer the engine room for governance. It is an ineffective institution for checks and balances as well as continuity. Bureaucrats are not accountable, responsive and transparent to the people. Lack of bureaucratic accountability can be attributed to bureaucratic corruption. But there is no effective mechanism to make them accountable, responsive and transparency (Adeosun, 2012).
Nepotism is another stumbling block in the realization of good governance in Nigeria. The rulers in this country pursue nepotism. They give privileges and undue advantage to their family members, friends and associates, kiths and kins in the distribution of public resources. Similarly, Ekpo (2009, p.11) identified non-legitimacy of government due to election malpractice, corruption, violence, tribalism, poverty, illiteracy, impunity and oath-taking as impediments to good governance in Nigeria.
At this juncture, it is imperative to examine the impediments to effective public service delivery in Nigeria. Following Okafor (2005), the structural problems confronting the public Service in Nigeria can be categorized as: personnel regulations, personnel qualifications, organizational structure and work environment.
The personnel regulations state requirements for entry into the bureaucracy as well as the procedure for promotion and dismissal. Public Service rules in Nigeria state a long list of requirement for entry, including federal character (Nnoli, 1980).In theory, positions are supposed to be filled based on merit but in practice, political, family, ethnic and religious considerations are important factors in public Service appointment (Mohr 1987; Adebayo 2001; Yesufu 1992).
Promotion in Nigeria public Service is based on seniority. Rules for promotion fail to differentiate between productive and non-productive workers. Dismissal is uncommon except during the mass
Purge of Murtala-Obasanjo Administration in 1975-1976.As regards personnel qualifications, workers entering the public Service through the use of political or family influence may lack the required technical skills for their positions. Besides, on-the-job training programmes are weak and ineffective (Otobo, 1992).Also, compounding the skills problem is the emphasis on filling slots rather than matching workers skills with the need of the position. Thus, many of the skills that public servants have are wasted (Okafor, 2005). The public Service tends to be overstaffed with workers who lack the requisite skills for their positions (Jike, 2003; Otobo, 1992; Nwachukwu, 1998).
Moreover, Public Servants are poorly paid. Most of them earn just a little in the face of rising inflation brought about by deregulation policies of government (Onyeororu, 2004). Because of this state of affairs many have resorted to multiple job-holding in the informal sector, thereby impacting negatively on their attitude and commitment to work.
Furthermore, poor and outdated equipment, lack of office space and poor filing systems in the work place act as impediments to the effectiveness of the public service in Nigeria (Okoh, 1998).
The problem of Public Service in Nigeria is worsened by the difficulties of gaining the confidence of the general people. Public Servants tend to be objects of doubt and suspicion. According to Okafor (2005), much of the doubt and suspicion directed at public servants also reflects age-long traditions of ethno-religious hostilities in Nigeria. Public servants regardless of their dedication to national goals and the norms of professionalism, tend to be seen as biased and self-serving by the masses (Soleye,1989).The people tend to assume that public servants are influenced by religious, ethnic and other parochial considerations and act accordingly(Nnoli,1980). Besides, most people because of ignorance and poor orientation see government jobs as ‘nobody’s job’ which must provide for ‘everyone’ (Soleye, 1989).
A country’s public administration system comprises of the public service, civil service, special purpose bodies and other local authorities. The primary responsibility of any public administration system is to deliver services that the private sector may not deliver at all or to deliver services to those who cannot afford the market price of the product. Fundamentally, the ability of a government to legitimately tax and govern people is premised on its capacity to deliver a range of services required by its population which no other player will provide. In other words, governments owe their existence and their legitimacy to the fact that there are services in which the possibility of market failure is great (Adamolekun, 2002).
Traditional explanations for government organizations begin with an analysis of what constitutes this category of services. Goods and services that require exclusion, jointness of use or consumption, and not easily divisible are regarded as “public” goods and services. Services are classified in several ways. Services that can be financed by user charges are referred to as utilities; those that can only be financed by taxes are referred to as services.
Two fundamental notions have changed the manner of thinking on the delivery of public services. First, “provision” can be separated from “production”. The primary responsibility of a “provider” is to aggregate and articulate the demand of its constituents and to raise the funds, using its coercive governmental powers over the citizens, to finance public goods. The “producer” on the other hand performs the wholly technical function of transforming inputs and outputs. The producer could be a unit of government or a private or voluntary institution. The second notion is the growing recognition by governments that they do not need to dominate the provision of services. They only need to provide the enabling environment and play their own roles in an increasingly complex governance environment (Adamolekun, 2002:125).
The current attention to “governance”- the totality of institutional structures within a political community, as distinct from “government”, which is the state’s instrument for formulating and implementing public policies, has helped to strengthen the case for institutional diversity for the production of public services in African countries. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for instance, argues that sustainable development can be attained only when the tripod of public sector, private sector, and voluntary sector institutions are recognized as legitimate actors in the governance arena. (Olowu, 1987).
It has been established that while Nigeria is making steady progress in the area of improving her governance system, her performance in selected good governance indicators is far from being satisfactory, it is therefore necessary to underline the need to redress the situation by planning and organizing effectively for the implementation of policies to enhance effective service delivery. The aim of good governance in the public sector is to encourage better service delivery and improved accountability by establishing a benchmark for good governance in the public sector.
Governments and other public sector entities raise resources from taxpayers, donors, lenders, and other suppliers for the provision of services to citizens and other recipients, as well as less visible activities, such as regulation and policy development. These entities are primarily accountable for their management and use of resources to those that provide the resources and those that depend on the resulting services. The resources raised are generally distributed through a network of public sector entities with specific functions that have a range of accountability mechanisms. However, the fundamentals of good governance should remain the same at all levels and stages.
Unfortunately, the government has not been able to deliver on public service provision and there is a gap between the requirements of the people and their expectations for public service provision and what the government has been able to actually deliver. There’s also a gap between government budgetary allocations/expenditure for the provision of public services and the actual performance in terms of tangible and efficient deliveries (Darma and Ali, 2014).
There is therefore, the need for the government to put in place deliberate policies that will ensure active participation of communities, Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and other relevant stakeholders n conceiving and monitoring of development projects that are meant to provide these public services. These includes:
 There should be a comprehensive needs assessment of the needs of the citizens, adopting the culture of comprehensive development planning and budgeting that entails a comprehensive needs evaluation across sectors, articulation of defined objectives and targets and translating these initiatives into costed and implementable projects and programs should be enthroned at all tiers of government.
 The adoption of a popular and public oriented participatory process in needs articulation at all tiers of government as part of the planning and budgeting process.
 The Federal Character Commission (FCC) should be adequately empowered to enforce the provision of its Act that mandated it to ensure even and equitable distribution of developmental projects and social amenities across all parts and sections of the country.
 The Nigeria Vision 20:2020 is Government Economic Transformation Blueprint articulated to launch the country unto a path of sustained social and economic progress and accelerate the emergence of a truly prosperous and united Nigeria. So far, Government has not shown sufficient commitment to the implementation of this laudible vision. Government must renew its determination and develop the political will and sufficient commitment to ensure full and effective implementation of its development plan as enshrined in the 1st National Implementation Plan (NIP) of the Nigeria Vision 20:2020.
 The need to re-order public expenditure budgeting in favour of socially relevant capital expenditure over the coming years as a way of addressing the existing huge service delivery gap accounting for the high incidence of the absolute poverty in Nigeria.
 Even though public entities provide more of these public services than the private sector, studies have shown that people have more preference for the services of the private entities than the public establishments because of their relative efficiency. Accordingly, Government should make deliberate efforts to truly create the enabling environment through appropriate regulatory framework that would promote the participation of private sector inn the provision of critical public services rather directly or through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
 The need to institutionalize transparency in public financial management through effective implementation of public procurement Act at the federal level and enactment of similar legislation at State and Local Council levels.
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