Monday, November 18, 2013
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 11/18/2013 12:10:00 PM
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 11/18/2013 12:07:00 PM
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 11/18/2013 11:57:00 AM
Once again, reform is high on the agenda of the EPRDFites. The latest rhetoric seems to come from the core of the power circle, overseen by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, renowned for his progressive approach to changes. Put into historical context, however, little of the reform rhetoric is new, in every sense of the word.
It all started in the final years of the Imperial regime. Ruling the nation for over 43 years, they faced public resistance over their rigidity for change in the 1960s.
Wealth was concentrated in the hands of the connected feudal lords. The majority used to live in submission to the few.
Economic mobility was something entertained by the connected. Rights, including basic human rights, were thought to be something to be bestowed to the public by the King of Kings. Respect to these rights was, therefore, experienced under the rule of preferential treatment.
The feudalist political economy, which favours only the few, created disappointment within the public. When the apprehension started to test the pillars of the system, however, some progressive figures of the regime started to talk about reform.
Renowned for his reformist agenda was the then Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold. A technocratic figure with the charisma to infuse energy into even the tightest of negotiations, Aklilu worked hard to induce reform within the rather rigid system. Top amongst the agendas of the time was transforming the feudal state to be more open, responsive and serving.
The reform effort brought to light five major areas of intervention, including constitutional, local, administrative, judicial and land reforms. It was all designed to streamline new ways of doing state business and to eventually get the state out of its long overdue rigidity.
Since Aklilu was a close confidante of the King, his engagement was meant to reinvent the state in a way that could dissipate the public disappointment and ensure the powers of the King. There was no expectation that the suggestions from the assessment of the fundamentals of the system could be as transformative as Aklilu and Co later suggested.
Everything else is history. A lack of political commitment from the King of Kings and a complex conflict of interests between individuals within the power circle sent the reform agenda to the sidelines. Public disappointment increased, so much so that the regime was ousted by popular revolution.
Days have passed, but not the trend of reforms. The EPRDFites have also been undertaking reforms with similar names to that of the Imperial era in their 24 years of governing the nation. But they have continued to beat the drum, showing that change is yet to materialise.
During the transitional period after the change in government of 1991, all the reform efforts were aimed at clearing the bureaucracy off the Derguesque mentality, which entails seeing everything through the lens of the pseudo-socialism of the military junta. In adopting the mixed economic system, which eventually evolved to be a regulated market system, the EPRDFites felt a threat from a bureaucracy that was overly dominated by civil servants with the mentality and culture of the previous government.
Their reform efforts were not intended only to clear the bureaucracy off old attitudes, however. They were equally meant to instil the new ideals of the EPRDF-led government in the minds of the frontline public sector employees. Ever since, a series of reforms have been undertaken with the aim of making the bureaucracy responsive to the needs of the public, as well as the ruling party. Yet, success remains a distant dream.
The latest effort by the EPRFites is the good governance plan of major ministries, presented for discussion last week. In what seems to be an effort by the administration of Hailemariam Desalegn to put the ‘powers that be’ into the limelight of public evaluation, the discussion saw higher officials of the power circle admitting the gaps in service provision of the ministries they lead. They were also forced to present concrete strategies of filling these gaps and make the service provision all the more responsive to the citizens’ needs.
But their presentations were largely filled with promises. There was also a tendency to throw the ball down to the lower level civil servants. Excuses, from undeveloped institutional capacity to external factors, were given as justifications for bad governance in the major ministries.
Past experiences of public sector reforms and interventions of streamlining good governance in the sectors failed, but not because of a lack of roadmaps. If anything, developing the reform roadmaps was the most costly and time consuming task. Bulky documents were created after the thorough analysis of service provision. Even best practices were benchmarked from various countries as ways of enhancing the ambitions of service delivery.
But little has changed even after years of testing and a trail of various reform instruments. What was lacking in the whole equation was political resolve. Largely, the reform efforts were undertaken for showbiz, rather than for substantial improvement in processes. Some of them were even undertaken simply to please donors.
Often, the reforms become so heavily politicised that their implementation defies what is accepted as a viable approach. Some critics even claim that the basic aim of the reforms of the past years is simply clearing the bureaucracy off ideological opposition and dissent to the policy lines of the Developmental State.
Even if the purpose of the latest effort is to infuse responsiveness, accountability and transparency within the public sector, as explained by Hailemariam and his civil service Caesar, Muktar Kedir, it could not be realised without sufficient political commitment from the side of the core leadership. The leadership needs to reach a consensus on the essential benefits of the reform.
Cumbersome bureaucracy continues to be the major roadblock for the economic competitiveness of the nation. The time it takes to open a business in Ethiopia remains considerably higher than even the Sub-Saharan African average. No doubt, therefore, that reforming the system is essential in attracting investment and retaining it.
Economic competitiveness could not be achieved under lengthy, cumbersome and unresponsive bureaucracy. Production costs are also higher under a bureaucratic system than otherwise.
Changing this system is essential in sustaining economic growth. Since reforms are essential tools of realising change, it may be accounted that the EPRDFites are on the right track. But the destination could only be right if the reforms are underpinned with adequate political resolve from the Revolutionary Democrats.
The EPRDFites need to learn from history. Reluctantly implemented reforms achieve nothing other than prolonging public disappointment and eventually destabilising a system. Certainly, no one benefits from instability. It could all be avoided simply by complementing the latest effort with incessant political resolve.
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 11/18/2013 03:10:00 AM
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 11/18/2013 02:57:00 AM