Building a Model Public Institution – the challenges in Ethiopia

1/ Introduction

The public service of any country stands out as the major machinery of government for the formulation and implementation of public policies. It does this by translating the plans and programs of government into concrete public goods and services for the use of the citizenry. Since public bureaucracy is primarily concerned with public administration, the management of public affairs therefore rests heavily on it. Whatever the system of government in practice in a country, the public service is designed to be the prime mover of the social and economic development of a nation.

The origin of the modern meritocratic civil service can be traced back to Imperial examination founded in Imperial China. One of the oldest examples of a civil service based on meritocracy is the Imperial bureaucracy of China, which can be traced as far back as the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC). The Imperial exam based on merit was designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. This system had a huge influence on both society and culture in Imperial China and was directly responsible for the creation of a class of scholar-bureaucrats irrespective of their family pedigree (China’s Examination Hell, 2011).

In view of the critical importance of meritocracy-oriented public service delivery to the citizens of any country, the need for effective delivery of the services cannot be over-stressed. This is why public service delivery should also be accessible, high in quality and be effectively delivered. In order to effectively address different challenges, it has become imperative for governments to adopt strategies that will increase citizen participation in decision making on how public services are provided. This is why the pressure toward greater citizen involvement in decision making in government has compelled governments everywhere to seek to increase the quality of government services at a time when the available resources for delivering services have declined (Olowu, 2005).

In most developing countries of the world, the governments usually have the major responsibilities for the maintenance of stability and the promotion of rapid economic and social development. One branch of doing this is, by delivering effective public service to citizens. This is why the public service of Ethiopia is often regarded as the live-wire or nerve-center of the state structure. The civil service is the operational arm of government charged with the analysis, implementation and administration of public policy. It is the executive arm of public administration. The public service manages the day-to-day affairs of the state by administering public services and back stopping government operations.

The civil service can be rightly described as the bridge between the government and the governed. Hence, an inefficient public service, therefore constitutes a barrier between the government and the people. The importance of the public service can be seen in the fact it gives effect to the policies and decisions of the government of the day whose responsibility it is to administer the affairs of the state.

One of the challenges of governments and of course the legitimate expectation of the citizens of developing countries such as Ethiopia is the ability of the public services to properly direct their aspirations towards improving the general welfare of the citizens. This is because the primary responsibility of the government is to deliver services through its public services effectively and promptly to its citizens.

2/ Building capacity to Deliver Results

Delivering effective public services calls for multi-level transformation changing the way public sector organizations think and act, how they view their roles, and how they share information between agencies, with businesses and with their customers. Public sector organizations today are under increasing pressure to deliver an increasingly broad and complex range of services. Therefore, as stated by many literatures, to empower an institution, the following five elements are integral to building its capacity, such as: – Developing a clear strategy, Leadership commitment, Organizational and process design, Technology (ICT), and People as well as Culture.

The ways in which public sector organizations create empowered institutions will be grounded in their own local political, fiscal and operational environments. This means that there will be a variety of approaches. At the same time, because innovation and experimentation are key elements of public services reform, different levels of maturity and trends will be apparent in different parts of the world and at different points in time. In terms of maturity, albeit not exclusively, reforms in industrialized countries are focused on welfare and social services and in developing countries on capital expenditure and government administration (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 2000).

It should be recognized that customer centric services cannot be provided or sustained without both structural (systems and processes) and cultural/behavioral changes taking place. For example, the mere deployment of trained front office workers will not, of itself, improve customer interaction. They must also be empowered to take decisions that will help to improve customer satisfaction. Instilling this empowerment is perhaps the most critical challenge facing the Ethiopian public sector in its drive towards customer-centric service delivery. In many public sector organizations, despite a strong appetite for improvement and willingness to change, existing staff members lack the confidence or knowhow needed to develop new models for service delivery. And this same lack of expertise, combined with the scale of many public services organizations, also acts as an obstacle when it comes to the implementation of new service delivery models.

2.1/ Developing clear strategy and leadership commitment

A properly-aligned policy, which takes full account of the people issues involved, will lay a strong foundation for all subsequent initiatives helping to create empowered institutions, changing organizational cultures and aligning roles to skills. The reduction of the administrative burden through better regulation is also considered to be a key instrument for enabling efficiency improvement in public services.

In the public sector, senior personnel in central government often tend to focus much of their efforts on policymaking in response to political decision-making, delegating responsibility for implementing these policies and failing to take into account the end impact on ‘customer experience’ during their design. The governance challenge for public sector organizations is therefore to align and clearly define responsibility for setting policy and commissioning of services and the implementation and delivery of the same. Often where there is a disconnect between the policy and delivery arms of some public sector organizations, the consequence is that policy is developed without proper consideration of how, on implementation, it will impact service delivery (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2006).

Leaders of public sector organizations need to recognize this issue by becoming more involved in service design and delivery. This will also help set the ‘tone from the top’, demonstrating how success will be judged and rewarded from the cultural and capacity-building perspectives, as well as from a process perspective. This would provide a more strategic ‘helicopter’ view of the overall capacity-building process, helping to ensure the effectiveness and deliverability of reform.

Decision-making in the public sector can often be distinguished by the complexity of the decision-making process. In some organizations, some sort of hesitation amongst public sector employees may exist about taking ownership of a decision. Some experiences suggest that in any large organization, public or private, organizational scale and complexity can breed a ‘not invented here’ mentality. At the same time, the hierarchical aspects of such large organizations encourage people to ‘cover their backs’, while the layers of escalation can mean that ownership of any issue is lost.

In some public sector organizations, there may be a necessarily high level of emphasis placed on the process through which decisions are taken, particularly in the fields of regulation or enforcement. As a consequence, because decisions may need to pass through multiple levels of hierarchy, delays in implementation can sometimes be unavoidable.

Strong, effective leadership is a major driver of employee satisfaction and commitment. However, transformational leadership goes further than effective change management, good communications and other characteristics of good leadership. Paarlberg et al (2008) explained that transformational leadership is a process whereby employees are motivated by appealing to their higher ideals and moral values.

In the public service, transformational leaders influence followers by elevating employees’ motivations beyond their own self-interest and communicating goals and values that are consistent with public service values. Furthermore, to be convincing, it is also necessary that the leader themselves model these behaviors, in effect leading by example in exhibiting values that transcend individual self-interest, and proving themselves as trust-worthy. Therefore, value-based committed leadership requires the articulation of public service values and the communication of goals and objectives consistent with those values.

In line with this, effective and efficient public resource mobilization and allocation is another indicator of value-based leadership. Public resources or government budgets has to be allocated at the right time for the right purpose in a cost-effective manner where its quality is not affected. On the other hand, some public institutions in Ethiopia are repeatedly seen to misallocate public resources at different levels.

For instance, currently multi-million dollars are being invested in very important projects which are recommendable. But, the misallocation comes when some or the whole parts of the projects are handed over to be done by external venders while they can be effectively accomplished by the public servants themselves at relatively lower costs with a plus advantages of developing experiences.

However, since corruption can be easily committed when private venders are part of the game in the governmental projects, as the result, some egocentric officials are usually interested in involving such venders within large projects of the government despite they can be accomplished by the civil servants’ own forces.

2.2/ Organizational Process Design and ICT

Organizational design is a step-by-step methodology which identifies dysfunctional aspects of work flow, procedures, structures and systems, realigns them to fit current business realities/goals and then develops plans to implement the new changes using ICT. The process focuses on improving both the technical and people side of the business or organization. The utilization of Information Communication technology (ICT) in organizational design is a mandatory scenario for its efficiency of removing unnecessary workflows and speeding up flows of the organizations business processes.

The first challenge of the design process is to create a streamlined and effective organization that is aligned with the strategy and desired results of the organization. The second challenge is to get commitment from the entire organization and implement the new design so that it dramatically and positively changes the way the organization operates. Many organizations fail to adapt and adjust their internal infrastructure to the rapidly changing business demands around them because their business processes, structures, and systems act as barriers to efficiency and common-sense decision making. These internal barriers can trap capable people who eventually become cynical and disheartened by their inability to change or influence obvious gaps, inconsistencies, or burdensome constraints within the organization.

One of the main objective of organizational process redesign via ICT is to make the customer-services more effective and efficient. According to the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, (2000), setting Customer Service Standards requires organizations to:

* Survey customers to determine the quality of services expected and their level of satisfaction

* Benchmark the delivery organization’s performance against the best

* Align the organization’s service standards to the customer-centric strategy and measure results against this

* Provide customers with choices in both the sources of service and the means of delivery

* Make information, services, and feedback systems easily accessible

* Provide means to address customer feedback; and

* Provide feedback to customers on the improvements that are being made.

Process Underpinning a well-networked matrix organization requires re-engineering processes to enable and equip the various departments and people involved in service delivery to meet immediate customer demands and develop performance improvements and efficiencies, thereby avoiding unnecessary and time-consuming rework.

In line with this, organizations that create distinctive service cultures are more likely to attract a wider pool of candidates from people who are genuinely inspired by the organization’s service ideals. Their level of commitment to the organization’s objectives, combined with technology, helps to ensure the delivery of improved customer services. The benefits of technology cannot be fully realized without re-engineering the wider processes involved in delivering a service. Desired changes in the quality of service delivery cannot be achieved simply by applying technology to inefficient processes, but incorporating technologies into the subject should be a must task in the 21st century.

2.3/ People and Culture

Making the public sector a preferred workplace can be a powerful driver for public sector empowerment and competency, encouraging motivated individuals to join and remain with the organization. Staff must not be denied the opportunity to demonstrate their potential and should be given sufficient responsibility at an early stage. Incentives must be provided for innovation, collaborative working and excellent service delivery. Also, indicators need to be defined to measure the performance of all employees so that systems are meritocratic.

As Professor Andrew Pettigrew, (1999) stated that irrespective of how much the public sector intends to outsource or take assistance from outside agencies, there should be a minimum capacity within the organization to handle new initiatives. This is vital if management of an efficient of service delivery is to be in any way sustainable. In recruiting to meet these challenges, public service employers need to understand why people want to work in public services and focus on effective job design that recognizes the motivations of potential recruits (other than through pay), such as:-

* Attract staff with the right skill-sets by building a positive, modern image of public services, with strong branding of the service values and ethos

* Attract others and retain existing staffs

* Retain skills in the workforce and use individual skill-sets effectively.

* As part of the process of grooming internal talent to manage transformation, it is important to ensure that these personnel are alert to the targets that have been set for service delivery. All too often, these targets are centrally making culture change happen.

Moreover, creating a supportive work environment within an institution also among the key attributes for establishing a model institution. This is a particularly wide-ranging concept, with factors including the nature of informal relationships, the quality of communication, the way conflict is managed, the collegiality of the organization and, not least, the incentive systems, which together shape the relationship between an employee’s public service motivation and their performance at work. At a basic level, aligning incentives with intrinsic motivations is an important element in managing the public service work environment.

Furthermore, Change management is a vital component of public sector transformation and critical to the success of efficient public service delivery. Change management, in the context of the public sector, is all about how the transition from traditional approaches to modern and adaptive processes is to be managed in the context of continuously evolving challenges and customer responses.

Change management usually begins with eradicating or at least reducing some regressive social behaviors of a country. Among others, the following instance may clearly indicate the Ethiopian societies’ as a whole, in particular for the civil servants’ most common social activities that considerably affect the public services’ delivery outputs :- Even though, it is good for cementing the social relationships among the employees to go in large groups to different types of social gatherings during public service’s working-hours, however, since such various kinds of social gatherings (funeral, marriage, ‘edir’ and the likes) consume much working-hours, hence, it is undoubtedly clear to say that such working-hour-consuming traditional social activities of the employees, would negatively affect the effectiveness of delivering public services.

Of course, it is not advisable to ban such deep-rooted cultural norms of the society/the civil servants’, but it is possible to recommend to practice such social habits either during non-working-hours or to limit the amount of time to be used for them during the working-hours thereby their negative impacts on the public service deliveries can be reduced to substantial level.

Besides, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (2000), recommended that culture change is essential if management skills and specialist expertise within an organization are to be enhanced. This means empowering individuals so that they are prepared to assume more responsibility, take more risks, and use their initiative and knowledge to get things done. Culture change requires a significant focus on ongoing training.

Many public sector leaders, especially in developing economies believe that, instead of attempting to implement a ‘big bang’ transformation, organizations need to view change as an incremental and continuous process one which builds commitment on an ongoing basis. Recent research suggests that the tipping point for change may not be reached for some time (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2006).

Build capacity to deliver results that can be realized by the ability of bringing private sector employees and private sector skills into the public sector. This calls for an understanding of the ways in which private sector expertise will fit into a public sector environment through effective incentives (for example career management based on skills acquired, individual and team bonuses, rigorous performance evaluations and flexible working).

In line with this, as stated by Andrew Pettigrew (1999), Person-organization fit theory suggests that performance is enhanced when an employee’s values match organizational goals, values and culture. Similarly, in situations where they do not, turnover rates will be high. To be credible, all HR practices need to be consistent with the message that ‘public service matters’. Thus, recruiting individuals who are not only task qualified but who hold values consistent with the organization’s mission is important. Similarly, induction programmes, training, development and performance management all need to reflect and promote public service values. In particular, performance appraisals need to be based not just around the specific role of an employee, but should also review performance in terms of a demonstration of behaviors critical to the effective operation of the public service, such as customer awareness, collaboration and accountability.

3/ Summarized Challenges of the Ethiopian Public Service Delivery

In Tikimit 28, 2006 E. C. Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn in a televised speech expressed his anger over the ‘unnecessary delay’ in making decisions in many government institutions. An issued government document hints that the reform process among others lacked a committed political leadership at the middle and higher level (ETV, 2006 E.C).

Sample studies from some federal line ministries do show that line ministries have shown improvement in the delivery of services (Ethiopian Reporter, 2013) but a lot remains in terms of enhancing the participation of employees in the sector, engagement of stake holders, improving transparency in the decision making process, respecting the right of employees, and improving the overall working environment (Sirgut, 2006).

If merit is downgraded then how is the civil service going to deliver the minimum services let alone of accomplishing the mission of the developmental state? Building the capacity of the civil service and injecting merit to it will surely have a significant effect in improving the capacity of the state, else the mission of the developmental state could be at risk. The ideal civil service brings technical expertise to the government owing to education, training and tenure it enjoys. Some of the challenges thus still haunt the sector to date (Federal Civil Service Minister, 2013).

Undeniably, it is the least paid section in the public sector that continues to suffer from loss of its senior experts to be recruited in the private sector. The dilemma of whether the civil service and the technocrats should be mere agents of developmental state limatawi serawit (developmental army) as the Ethiopian government currently claims or should enjoy some level of autonomy as technocrats remains unresolved issue in Ethiopia despite few improvements have begun to be seen recently. Therefore, injecting merit, depoliticizing the sector and designing mechanism to retain senior experts in the civil service should be among the top agendas of the government’s second Growth and Transformation Programs’ remained years.

To contribute tangibly to a country’s political and socio-economic development, there is no substitute to a professional, committed, knowledgeable and well remunerated public service. Despite a detailed research survey has to be conducted for concrete results, it would not be naive conclusions to label the Ethiopian Public Service and most of the Civil Servants in particular, among others, are : –

Challenges of the Public institutions:-

The Ethiopian public institutions can be labelled as or characterized by: high dropout of young skilled professionals; subjugation of the rule-of-law or the commonness of rule-by-law; lethargic and slow in official decisions and actions; poorly staffed and corruptive; common practices of nepotism; breakdown of disciplinary system and code of ethics; and unresponsive and discourteous to the public.

Besides, the public institutions are easily seen to be with very low interest of relinquishing or handing positions (like as director, manager, team leader, and the likes) to the young and skilled professionals. And, the existence of large number of positioned individuals who do not have a knowhow about Information and Communication Technology (ICT), even the elementary and mandatory parts of the technology in the 21st Information-Age era, such as the computer application software (like MS-Word, MS-Excel, how to exchange emails, and how to Google issues from the internet, and the likes.). Moreover, it is possible to say that there is lack of leadership commitments that responds to the legitimate requirements made by the dynamic youth employees of the organizations; as well as lack of special focus on young women empowerment particularly as managers, directors, even team leaders. Furthermore, there are plentiful cultural setbacks that affect the public services from delivering effective results in time. Repetitive social and cultural gatherings compel the civil servants to stay off-work duties even during the public service’s working-hours.

Challenges of the Civil Servants:-

In addition to the previously stated challenges of the public institutions, there are numerous problems within the civil servant itself, like the prevalence of aged employees who are suspicious of new developmental ideas; High resistance to change managements and the prevalence of fear for any sort of developmental changes among most of the aged employees; Lack of upgrading own-self by continuous reading and writing; Widespread of destructive conspiracies among employees rather that applying a constructive and cooperative deeds; Insensitivity to the value of time; Irregularity in attendance at work; Wastefulness with government resources; and the likes.

So, what should be done?

ü The main recommendation here is just to solve the previously stated challenges of the Ethiopian public institutions and the setbacks that the civil servants are facing in their day-to-day undertakings (during the working hours) and even the remedy should go up to trying to correct the regressive parts of the society’s cultural activities. Even though, doers of the solution are among others, the government, the society, the public service organizations, and the civil servants; but since miles of journey starts from a single pace forward, let the public organizations start doing/solving it by emancipating their respective employees from such non-developmental activities.

* The positioned officials should have the audacity and willpower to quickly bring a paradigm shift and practically show to act in a vivid way so as to break the age-old regressive activities and conspiracies that were installed in their respective public organizations.

* Empowering the skilled youth and young women, and disempowering the aged ones who are resistant to changes, especially towards the Information Communication technologies.

* Re-engineering and automating administrative rules, procedures and work processes by making them faster, and adapting them to existing operational and technological realities (ICT).

* Professionalizing the service with skilled and knowledgeable technocrats with appropriate motivation to assist in up-grading the operations of the government;

* Harmonizing the organizational structures and objectives to reduce duplication and promote systematic reporting and evaluation of performance and programme implementation.


* Andrew Pettigrew (Professor), Warwick Business School – ‘Organising to improve company performance’, February 1999

* China’s Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. History Today. Retrieved October 25, 2011.

* Ethiopian Reporter, (2013).

* Ethiopian Television, ETV, (2006 E.C). News Program.

* Federal Civil Service Minister (January 2013). Building Federal Civil Service Development Army. Manual in Amharic.

* Olowu, D. (2005) Public Service Delivery in Public Administration in Africa. Main Issues and Selected Country Studies Adamolekun L. (ed). Safari Books, Channels Island. United Kingdom.

* Paarlberg L., Perry J. and Hondeghem A. (2008). From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Applying Public Service Motivation. In Perry J. and Hondeghem A. Motivation in Public Management: the Call of Public Service. Oxford: Oxford University Press

* PricewaterhouseCoopers, (2006) ‘The crisis in Federal Government succession planning’. Available at:

* Sirgut Mitchel, (2006). Achievements and Challenges in the Implementation of Result Oriented Performance System in the Ethiopian Federal Civil Service: Case Study of Three Selected Ministries (AAU, MA Unpublished Thesis,).

* United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, (2000), ‘Public Sector Restructuring: The Institutional and Social Effects of Fiscal, Managerial and Capacity-Building Reforms’.


Berhanu Tsegay is a resident of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a Masters Degree holder in Development Studies. He can be reached at +251943-304555 or [email protected]

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