Compact civil service necessarily does not produce efficient service delivery based simply on the number of public servants working at a particular period. In fact, a numbers of people land up working diligently in a large organisational setting leaving the majority as free riders. Beyond managing the number of working employees’ challenges that burden the government’s time and resources—a distinct civil service policy focus for several decades—we need to question theoretical foundations guiding work ethics and daily operation of government offices, long-term output-orientation, and performances towards the realisation of national goals. While macro-level national goals and visions for socio-economic and technological progress inform public service policies, ground realities of service deliveries otherwise speak different results, if not entirely disconnected from the conceptual basis strengthening government agencies’ roles.

Why does a certain government agency exist and what purpose would it serve in the long run to create an office to provide particular services? More importantly, on what theoretical basis should government departments begin to function that would make them more relevant, purposeful, and effective in their plans and programmes. Of course, regular functioning of the offices is practical aspect and should undergo transformation and modernisation from time to time. By the same token, agencies’ aims, visions and mission serve as theoretical and visual markers need to adapt to changing circumstances and formulate as appropriate signposts for future way forward. Now, some may ask what value it serves to rethink in our conceptual frameworks like visions and missions of government departments. Perhaps scepticism exists in the line of thought given how fairly less importance we have paid in understanding our grounding philosophies on organisational goals supporting sectoral development. At best, our visions and missions are a precarious set of structures that are formed once and neglected.

The annual performance targets system provides our government departments a platform to carefully construct their conceptual value and contribution to gauge sector-specific growth in addition to numbers-led performances. An agency targets to implement a definite number of programs in a year, for instance, as a quantifiable-based performance. Notwithstanding the practical importance of the result determined by quantity (or quality, at times), annual performance targets could shift to clarify, through some form of medium, the conceptual basis of their plans and programs. This is not to say that current annual performance agreements lack such theoretical coherences with the national-level development challenges, for instance, certain programs of a government department implemented to contribute toward a sector-specific goal. While the quantifiable results demonstrate the fulfillment of targets—note that the relative significance of programs and plans defined by quantities are relevant to performance assessment only—the concept of why programs and plans are implemented cannot be expressed in terms of numbers alone, not least that the sector-specific progress can be affected by how many plans and activities carried out in every circumstance. An agency carries out a set number of activities every year; to gauge the impact simply based on the numbers that were achieved would be absurd and crucially leave out the conceptual basis behind government plans and programs. There is a greater effort by government organisations to buttress their numbers to quantify their annual performances rather than regularly assessing why plans and activities are implemented and their consequent failures to bring any significant results.

At some practical levels, there is significant time wastage in discharging responsibilities that do not have a direct correlation to the departmental goals and objectives. Here again, while the interdependency between various government agencies helps complement deficiencies of each other, program implementations that are conceptually irrelevant obscure that strand of dependencies. More often departmental programmes and activities contain either explicit time and resource cushions to safeguard their performances or incorporate the time wastage aspect, and also resource surplus, during in-house designing and planning processes. The practical conceptual basis upon which government agencies’ functioning is reflected in the annual performance targets is not readily clear. In other words, every year same programs and plans are carried out in ‘old wine new bottle’ fashion couched under budgetary allocation necessities. The lens through which government programs are implemented should be no doubt pragmatic, but at the same time, the theoretical basis of envisaging outputs should form no less part of designing and planning methodology. It is in the latter we unpack nuances of organisational functioning, their roles, purposes, and future scopes to provide efficient service delivery in the short- and long-term.

The recent research culture across the public sector is a welcome trend. Looking back on our development plans, some governmental activities span over decades yet have failed to produce any significant results. Evidence-based program designs enabled by research conducted at the ground level provide scope for annual performance targets to transform into much more effective and relevant to the twenty first-century development priorities and beyond. New fields of development paradigms would require higher research skills and novel methodologies to analyse fundamental research problems. The findings, in turn, would inform not just the basic planning process at the departmental and national level but also offers to revisit our daily operation of government offices at the practical level. One such visible outcome appears to be in reforming the annual target performance system. Rather than making the performance targets tied to only the output numbers—regular research findings would inform quality and quantity aspects—the target designs could expand to incorporate crucial theoretical elements forming part of the overall performance outputs. In doing so, annual performance targets would advance in two ways to benefit program and plan designing. The first is that it seeks to address challenges related to program implementations that are without notable outcomes. The program termination is, of course, the extreme but realistic choice in such cases. The second fundamental change envisaged is assisting government departments in reconceptualising service delivery by investigating their origins of and motivations for public service, and structures, forms, and manners in which they exist relative to social, economic, political, and technological changes.

Contributed by

 Mr Kencho Peldon