I have received a letter from the Office of the Senior Presidential Advisor of Ghana (formerly, “Office of the Senior Minister”) purporting to be a response or rejoinder to two tweets about Ghana’s stagnant public sector reforms effort I sent out on 21st and 25th February, 2022.
For clarity, I reproduce the tweets here.
It is heartening to note that the Office of the Senior Presidential Advisor (OSPA) shares with many of us the belief that public sector reforms in Ghana remain a pressing and crucial issue, and thus require careful scrutiny.
The OSPA’s 5-page response/rejoinder to my claims of the their obsessive focus on procuring expensive cars to the neglect of other, perhaps more critical, matters is thus the least one could expect in these circumstances.
Unfortunately, the response falls short of the requisite thoroughness, accuracy and candour required to address the concerns analysts continue to have about the results to date of Ghana’s longstanding quest to reform its public sector to improve its effectiveness and contribution to total development. Before we delve into these shortcomings, it is essential, given the sheer depth of this topic, to recount the full history of Ghana’s attempt to comprehensively reform its public sector institutions from the center. Below, a compilation of the reforms and their chronology by a team led by the World Bank’s Nick Manning in 2012 is reproduced verbatim.
A simpler overview that covers more recent attempts is provided below.
It is easy to deduce from the above that serious attempts at actual structural reforms of the Public Sector did not even begin until 1994, and this doomed attempt – the National Institutional Renewal Program (NIRP) and Civil Service Performance Improvement Project (CSPIP) – had by 2001 completely lost steam. Since then, a mix of different strategies have been pursued culminating in the current emphasis on “results” and “delivery”.
From this results and delivery emphasis, three key themes for the reform agenda emerge:
- Increasing Personnel Productivity
- Making Decentralisation Work and
- Eliminating graft, corruption, poor governance & other unprofessional conduct
Even as individual initiatives, like computerisation of public finance administration and linkage of capacity building with demonstrable skills upgrades in the Civil Service, have repeatedly failed, a rinse-repeat-recycle process have kept these goals at the forefront of the reform agenda.
Here are some of the practical issues that we currently grapple with as a country because of persistent failure of public sector reforms:
- The country spending more roughly 40% of total government revenues on paying public sector workers every year over the last decade, considerably higher than most of its peers. Yet, salary agitations remain rampant, suggesting poor distribution, high distortions and low productivity. A conclusion supported by the fact that Ghana actually employs fewer public sector workers in some crucial areas like health, education, security and agriculture than peer countries in Africa and that its public sector personnel are marginally less educated than on average.
- Long delays in paying salaries of newly recruited staff due to poor payroll vetting procedures. Erratic pay has become so institutionalised that some rural banks are reported to be building products around it. It is not clear how an employer can maintain staff motivation when salary arrears can pile up for months on end.
- Poor maintenance of amenities and delivery of social services in many peri-urban and rural areas as a result of the inability of local government bodies to raise local revenue.
- Consistent poor financial and performance results at many state institutions according to perennial Audit Service indictments.
- Continued extortion of citizens by public sector workers before delivering benefits to which citizens are entitled. Both Afrobarometer and Transparency International data shows zero improvement of citizen experience of corruption and extortion over the last decade.
To do justice to the Office of the Senior Presidential Advisor’s (OSPA) rejoinder, the above context should shape our approach.
I made the following claims on Twitter:
- A summary of the 2020 Annual Report of the Office of the Head of Civil Service corroborates the position that the bulk of expenses made in pursuit of public sector reforms by the OSPA went to buy cars. That fact cannot be challenged as it is based on a verbatim extract from that report.
- A larger share of the World Bank resources given to the OSPA to spend on advancing public sector reforms in Ghana went into buying cars. The evidence for this is from the World Bank’s own reports on the project and will be presented in this essay.
- The largest single completed expenditure was for 7.4 million Ghana Cedis worth of cars in December 2019. The Senior Minister insists that the expense was 8.5 million GHS worth of cars and the spending year was 2020. I relied on World Bank reporting, which I will reproduce below. At any rate, this “clarification” makes no material difference to the core argument.
Before I produce the relevant extracts from the World Bank reports, it is important to remind readers to analyse the scope of activities listed by the OSPA in their “rejoinder” to determine if indeed their explanations measure up to the scope of the public sector reform challenge described thus far in this essay.
Are vehicles for personnel the most critical instruments for boosting fiscal decentralisation, eliminating corruption and extortion and boosting productivity? Is there any evidence to suggest so from any study? Can the OSPA cite any such studies? How has the public sector reform project fared as a result of this decision to focus on buying brand new cars for sixteen agencies?
Find below an overview of what the former Senior Minister committed to in exchange for funding from the public purse to transform the public sector.
Has the OSPA delivered?
- Did 250 government agencies establish fully functional client service units by the end of last year?
- Did Parliament of Ghana ratify the African Charter on Values & Principles and is it being applied to professionalise the public service?
- Has the Subvented Agencies Reform Programme been successfully implemented and output measured in accordance with the targets?
- Was there a positive improvement in macroeconomic indicators such as inflation, primary/cash deficit, exchange rate, debt sustainability etc.?
Our investigations reveal serious underperformance on each and every bar the Office has set for itself in every one of these critical areas, not to talk of complete neglect in the OSPA’s strategy of very critical matters like public sector workforce rationalisation, state enterprises (still declaring record losses) and effective fiscal decentralisation.
Even within the narrow confines of the World Bank assisted component of the OSPA’s strategy – improving specific services delivered by sixteen selected agencies across the Ghanaian Public Sector – the performance of the OSPA has been woeful.
From mainstreaming gender priorities to modernising records administration, building systems to reduce vendor payment arrears accumulation in the Civil Service to reforming pension administration, and from transforming the speed with which institutions like CHRAJ manage complaints to overhauling performance contracting at Civil Service Director level, there has so far been little evidence in the Public Sector that the strategy is even beginning to take off, much less have impact. Below is an overview of the resources committed from the World Bank loan to driving the reforms exercise between inception and 2023.
Essentially, Ghana has gone to borrow $35 million to reform the Public Sector yet little progress is evident. Still, the OSPA keeps buying cars to distribute to bureaucrats. Meanwhile, little is being done to set the project on a serious course to results.
Worse, in some cases, the targets set simply conflict with other government policy. For example, the push to reduce vehicle registration to 1 hour is based on arbitrary standards. Currently, both roadworthy certification and environmental standards compliance (for emissions tracking among others) in the vehicle registration process fall far short of acceptable standards. No resources have been devoted to improving the equipment and skills needed to enhance these and similar aspects of the vehicle registration process. Indeed, in a study by Dr. Ayetor, Dr. Ampofo and their colleagues in 2021, only 25% of Ghanaian cars in the study sample passed vehicular tests based on national and global standards. Any artificial reduction in registration time would thus only go to damage the quality of certification and compliance even further. Which then raises the question: what difference would buying cars for DVLA make in this major area, for example?
In a similar vein, the poor coverage of birth and deaths in Ghana is due to poor coordination among local government institutions and the Birth & Deaths Registry. Poor public education through strong social institutions like religious bodies and traditional authorities has also been identified as a major weakness. Based on what research then was a decision made to prioritise the buying of cars for the Births & Deaths Registry?
NITA is expected to act as the primary IT Services Provider to all government agencies. As part of the reforms effort, NITA is expected to sign service level agreements with these agencies so that they can be assured of responsive service when they need it. NITA so far refuses to invest in building these helpdesks and operationalising them for the full range of agencies that need support. What has buying cars for NITA bosses to ride around town got to do with addressing this problem?
For every single one of the 16 agencies and the targets of improvement set for them, factors other than transportation/mobility matter far more. Yet, the OSPA decided, for reasons they fail to disclose in their “rejoinder”, that cars should be the most critical input in transforming the processes of these institutions.
Not surprising then that the rating of the project continues to be unsatisfactory.
More than 80% of project indicators by my reckoning are not on track.
As is customary in government business nowadays, public accountability, which was designed into the project, has been virtually zilch.
As I have already indicated, without any serious rebuttal from the OSPA, the bulk of spending (~80%), as at end 2020, has been on cars.
The only substantive push for stakeholder engagement was money disbursed to support Civil Service Week and a so-called Results Fair, which as many would recall consisted primarily in the government announcing projects that make it look good but unrelated to public sector reform.
In short, public sector reforms in Ghana is a big deal, but the Office of the Senior Presidential Advisor is misguidedly investing in cars rather than in critical inputs required to make a serious impact on productivity, professionalism and decentralisation.
As for whether the bulk of the cars were bought in 2019 or 2020, the discrepancy is purely one of accounting treatment. The contracts to buy the cars were signed in 2019. In standard accounting, expensing happens when expenses are incurred. The OSPA can choose to focus on when the cars were actually delivered. It makes no material difference.
In view of all the above, I humbly decline the invitation of the eminent and esteemed former Senior Minister to retract and apologise for my claims. On the contrary, I choose to double down and amplify them, as I have done in this essay. Thanks to the OSPA for initiating this dialogue.