Rethinking The Capability Readiness Of The Public Service: Lessons From Minister Omobola Johnson
(Being Address by Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Permanent Secretary, Fed. Min. of Communication Technology at the Valedictory Ceremony in honour of Dr. (Mrs.) Omobola Johnson, pioneer Hon. Minister of Communication Technology held on the 27th May, 2015 in Abuja).
This is really a unique occasion for me in many respects. In the first place, it is not a usual thing in the civil service for civil servants to pass any comment that goes beyond social compliments on their bosses.
The code of bureaucratic ethics and conduct binds us all to a culture of total loyalty and ministerial responsibility.
Except for assessments that are required for confidential documentation, bureaucrats are limited in what they say about their ‘Ogas’ in official capacity.
This address will be no exception, as it is a mild but seminal reflection on ideas germane to the deepening of MDAs’ capability readiness as the powerhouse of policy implementation of governments.
What inspired this valedictory address? I have been pretty hard as a civil service reform conceptual worker on my colleagues on our inability to rise above conventional bureaucratic standards when we have to work with bosses who came in with some best practice knowledge, skills and competence that we could leverage to enhance our practices.
So when my team in Communication Technology asked me to do a reflection on lessons they should draw from working with a subject-specialist Minister with such a strong technical-managerial background like Dr. (Mrs.) Omobola Johnson, based on my comments along the lines of practice as a coach and team leader, I chose to make this seminal statement from the perspective of public administration scholarship.
In terms of experience working with technocrats and intellectuals in government, I have been fortunate, as a career officer, to have worked with a sizeable number and Dr. (Mrs.) Omobola Johnson is eminently one of them.
She has littered the entire Ministry with some lessons in achievements and expertise that should inspire some reflections for our continuing reform programme of the civil service.
In 2011, the FGN, in a bid to respond to the global imperative to connect to the evolving information/knowledge society, made a crucial decision to establish the Ministry of Communication Technology out of the existing Ministry of Information and Communication.
The FGN took a further critical step in hunting for and appointing an ICT core professional in the person of Dr (Mrs) Omobola Johnson as the Ministry’s pioneer Hon. Minister. For me personally, I have found in her a kindred reform spirit such that celebrating her today will be less than illuminating if we do not distil the essence of her reform contributions specifically to the Ministry.
As Dr Johnson is taking a deserved and glorious exit as cabinet Minister of the outgoing administration, what does her tenure and achievements tell us about the policy-administration nexus in the civil service as well as the governance of the MDAs? Dr (Mrs) Omobola Johnson —A Brief Citation We begin to have a feel of Dr Johnson’s motivation for success by taking a little glimpse at her background.
She was born into the renowned Yoruba family of the rich and cerebral Lisa of Ondo land, High Chief Bayo Akinnola. Her educational journey to distinction began at the International School, Ibadan.
This was just the beginning as that insatiable taste for excellence took her further to Manchester University and Kings College, London, before she eventually began a distinguished career with one of the six leading consulting firms in the world, Anderson Consulting and rose to become its Country MD when it came to be known as Accenture.
She holds a doctorate and is married into the family of another renowned Yoruba statesman, Major General Mobolaji Johnson, (rtd).
One of the lessons for the civil service to learn from the harvests of technocrats in government taking a reference from Dr. Johnson’s tenure is this: It is not just enough to inject technocrats with professional expertise and commitment into the public service through technocrats in governments and consultancy services. What becomes highly essential is to also find a way of institutionalising their professionalism and core expertise into a pool of reform ideas and strategies to be deployed regularly into policy architecture that the civil service requires for its continual modernisation
As a Minister, the Ministry of Communication Technology literarily became, in my view, a huge laboratory for her to distil her critical professional ideas, processes and institutional commitment and insights. Some of her achievements would include but not limited to:
• Pioneer Minister of Communication Technology responsible for setting up the structure of the Ministry.
• Development of a holistic National ICT Policy that seamlessly integrated its telecoms, postal and IT components.
• Involvement of the ICT/Telecoms industry in policy formulation and feedback through annual Stakeholder workshop.
• Establishment and sustenance of National Council on Communication Technology, to ensure inclusiveness of the States in National ICT adoption and developmental efforts. • Reinvigorating of a rather challenged NIPOST to make it more relevant in an IT age and more viable through the financial inclusion partnership with CBN to drive cashless policy.
• Implementation of the National ICT Infrastructure Backbone (NICTIB) through the $US100m China EXIM bank loan.
• Initiation and implementation of a ‘Whole-of-Government’ approach in ICT/e-Government – this received a UN Public Service award in 2013.
• Developing and obtaining presidential approval for a National Broadband Plan (2013-2018).
• Development of a National e-Government Master Plan. • Standardization of the websites of Federal Government Ministries and agencies.
• Adoption of the ‘.gov.ng’ domain name across Federal and state governments.
• Creation and adoption of “@fedcs.gov.ng” email address system for all Civil Servants.
• Creation of the Council of Heads of ICT of Federal Government MDAs to engender unity of purpose in implementation of ICT budgets within the FGN.
• Improved penetration of Telecommunications and Internet services to rural and underserved areas through the targeted focus of the implementation of the USPF.
• Adoption of an Agreed User Policy (AUP) and global Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the shared ICT services by Galaxy Backbone.
• Implementation of various E-Government projects such as – Government Services Portal (GSP), Government Contact Centre (GCC) etc.
• Digitization of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) memo
• Initiation of the Girls’ in ICT program consisting of the – “Digital Girls’ Club”; “1,000 Girls Training” and “Smart Women Initiative” – this program received International recognition by receiving an award at the ITU plenipotentiary in 2014.
• Micro works training – Online Jobs Initiative in collaboration with Rockefeller Foundation (grant of US$ 650,000). One of the lessons for the civil service to learn from the harvests of technocrats in government taking a reference from Dr. Johnson’s tenure is this: It is not just enough to inject technocrats with professional expertise and commitment into the public service through technocrats in governments and consultancy services.
What becomes highly essential is to also find a way of institutionalising their professionalism and core expertise into a pool of reform ideas and strategies to be deployed regularly into policy architecture that the civil service requires for its continual modernisation.
This suggests that there are on-going operations and management action research competencies and work being undertaken on a day-to-day basis (as the management services department used to do) in the civil service, to interrogate some of these learning and practical experiences.
How prepared our administrative frameworks is to tap into a technocratic professional skills and convert expertise inside and outside of the service to vision, vision to strategies, and strategies into policies, programmes and activities, especially within the governance and operations of the MDAs therefore remains a seminal question for public service reform managers and champions. MDAs and the Policy-Administration Interface in Nigeria’s Public Service The challenges facing the Nigerian Civil Service is multifaceted and complex.
If I am permitted a crude summary, I will identify the lack of the institutional readiness of the civil service system in Nigeria, especially to the modernising imperative, as the chief culprit.
In essence, the capability readiness of the MDAs, or in precise terms, their managerial response and adjustment capacity, are less than what is required for institutional performance optimality.
The logical and institutional thing to do is therefore to commence a crucial interrogation of our base fundamentals, through sustained scrutiny of those ideas, processes and procedures that are critical to the success of any MDA.
In this case, I lay hold of the policy-administration nexus that normally constitute a point of tension between the Minister and the Permanent Secretary, and inevitably affects the performance profile of the MDAs.
The civil service is built on the framework of smooth, responsive and productive relationships between the various components of the administrative system, especially at its highest levels. Our major concern here is the relationship and context of responsibilities between the Minister and the permanent secretary.
The successes of government in terms of policy development, management and development outcomes depend largely on the cordiality or otherwise in the relationship between the two and the rigour and sincerity at which policies are followed through to outcomes.
The Minister-Permanent Secretary model therefore requires that a minister must have a highly talented and motivated team of civil servants that will deliver the professional inputs required for high performance.
On the other hand, the civil servants under a proactive permanent secretary also need an ingenious and motivated minister who understand his/her brief and is committed to pursuing the complex trajectory of policy reform to achieve it.
Such successful interaction is backstopped by a critical mix of three interaction models—the traditional model which require that the minister maintain policy oversight while the permanent secretary implement; the adversarial model which projects the conflicts that is bound to characterise the relationship between policy and administration; and the community model which portrays the relationship between the two as being motivated by shared contractual obligation that binds them together in success or failure.
It should take little reflection to see how this relationship ought to impact the governance of the MDAs.
While some of the enduring elements of the classic model of public administration that we currently operate (even as distorted as they are in their current forms) are of enduring value, some of them are indeed barriers as governments try to adapt to the changing reality of a knowledge and information age.
Thus, given the low adaptive capacity of the MDAs, it becomes extremely difficult to initiate the global modernisation trajectory that could turn the civil service system in Nigeria into a world class institution delivering world class services.
The MDAs are therefore not wired enough to innovate or discover new ways of fulfilling new missions. As they have a low tolerance for risk, and as our internal systems cause MDAs to adapt slowly, if at all, and even to resist change.
More than this and this is where the lesson of Dr Johnson’s tenure becomes even more critical, our administrative system requires some serious overhauling that will make them always ready to meet and accommodate the basic needs and creative expertise of technocrats.
In the absence of administrative capacity that could match their creative ingenuity, we invariably operate with our one-model-fits-all, thus forcing results-oriented Ministers to have to set up parallel structures which invariably work in competition rather than to reinforce civil service closed operation system.
Added to this low administrative capacity is the challenge of beefing up policy intelligence and regulatory oversight to respond to the challenge of managing the dynamics of a fast-moving sector like ICT.
The challenge here is that anyone, ministers and permanent secretaries alike, working within the context of the MDAs must note that these organisations are dynamic entities that must respond to local and global trends and best practices.
What reform direction is there to take home from this? As a most immediate action plan, it is clear that to jumpstart the adaptability quotient of the MDAs, we need urgently to mobilize the best talents in the service to leadership position in priority sectors with strong system-wide multiplier effect. Such leaders would then also need to work within a change-oriented team and network to deliver.
It is within such a change orientation that National Planning will articulate the compelling vision and projections that the FMF/BOF match with required expenditure framework, and other critical sectors log into to foster required synergy that will create structural transformation.
However, even while recognising Dr Johnson’s acute desire to leave behind a seriously capacitated MCT that would be managed by a professional cadre deploying cutting edge technological and HRM tools; we must also recognise the depth of the capacity gap that the MCT and other ministries need to grapple with.
Thus, Dr Johnson’s achievement and the existing operational and management structures on ground would still need to be backstopped by programme management office (PMO) concept. With this concept, we will be able to
• establish enterprise standards for project management,
• improve programme management capability in all sectors, • create synergy between and among departments and project managers with joint responsibilities with a mind to the economies of scale that eventually affect implementation timelines,
• make possible a consolidated financial statement that determine funding allocation efficiency,
• allow for quality specifications while facilitating the implementation of capacity development and training programmes that not only reduce the need for outsourcing to external consultants but also enhance the skill sets of employees, train them in best practices and build expertise in a manner that enhance organisational ability to execute and manage the interface of PPPs and contingent business models.
There is also a message here for future ministers bringing into the MDAs strong technocratic competence and best practices knowledge, not to regurgitate the old tradition of indifference to the challenge and necessity of institution building.
In the final analysis, and today’s event bears that out, it is precisely their contribution to institution building that will constitute their strongest legacy.
The usual practice that defines institutional indifference is that of building parallel structure of Special and Technical Assistants which over the years have not only left the civil service prostrate in terms of core competences but has equally crowded out development budget dysfunction-ally in favour of payroll.
This equally lays a burden on the public service itself to initiate several programmes that would enable it build core competences of its very best talents in the lower and middle management cadres with profiles that could fill in for competency requirements of very smart ministers.
This critical requirement in terms of creating core competences also makes it inevitable that the public service must also become more innovative in harnessing the competences of expert outsiders brought in by the Ministers to enhance the civil service overall institutional capacity. Further reform necessities will include the following:
• We need to rethink the management and operations systems and processes in MDAs and its intellectual foundation, fundamentally
• In so doing, we need to document MDAs’ skills requirements sector by sector, and adjust the skills composition to benchmark their skills-mix
• Besides, we need to get MDAs’ work aligned to strategy rather than current traditional alignment to hierarchy
• We need to do better matching of Permanent Secretaries with Ministers, with desired results and impact as the core focus
• The long standing performance constraining factors and structural weaknesses in each sector that is documented after deep-seated capability review should form briefing notes to new Ministers and Permanent Secretaries on resumption as critical working assumptions on which to define praxis
• Managerial system and operational requirements in performance terms needs to be benchmarked for MDAs, while Permanent Secretaries should be reoriented and specifically inducted into their requirements and working when appointed.
Once again, and on behalf of everybody at MCT, we will like to congratulate Dr (Mrs) Omobola Johnson on a successful and achievement-filled tenure as the Hon. Minister for Communication Technology.
And we sincerely hope that the lesson of that tenure will constitute a platform for even deeper transformation of the Nigerian Civil Service. Dr. Olaopa is Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, Abuja. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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