Cross Country Experiences of Citizens’ Charter Implementation
BY: FekaduNigussa (Lecturer in Ethiopian Civil Service University;e-mail:email@example.com; P. o. box 150377)
Traditional system of administration failed to ascertain efficient and effective goods and service delivery. Extensive body of public administration literatures argue that traditional administrative system is ineffective, insensitive, inefficient, and often hostile to the very people to they are supposed to serve (Hood, 1991; Pollitt, 1991; Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Peters, 1996; Osborne and Plastrik, 1997; Rhodes,1997). This veracity together with the quest to promote productive and allocative efficiency and maintain public agencies responsiveness to the demand of citizens necessitated restructuring and reshaping of public sector in the last three or more decades.
As such a set of different management techniques and practices collectively called New Public Management (NPM) have been firstly adopted by English-speaking nations: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States and then to reform administration and management in government in the 80s. This fact later became a point of critics that NPM is only practicable in Anglo-American context. However, many OECD countries carried out public administration transformation based on the Anglo-American approach (Larbi, 1999; Pollitt, 2000; Toress, 2003). It has been also accused of erasing the traditional “commitment to public service” aspect from careers in government or it has undermined the accountability of public services to their communities and it has failed to deliver the promised efficiency and effectiveness of public services. Some critics of the movement are saying that, like most management fads, NPM has run its course or will do so shortly (Lynn, 1998; Pollitt, 2000; McNabb, 2009).
The major impetus for the change in public sector during the last three or four decades attributes to various developments in the world: the citizens’ quest for efficient and effective public service delivery,the economic and fiscal pressureson governments in the 70s and early 80s and the revival of new right politics (‘Reganomics’ and ‘Thatcherism’). The proliferation of management ideas generated, packaged and marketed by international management consultants, donor advocacy and lending conditions of international financial institutions, notably the IMF and the World Bank, the spread of global markets related to financial integration and liberalization and the resultant competition and the growth and use of new information technology are the major drivers of restructuring the public sector, and rethinking and reshaping the role of government (Larbi, 2003; Jahangir, 2008)
NPM have also evolved along the lines of the New Public Service (NPS) being a mutually reinforcing and normative model of managing service delivery in the public sector. NPS is beyond the usual quality service delivery; it suggests citizens to be effective and responsible where as administrators should be responsive to the voices of Citizens. On the other hand, values such as efficiency and productivity should be placed in the larger context of democracy, community and the public interest (Denhardt and Denhardt, 2007).Client-oriented, mission-driven, quality-enhanced and participatory management to heighten efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery is fashion of the day. Satisfaction of the needs of the citizens is therefore core element of the public sector reform, and it led to private sector practices initiated mechanisms which focus on the quality of the services to be delivered to the citizens (Jahangir, 2008). The aforementioned developments led to the inception of Citizen’s Charter (CC) in UK by the conservative government of John Major in the late 1980s. It aimed at enhancing standards of service delivery and making governance more transparent and accountable and became operational in 1991.
As an effort to respond to growing demands for accountability, transparency and efficiency on the one hand, and to pressures from the community for more and better services, on the other, UK developed CC. And, Several countries have formulated their own: Australia (Service Charter, 1997), Belgium (La Charte des utilisateurs des Services publics,1992), Canada (Service Standards Initiative, 1995), France (Charte des services publics, 1992), India (Citizen’s Charter, 1997), Jamaica (Citizen’s Charter ,1994), Malaysia (Client Charter, 1993), Portugal (The Quality Charter in Public Services, 1993), Spain (The Quality Observatory, 1992), Bangladesh (Citizen’s Charter, 2007), South Africa (People First, 1997), Sweden (Citizens’ Service, 1998), Tanzania (Customer Service Charter, 2001), US (Customers First, 1994) and most recently Ethiopia (Citizens’ Charter, 2012). Others including Argentina, Costarica, Hongkong, Namibia and Samao have followed similar trend (OECD, 1996; Toress, 2003; Drewry, 2005; CGG, 2008; MoCS, 2012). However, Drewry noticed that actual contents of charters and the motives for introducing them differ from one country to another. In some countries there has been substantial motivation to improve performance; in others the main goal seems to have been to justify government performance; while in some cases a major driving force has been pressure from aid donors.
Experiences of UK, India and South Africa
When you google the phrase Citizens’ Charter, you get more than 2.1 million results. Following UK’s first initiative, many countries embarked on designing and implementing charter approach to efficient and effective service delivery. Literatures reveals that the first initiative for CC happened in the early 1990s in UK under the then Prime Minister John Major. However, at local level (Harlow and York) and in Inland Revenue, the origin of CC dates back to the late 1980s. John Major’s speech made to The Economist Conference on the Streamlining of the Public Sector on 27th January 1992 divulges the reasons to launch CC initiative:
“The Citizen’s Charter came about because I was consistently receiving the same strong message. That it was high time to raise standards of performance in our public services. That was the demand of the consumer. And it was also the wish of those who work in the public sector themselves. They had the skills, the dedication, and the enthusiasm to do it. All they needed was the freedom and the encouragement to try out new ideas. The Citizen’s Charter gives them the chance.”John Major (1992)
The first six major principles of UK’s CC were (i) The setting, monitoring and publication of explicit standards, (ii) Information for the user, and openness in the availability of that information, (iii) Choice wherever practicable, plus regular and systematic consultation with users, (iv) Courtesy and helpfulness, (v) Well-publicized and easy-to-use complaints procedures and (vi) Value for money.
According to Parrado (2006), the Charter standards were often too vague to be meaningful and largely devised without consulting with the full range of stakeholders. Besides, in-spite of the commitment to ‘non-discrimination’ there was little regard to the needs of those who do not use the services, such as ethnic minorities. The ‘customer’ rhetoric of citizen’s charters sometimes created a ‘money-back’ mentality and even misuse of financial redress. Citizen’s Charter programme was rather confused—promises contained in the charters were often vague and ambitious, confounding the aim of defining a tangible set of entitlements to public services that people could readily understand and use (House of Commons, 2008). Drewery (2005) also noted that UK’s CC early challenges include lack of Bill of Rights (though CC talked a lot about rights), nor a Freedom of Information Act. It comprised a mélange of aims and exhortations, rendered more amorphous by the diversity of the services and institutions to which it applied.
Tony Blair’s Labor government relaunched CC under the new label ‘Service First’ program in 1998 and elaborated the six principles in to nine: (i) Set standards of service, (ii) Be open and provide full information, (iii) Consult and involve, (iv) Encourage access and the promotion of choice, (v) Treat all fairly, (vi) Put things right when they go wrong, (vii) Use resources effectively, (viii) Innovate and improve and (ix) Work with other providers (Beale and Pollitt, 1994; Toress, 2003; Center for Good Governance, 2008). The programme was eventually dismissed and integrated the ‘customer service’ idea into the Charter Mark Programme. Charters still play an important role for public transport, education, hospitals and housing but they are now on voluntary basis (Parrado, 2006).
UK Parliament (2008) stated that the Charter Mark was an integral part of the Citizen’s Charter programme. It was launched in 1992 as an award for organizations that had achieved excellent customer service in the public sector. To win a Charter Mark the organization has to demonstrate excellence against the following nine Charter Mark criteria which correspond to the principles of public service delivery, namely, (1) Performance Standards; (2) Information and openness; (3) Choice and Consultation; (4) Courtesy and helpfulness; (5) Putting things right; (6) Value for money; (7) Use satisfaction; (8) Improvements in service quality; and (9) Planned improvements and innovations (DARPG, 2013). In the first year of its operation there were 35 Charter Mark award holders; ten years later, in 2002, this figure had grown to 949. At present there are around 1,600 organizations with a Charter Mark, with some 400,000 people working within those organizations. This represents about seven per cent of the public sector.
A review made by Bernard Herdan in 2006 revealed that Charter Mark holders were generally very positive about the scheme and its effectiveness in raising service standards. Nevertheless, the review concluded that its impact in raising standards across the board had been blunted by low take-up and low public recognition of the scheme. The review also noted a perception, among those that were aware of it, that the Charter Mark was out of date and old-fashioned’s report. An official final validity date of Charter Mark was 30 June 2011 and application was officially closed in 2008 when the new Customer Service Excellence Standard became sole award for customer service in the public sector. Customer Service Excellence Standard is made up of 5 criteria with 57 elements in total. Assessment is carried out via a desktop review by an authorized assessor followed by an onsite visit lasting one to three days (sometimes more) depending on the size of the department or organization being assessed.
India is one of the countries who followed the foot step of UK in designing and implementing CC. In 1994 consumer rights activists for the first time drafted a charter for health service providers at a meeting of the Central Consumer Protection Council in Delhi.
Two years later in 1996, the Prime Minister initiated the CC program on a national level. The Citizen’s Charter initiative in India saw fruition on the state level at a conference of Chief Ministers held in May 1997 where the “Action Plan for Effective and Responsive Government at the Centre and the State Levels” was adopted, paving the way for the formulation of charters among ministries, departments and agencies that have significant public interaction. As of June 2007, the DARPG updated their website to list 829 Citizen’s Charters, with Central ministries having 118 charters and State & Union Territories having 711. Indian government’s Right of Citizens for time bound delivery of goods and services and rederessal of their grievance bill of 2011, chapter III article 4(1) stipulates that every public authority shall publish CC within six months of the commencement of the act.
However, an initial evaluation in 2003 of citizen’s charter development show lack of stakeholder consultation, which could have resulted to lack of improvement in client satisfaction and quality of services provided. In 2007 after ten years of implementation, the Public Affairs Centre carried out a comprehensive national review of charters in India mainly to evaluate the quality of the charters and its impact in increasing transparency in the public service. The review showed that no charter in India contain the essential components of an internationally accepted charter. Generally, end-users and civil society organizations were not consulted in the development of the charters (Public Affairs Centre, 2007).
An assessment commissioned by the government reveals similar results. Charter contains outdated and poor quality service standards (Indian Institute of Public Administration, 2008). Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievance (DARPG) identified the major obstacles of CC implementation: lack of focus attributes to top down approach of the initiative, inadequate training and sensitization of employees and citizens, concerned officers transfers and reshuffle during early formulation and implementation of the charters that hampered the progress, unrealistic standards and conceptual challenges related with CC. On the other hand, DARPG has identified a professional agency to develop an appropriate Charter Mark scheme, and a prototype has been developed by the professional agency and is in the process of validation in identified organizations.
Prior to 1994, the apartheid-led government in Republic of South Africa suppressed access to information in an effort to stifle opposition to its racial supremacy. With the advent of democracy, government emphasized the importance of transparency and sharing of public information. This was reflected in the South African Constitution which stipulates that “transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information” (Public Service Commission, 2008).
Supporting this Constitutional value, in October 1997 the White Paper on Transforming Public Service Delivery (the Batho Pele, “People first”, White Paper) was introduced to put into effect the commitment of the Government to extend services to all citizens, not merely a privileged few. The overall purpose of Batho Pele was to transform the Public Service into a people centred institution. The intention was that with the implementation of the principles of the Batho Pele, service delivery and accountability by government departments would improve (Job Mokrongo, 2003; Public Service Commission, 2008). The Batho Pele principles are consultation, setting service standards, increasing access, and ensuring courtesy, providing information, openness and transparency, redress and value for money (Republic of South Africa, 1997).
The “Batho Pele” campaign has been renewed and intensified by government during the post 2004 election period. Part of the strategy would be to adhere to election promises made to citizens. However, the then government audit of the initiative indicated that the execution of the correct monitoring and evaluation standards had been a problem; most provinces were reliant on conventional approaches than being innovative to service access; there was lack of integrated access strategy that recognized all new initiatives; lack of “service user relationship training” in response to the persistent public perception that government officials were uncaring. In addition, redress was a problem especially in the social service sectors. The implementation of Batho Pele is further hampered by the fact that the public had not understood the principles initially and were not holding Departments accountable.
World Bank (2011) revealed that PSC reports are contrasting each other in a premises that the  report found only 5 percent of the departments consult on their service standards, however, the earlier report of the commission divulged only 12 percent of interviewed departments perceived that they were performing poorly on consultation.
The PSC also assessed the implementation of the redress principle of Batho Pele (PSC, 2006). It was found that 90 percent of national departments and 84 percent of provincial departments had some form of complaints handling system. But many of these systems are not formalized: they do not have written guidelines, record complaints, or monitor and evaluate service delivery. Standards and complaint procedures are not reviewed to determine if the departments’ redress and client-care objectives are being met. Only 29 percent of national departments and 41 percent of provincial departments had set standards for redress. Besides, only 29 percent of national departments and 18 percent of provincial departments indicated that they have a specific system to monitor and evaluate performance on redress. Only 27 percent of all departments indicated having a system that allows external stakeholders to assess their performance on redress.
The 2008 PSC report on Openness and Transparency implementation of Bato pele principle indicated that the self rated status of the principle is good. But, the study has also shown that the assessed departments lack clear standards, targets and procedure manuals in their implementation of Openness and Transparency (PSC, 2008).
It is indisputable that as a part of the public sector reform program initiated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, CC initiative has contributed to the improvement in public service delivery of many countries. However, there have been challenges in the design and implementation of the charter.
The aforementioned experiences of UK, India and Republic of South Africa in CC implementation challenges range from conceptual to implementation aspects. In UK CC is currently confined to few sectors and often on voluntary basis; whereas in countries like India every public authority shall publish it. The is succinctly stipulated inRight of Citizens for time bound delivery of goods and services and rederessal of their grievance bill of India. The Republic of South Africa’s Batho pele is a mandatory in a sense that it meant for the support of constitutional value: fostering transparency.
Lack of stakeholder consultation due to the top-down approach of the initiatives together with inadequate designing and implementation capacity of owned departments count more. The design and implementation challenges in the Case of India and South Africa attributes to lack of customization. Both countries seem to copycat the experience of UK with little attention paid to local context: organizational culture, existing expertise, service seekers culture of transparency and appeal among others.
For effective CC design and implementation public sector reform experience, organizational culture, demand from and knowhow of the public, implementation capacity of public sectors and committed leadership play a paramount role. Thus, should all these issues be taken into consideration, there would be a leap- forge in efficient and effective public service delivery.
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