Reconsidering Civil Service Reform in Ethiopia

    (By: Fekadu Nigussa; Ethiopian Civil Service University

    Since 1991, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) led government embarked on a series of reform programs hinged on the ideological shift happened in the country from centralized command economy to free market economy. In the early 1990s, the government launched Structural Adjustment program consisting Civil Service Reform Program (CSRP) as one of the components. The phased reform measures have been taken by the government, and the first phase of the reform (1991-1996) focused on the restructure of government institutions and retrenchment program. The second phase of CSRP was launched in 1996. The five sub-programs pronged program includes: the top management system, expenditure management and control, The Human Resource management, Service Delivery and Ethics. The sub programs were further split into a number of projects.

    There were six projects under the umbrella of Service Delivery Sub-Program: development of service delivery policy, grievance handling directives, award system in the civil service, Methods Integration of related public service (center links), and preparation of technical directives for improving civil service delivery and service delivery standard directives. However, the implementation status of the aforementioned sub-programs as evaluated in 2001 (in the Capacity Building Strategy paper) by the government was below the expectation. This attributes to many factors like too much focus on technical aspects, rather than changing attitude of the workforce, impulsive start of implementation, and lack of committed political leadership (Mesfin, 2009).

    The Ethio-Eritrean War and the split of EPRDF party which was followed by Tehadiso or “Renaissance” in the party were the challenges that slow down the reform process for some time. However, having evaluated the pros and cons of CSRP implementations during 1996-2001, the government called for accelerated implementation of the program as a part of the capacity building strategy. Indeed, Ministry of Capacity Building was established in 2002 to take care of capacity building activities that had been taken place in fragmented way; and to give centralized leadership and directives to government organizations at various levels. The ministry was later merged with Federal Civil Service Agency in 2010, and named Ministry of Civil Service (Mesfin, 2009; MoFED, 2012).

    In 2004 Public Sector Capacity Building Program (PSCAP)emerged comprising the first six programs (Civil Service Reform, Tax System Reform, Justice System Reform, and District level Decentralization, Urban management capacity building and Information and communication Technology development) under the umbrella of Capacity Building Strategy. It aimed at improving the scale, efficiency and responsiveness of public service delivery at the federal regional and local level, empower citizens to be participative the course of their own development and promote good governance and accountability (Mesfin, 2009). Later in 2010, establishment of Ministry of Civil Service necessitated revision of PSCAP  as per the duties and responsibilities of the ministry (MoFED, 2012).

    New implementation arrangement of CSRP became evident with series of awareness creation workshop on change management, performance management, management by objectives, strategic planning management, Business process Re-engineering and Balanced score card among others (Mesfin, 2009). The development of quick wins to improve service delivery across all the government institutions became a fashion. Nonetheless, the major challenge EPRDF faced from the opposition party during the 2005 parliamentary election divulge partly the lack of good governance and the unsolved public grievance in relation to service provision. In fact, the people punished EPRDF using ballot box. This is the reality that happened in Addis Ababa City where the opposition party (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) won the election. Loop et, al. (2002) indicated that there was a clear lack of inter-agency coordination among government agencies involved in public service production and provision in urban Ethiopia. They also noted that in public-private partnership arrangement provision and production of services are not clearly delineated between government and private sector.

    Once more the EPRDF held series of inward evaluation and identified plethora of problems to be solved sooner or later. Together with other development efforts the government reaffirmed its commitment to improve performance and service delivery in entire civil service. Accordingly, Ministry of Capacity Building launched the re-engineering of processes (after being pilot tested in six Ministries in 2005) in all government organizations at all level. As BPR did not bring rapid improvement in institutional performance, later reformulation of Performance Based Management accompanying the introduction of Balanced Score Card as a management, evaluation and communication tool in 2008 (CIDA, DFID, GoE, World Bank, 2008). The experience over the past years with the introduction of performance related systems, BPR and BSC points to the need for a coherent and consistent plan to avoid confusion and conflicting priorities during implementation.

                The five year (2010/11-2014/15) Growth and Transformation Plan of Ethiopia (GTP) put all the reform agendas under nutshell of capacity building and good governance chapter (MoFED, 2010). The service delivery reform as part of CSR is an ongoing process practiced to date in the country. Evident to this are implementation of BPR at all levels of government organizations, BSC in majority of the federal executive agencies and regions, the introduction of Citizens’ Charter by the Ministry of Civil Service and change communication strategy in some regions (MoFED, 2012) among others. However, Mesfin (2009) agreed that systems like BPR initiative was not in the CSR sub-programs, and often its introduction created confusion on the part of implementers.

    Ministry of Civil Service launched Citizens’ Charter in February 2012 with an intention to enable civil servants to serve the community in an improved and better manner. The Charter would be expected to ensure government’s accountability to the public and openness and transparency as well. As to the ministry, every government organization is expected to have its own charter. Nevertheless, it is seldom to find organizations which have produced their own Citizens’ Charter and publicize. Indeed, there have been trainings for different experts and mid-level officials about the essence and development of the charter.  Still conceptual challenges and confusion with charters introduced so far (Team Charter of BPR and BSC) have been observed.

    Some (including the ex-minister of Civil Service) argue that the reform tools like BPR failed to address the intended objective of delivering efficient and effective public services. However Getachew and Common (2006) came up with the success of BPR in two ministries: Ministry of Education and ex-ministry of Trade and Industry. The fact that the study was conducted during the early stage of BPR implementation it reflects the then momentum. But, the sustainability of the momentum is the question to be answered. Of course, BPR is a champion in restructuring the office layout. The budget allocated to restructure the office lay out might outweigh the efficiency and effectiveness of the service provided thereof. Indeed, at the work process design level concepts of end-to-end and one stop shop were more recalled than being implemented in many organizations. Besides, BPR is failed in a sense that the momentum in the early implementation stage could not be sustained as it was not accompanied by job grading and incentive packages.

    The challenge of designing and implementing BSC is area of interest to discuss. BSC was introduced as one of the reform tool which would help to manage, communicate and measure. However, from the very outset there were misunderstandings at the design level. For instance, the city administration of Addis Ababa, under the auspices of bureau of capacity building, selected sectors began the design as well as implementation of Balanced Score Card in 2011/12. The challenges at the design level includes on how to set higher level objectives. Firstly the sectors focused on their very mission, later among the 18 higher level objectives almost all sectors took 17 and only one unique objective-related to their mandates. These resulted in cascading difficulty as well as later on measuring performances of each sector i.e. the shared 17 objectives are not relevant to all sectors. For instance, imagine a health sector’s performance measurement from Political and Economic empowerment of Women point of view. The other well noted problem is related to technology-automation. It was aimed to have a corporate sector performance on weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually basis; but currently this aspect is not practical. There were also confusion among the existing multiple plans (Strategic Plan, BSC, Growth and Transformation-some organizations could hardly understand whether GTP is strategic plan or another planning tool) in the organizations. For instance, in education sector there were Strategic plan, Education Sector Development Plan, BSC and others; employees and officials were not clear on which plan to follow and the attempt made (in Addis Ababa) to integrate resulted in no success. Despite, the establishment of separate process to lead BSC and other reforms, there have been lack of details on functions and responsibilities and often staffed by experts with little or no experience of major reform tools. There is also mandate overlap of the newly established process with planning process and there have been two versions of plan and report each to the respective processes. Hence, the service delivery approach is still the one that has been practiced so far (no significant improvement) and necessitates for reform.  

    Despite the contribution of the reform efforts in reshaping and restructuring the public sector for the better socio-economic development of post dergue Ethiopia, there have been a syndrome of on and off to sustain the reform. The massive bodies of literatures indicate that implementation of the civil service reforms in Ethiopia faced lack of properly integrated and sequential approach (Mesfin, 2009), inconsistency in performance evaluation system (Teka, Fiseha and Solomon, 2007), civil servants resistance to change (Eshete, 2007; Tesfaye, 2007; Tilaye, 2007; Emnet and Habtamu, 2011), lack of accountability in performance management system (Solomon, 2007), less communicated, poor sense of ownership, inefficient technological readiness, weak team work culture (Emnet and Habtamu, 2011), absence of well designed and implemented remuneration system (Tilaye, 2007), lack of awareness on service seekers side on their duties and responsibilities (Mesfin & Taye, 2011). A number of experts trained abroad to implement and technically support implementing agencies are becoming private consultant. The same holds true for trained experts at different office level. The government neither facilitates to let them stay nor able to capacitate others to replace. This attributes to the poor human resource management system exist in our civil service. 

    Grievance on public service delivery mounted to its peak in recent time. Witness to this the discussion held by the government’s top officials with Addis Ababa residents in 2012/2013 in which inefficiency, ineffectiveness, unethical practices were raised as major challenges of public service delivery. In addition, long queues we have experienced at lehulu kifiya sites and other service providing government organizations is worth mentioning. Of course, it is obvious to see and hear about the ceremonial commencement of reform tools from different government organizations. Sometimes under the name of change communication, many have misused the media pretending the existing misunderstanding and confusion among employees about the introduced reform tools.

    The previous pick-drop experience of different reform tools in the civil service sector may perpetuate “a reform tool fatigue/fade” that would be challenging for future efforts to be made.  Thus, our civil service calls for knowledge based, bottom up and integrated reform than embarking on dozen of models and/ or tools. Most of the reform tools implemented so far follows the top down approach; there were no room for a given sector to customize the tools with its own context. The guru of civil service reform is the ex ministry of capacity building and the current ministry of civil service. Of course, there has to be a body to lead civil service reform, but it should not compromise the significance of bottom up approach. If the very purpose of civil service reform is to serve the public interest, there must be a room for sectors customize change/reform tools as per their context.


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