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Performance contracts must shape public service delivery

By Kamotho Waiganjo | Published Sun, October 13th 2013 at 00:00, Updated October 13th 2013 at 18:36 GMT +3

By Kamotho Waiganjo

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The public signing of performance contracts by all Cabinet Secretaries before President Uhuru Kenyatta a week ago should have been one of the more debated events in the life of the Jubilee government. As a basis of holding government accountable, the issuance of specific commitments by top officials on what government would do to fulfill its myriad promises is as significant as the launch of its campaign manifesto.

Yet the matter passed with no more than a yawn, as our thrill-seeking media busy followed up more electrifying stories, including joining social media in seeking photos of politicians allegedly caught in not-too-honourable circumstances. If we are to change the national conversation from the theatre of the absurd to useful substance, these are some of the issues that will demand more than just a passing glance.

It excited me when several years ago government borrowed from the private sector and mainstreamed performance contracting as part of public sector reforms. Having started my working life in the private sector, I have always believed that well designed and effectively applied performance evaluation is a critical and necessary part of service delivery enhancement.

Of course my enthusiasm for public sector performance evaluation was almost fatally injured when a couple of years ago, the Ministry of Lands was declared the best performing ministry in the same year that property and conveyancing lawyers, including yours truly, were on streets demanding better services from the same ministry! Such a cruel joke on the citizens must be avoided for it increases citizen skepticism in the process and robs it of necessary public support.

Being an incurable optimist however, I still believe in the ability of performance contracting to revolutionalise public sector service delivery. In the first place, the public signing of performance contracts is a restatement of the fact that these honourable men and women wake up every day solely to serve.

The fact that public servants exist to serve may appear a self-evident truth, but we are a nation that long ago buried “civility and servitude” and replaced it with a civil service that largely lords it over the people it exists to serve!

Secondly, signing of performance contracts that define high service delivery thresholds affirms the truism that the provision of high quality service is a right, not a privilege that public officials mete as a reward for citizens’ good behaviour. It is a statement by public officials that the pressure to reward a public servant who simply carries out their job is an anachronism. In a country where the citizen is treated like a trespasser when seeking assistance in public offices, this is a truism whose translation to reality we await with bated breath.

To improve this critical process, I have two proposals. In public finance law, the Treasury is now required to publish and publicise a citizens’ version of important financial documents including the Budget. It would be great for government to publish a citizen’s version of the commitments that the Cabinet Secretaries made to the President.

These officials are appointed to render service on behalf of the President to the people of Kenya. Consequently, not only should the people of Kenya have an intelligible, reader-friendly copy of that red docket the Cabinet Secretaries were holding, the people should in future be more engaged in defining its content.

Secondly, the process of evaluation should involve an open and continuous process in which the public is actively engaged. And since the government is now required to open service centres in all decentralised units, it should be easy  to incorporate a credible public evaluation mechanism in these centres.

Finally I am expecting that officials of county governments will soon be signing performance contracts with their respective Governors as required by law and good practice. County governments were supposed to be the focal points of service delivery and performance evaluation must therefore be an essential part of the culture of every County. Over to you Governors.

The writer is a CIC commissioner