by Mohammad Zohair Javed

 

ABSTRACT

Public Service Delivery is at the core of a government’s obligations towards its citizens. In Pakistan, provision of public services has been marred by corruption, inefficiency and absence of a citizen centric approach. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, many services now fall under provincial purview, which represents an opportunity for the government of KPK to rethink how it delivers public services. The RTS Act 2014 has introduced legislation on public service delivery, but fails to tackle the cultural and cognitive factors that lead to a lack of citizen centricity in designing public services. This paper presents a model for a dedicated public service agency, which is not solely based on a market based model, but has accountability and feedback mechanisms which take into account the needs of citizens. Learning from efficient service delivery models around the world, specific areas are identified where the KPK Government should focus while designing the agency. If done correctly, the idea represents an opportunity for the provincial government to change the way people think about government, and restore citizen trust in the system at large.

 

Introduction

At the core of a government’s obligations towards its citizens is public service delivery. Governments are responsible for providing a range of services to their citizens, in lieu of the taxes they collect. These are services which citizens seek from their government on a day to day basis, and how well these services are provided determines the citizens’ trust in government.

In Pakistan’s case, the provision of basic public services has been marred by corruption, inefficiency and cumbersome red tape since the country’s independence. As per the Global Corruption Barometer released by Transparency International in 2013, 75 % of the respondents in Pakistan had paid a bribe to the land services department in the year prior to the study. Similarly, 57 % of respondents had paid a bribe to utility services, and 45 % had paid a bribe to registry and permit services. When respondents were asked about which institutions they thought were extremely corrupt, 81 % replied civil servants and public officials (Transparency International, 2013).

Service delivery failures have reached the point where there is now an informal market of agents, who specialize in using influence and bribes in various public offices to provide citizens with basic services. The adverse effects of public service delivery failure are widespread. Research has shown that corruption in government departments and public service agencies hinders growth, creating deterrents for businesses to operate smoothly and driving firms to other markets (Mauro, 1995).

Almost 53 % of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 24. According to the Youth Integrity Service Report released in 2015 by Transparency International, 68 % of the young population in Pakistan believes that being honest is more important than being rich, while 56 % think it should be top most national priority to fight corruption in service provision (Transparency International, 2015). Given the changing demographics along with a demand for better government, there is a dire need for the Government to reform the manner in which it delivers public services. These are the touch points at which governments and citizens interact on a daily basis, and form the perception of citizens about the government as a whole. If such reform is not undertaken, the government runs the risk of disenchanting the youth who will further lose trust in the system, which can have detrimental consequences on social cohesion and the overall security situation.

A host of different arguments have been presented to explain the inefficiency in public service delivery, accompanied by an equal number of donor funded reforms. Commonly cited reasons include patronage in jobs of public servants (Callen, 2016), political pressures for illicit favors, insufficient financial compensation for civil servants, lack of capacity in government departments and a lack of incentive in the public service agencies to improve their standard of service.

Many of these problems are common among developing countries across the globe. A World Bank study in 2001 on governance gave countries ratings on a scale of 10 to 0 (with 10 being the most efficient), depending on how effective the civil service was in delivering public services. Pakistan got a score of 4.3, which was lower than India (5.5) and Sri Lanka (6.7) and the same as Bangladesh (World Bank, 2001). Many of these countries have similar structural problems, leading to inefficient public service delivery ( Princeton University, 2011).

To address the problems of public service failures, donor agencies like DFID, World Bank and USAID have sponsored a many different reform programs. Since the passage of the 18th Amendment has made many public services fall under provincial purview, provincial governments have also introduced reforms to improve public service delivery. In Punjab, e-sahulat centers are being set up that provide multiple public services under one roof. To inculcate feedback into the process, the Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program has been set up with the help of the World Bank, which asks citizens for feedback after they access a public service. Similarly, as part of the “Charter of good governance”, the KPK Government passed the “Right to Public Service Act 2014” through the Provincial Assembly, with the aim of improving public service delivery. The law makes government functionaries liable to financial penalty if notified public services are not provided within a given time frame.

While these reforms represent incremental changes, their overall impact has remained limited in many areas. For instance, 3018 FIR requests out of a total of 4732 were not registered in the given time frame in KPK, according to the 2017 quarterly progress report released by the Rights to Services Commission. According to the 2016 Progress Report, the overall success rate regarding timely provision of 16 different public services was 99.8 %. However, in a few services, there were more delays than others. For instance, 69 % wood permit licenses were not provided in time, whereas 26 % of Istehqaq Certificates were also not provided within the stipulated time frame (KPK Right to Services Commission, 2016). The results are very encouraging overall, and reflect a massive improvement in public service provision. To take public service one step ahead of the expectations and needs of the citizens, the model needs to be taken towards a more adaptive system, which is able to add services, make processes easier and increase its outreach to more regions.

The wider problem is not the absence of laws or legislation, but the organizational culture of the government agencies that deliver public services, which does not incentivize public office holders to provide services efficiently. As identified by Professor Matt Andrews at the Kennedy School of Government, institutions consist of not only the formal structures but also of the normative and cognitive rules, which have an equal impact on the overall culture and performance of the organization. Often times, reforms are aimed at changing the formal laws and regulations, without focusing on the informal institutions that already exist. Hence, results are limited. This can be explained using in an iceberg model, where governments seeking to create change only see the tip, whereas the base includes many other elements that are often ignored, but have a major impact on the institution’s culture and resulting performance.

Institutional Structures as Icebergs (Andrews, 2013)
In Pakistan’s case, the way the civil service is structured eliminates the concept of citizen centricity from service delivery. Bureaucrats who are responsible for the provision of many of the services cannot be held accountable by citizens, as their promotions and career progressions are dependent on Annual Confidential Reports written by supervisors based in provincial capitals.

Plus, many politicians also do not want to have public service provision streamlined, as they use influence on such services for obliging constituents. Politicians use basic public services to their own advantage, obliging constituents by providing them the services that they are otherwise entitled to. It is often the case that a service as simple as provision of a gas meter would require the local assembly member to intervene.

What seems to be missing from the equation is what businesses would call customer centricity, the needs of the actual citizen who is a client of these services. To make the process hassle free and to eliminate corruption, many countries across the world are adapting the model of integrated service delivery, providing citizens with a one stop shop for public services. The concept is to have single touch point for citizens, where they can avail all services under one roof, without the hassle of visiting different offices, while also providing feedback on the quality of the service to curb corruption. The roots of this model are in the idea of New Public Management, which borrows practices from the private sector to improve public service delivery.

New Public Management started becoming popular in the 1980s, with governments facing tightening budget constraints along with younger demographics that demanded better services. The idea that started to take root was privatization of various public sector enterprises, as it was argued that a profit driven market model would improve public services. .From experience, it has been seen that a purely profit driven solution was not in the wider public interest, creating distortions and incentives that did not serve each citizen equally. In case of service failures, citizens could not hold their elected representatives accountable, as the blame was shifted on the private agency responsible for providing the service. Case in point is the recent problem with Centrelink Australia’s automated debt recovery service, and the resulting shift of blame by the Ministry of Human Services. Additionally, in the market based model, private companies were
making the same mistake as governments, of not taking the community on-board while designing public service provision.

Hence, public agencies globally are now moving from a completely market based solution towards a hybrid solution which involves inculcating feedback from the community, while having accountability mechanisms that eliminate bribes and make the agency answerable to the executive branch of government. Centrelink Australia, Service Canada, Service South Australia and JobCentre Plus in the UK are glaring examples of how public service can be improved by have a one stop shop for services, with coordination among different government departments and engaging community members for finding solutions to public service inefficiencies. What really sets these agencies apart is their focus on involving the community in designing public service delivery (Winkworth, 2005), and organizational culture which revolves around constantly adapting to the environment, incentivizing better services and innovating to improve public service. While most of these organizations worked and were meant for completely different context, their underlying concepts can be understood and used to improve public service delivery in KPK.

While KPK’s RTS Commission is aimed at improving public service, the wider cultural problem in government is the absence of a citizen centric approach, understanding the inefficiencies in processes and changing them to suit the needs of the customers (citizens). There is a dire need for a model of integrated service delivery, or one stop government shopping, in which customer centricity, transparency, cost effectiveness and scalability are the building blocks. Government departments need to be connected, so citizens can avoid the hassle of visiting various government offices for availing a single service.
The major problems with current public services in KPK are:

1. Lack of customer centricity
2. Petty corruption, patronage and bribes
3. Geographical constraints
4. Bureaucratic inefficiencies , red tape
5. Weak accountability mechanisms towards citizens

The Right To Services Act 2014 was introduced to pave the way for improving public services in KPK, but the approach is in-adaptive, as due to the changing dynamics and innovations around us, public service must evolve constantly, just like customer service in the private sector. It is imperative that an incentive structure is built that shifts attitude of service provides to improve public service delivery instead of disincentivizing rent seeking behavior. This can be done by building a new organization, based on making things easier for citizens, while focusing internally on performance management, and incentivizing employees to provide better public services.

Suggested Policy

To ensure that the KPK government constantly evolves to better serve its citizen, it is suggested that a dedicated public service agency be created under the RTS Act 2014, with the sole aim of providing public services to citizens. The agency should be structured as a public private partnership, as incentivizing the workforce to improve public service can help transform the way public services are delivered. Examples of similar organizations include the National Testing Service (NTS) and National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). These organizations have proven to be very successful in service provision, where previous solutions have failed. NADRA has recently partnered with EOBI for distributing pensions, as well as the Benazir Income Support Programme. KPK’s Public Service Agency will follow a somewhat similar model at the provincial level, selling its services to relevant ministries and departments to generate revenue. In the long run, the agency can also sell its services to Federal Division who have to provide services to citizens in the province.

The public service agency should focus on three types of services:

1. Provision of information on different public services (through call centers)
2. Acceptance of documents, to be processed by another department (e.g. passport forms)
3. Full process for a given service (submission of traffic challan, issuance of land transfer deeds, death certificate, submitting info on tenants)

For information provision, the agency should create marketing material in different local languages, and focus on disseminating information through informal channels like whatsapp videos which can help users understand the processes of various services. As of March 2017, total number of cell phone users in Pakistan has reached 139 million, which represents a new avenue for service providers to inform their target group about various services. (Pakistan Telecom Authority, 2017)

For areas where the agency does not have complete jurisdiction, like ID Cards and Passports, it can act as an intermediary, ensuring that citizens in far flung areas do not have to make long trips for the sake of just documentation.

The third category of the services are going to form the core of the agency. These are tasks that are currently being provided by other departments. The agency will specialize in customer experience and service delivery. Government departments will buy the agency’s services for the provision of a particular service, which will then be designed keeping in mind how to make the process the easier for the citizens. Government Departments will buy services from the proposed agency, just like how departments buy services form the National Testing Service for recruiting. It will save the departments the hassle of providing these services themselves, and also eliminate corruption and political influence.

The Agency will have specialists in technology, policy, e-governance and customer experience. NADRA has recently introduced EOBI Pensions scheme, and its expertise can be acquired for the purpose. To ensure that the agency has alternative revenue streams and becomes a one stop solution, it should provide the following three categories of services:

1. Government to Citizen
2. Government to Business
3. Business to Citizen (money transfer services like Western Union, mobile cash payments etc)

By having a range of services, the agency will diversify its portfolio, and will become a one stop for citizens who are looking for other services than just public ones. The same strategy has been employed by the Bangalore One system successfully (Nargundkar, 2007).

The core services of the agency will fall under the Government to Citizen category. While it should start from provision of provincial services, the model can be expanded to federal services in the long run, in case federal departments are willing to pay the agency for service provision. The agency can also provide documentation services to foreign embassies, which can be another long term goal. Currently, many country missions in Pakistan have outsourced the documentation process for visas to third parties like Gerrys. If KPK’s public service agency can structure itself as a specialized organization, it can have a new revenue stream by offering document collection services to foreign missions.

Government to Business services will include business registration, documentation, and other services that businesses require from the government.

Business to Citizen services represent an alternative revenue stream for the agency, and will help it integrate other essential services that people seek. For instance, a service center can acquire the franchise of an international money transfer service like Western Union, as many residents of KPK have relatives based in the Middle East and having a money transfer option would add to the overall functionality and convenience of the service center.

The organization should start with a pilot model in two sample districts, and then expand slowly based on its learning experiences and feedback. An approach similar to this was used in Mongolia, where only a few services were introduced initially in limited regions which were later expanded, based on the feedback.

While contextual factors do not guarantee that a solution that worked in one country will also work in another, the underlying concepts can be used build the agency in KPK. The following factors must be taken into account while structuring the agency.

 

Incentives and Organizational Culture:

A major mistake that governments do while reforming government institutions is creating new layers of bureaucracy, which start suffering from the same problems they were meant to solve. The KPK Government must ensure that it does not set up an organization in which rent seeking and corruption shift from the public sector to the private sector. In order to do so, an incentive structure must be created that discourages petty corruption.

At the basic level, this can be done by offering commensurate financial compensation to employees, which decreases their overall incentive to take bribes. However, going as far as just increasing pays is not enough, as similar solutions have not worked in government institutions in Pakistan. A holistic solution is to have an approach which links financial incentives with performance, and robust third party audits which objectively analyze the performance of the organization as a whole.

To incentivize performance, quality metrics that inculcate time taken to provide a service, citizen friendliness (measured through customer feedback) and number of cases processed should be linked to the financial compensation of the employee providing the service. If done in the public sector, such solutions can lead to an increased bargaining power for the public officials, as was seen in Punjab where a pilot project was conducted to incentivize tax collectors (Adnan Q. Khan, 2014). However, such a scheme in a semi government institution in which direct customer feedback can be provided at the counter through a user interface at the service center eliminates rent seeking, as feedback is provided there and then, and can be monitored by managers. The same structure is being used by telecom operators at Service Centers across Pakistan.

Similarly, the organizational culture of the agency will be very important in determining the way services are provided, and if workers engage in rent seeking and petty bribes. This is the one of the major reasons why a semi government organization is suggested for KPK, as such models have worked in developing countries in reforming organizational culture, like Bangalore One in India. The theme of the organization should be based on helping citizens progress in life. From birth, when individuals required birth certificates, to their mid ages when they require housing permits and licenses till their old ages, when they require pensions and social security benefits, the agency must introduce a culture of serving citizens throughout their life in its employees. Such a culture will make employees take pride in the work that they do, and a belief in the organization’s mission and vision. Organizations that have a committed workforce which believes in the mission and vision are the ones that succeed in the modern world. KPK’s public service agency should be no different, and should be modelled on the same principles as other modern organizations. It should have annual audits by globally recognized audit firms, and such information should be made available to the public as well as be subject to parliamentary oversight. To make information more accessible, it should be reported in an annual score card, so that citizens can gauge the effectiveness of public services.

Community Engagement:

Community feedback will be one of the core building blocks of the agency. The solution, as seen from the experiences of many countries, has to be a balance between market based and community based. It is imperative to have a feedback mechanism that informs policy and service delivery design, so that the needs of the users are inculcated to make the process seamless. For community engagement, there is a need to go beyond satisfaction surveys in which users rate the service.

One model of community engagement can be borrowed from Centrelink Australia, which is involved in two sorts of partnerships (Winkworth, 2005). Community partnerships are built with local groups representing a certain community, and are meant to provide support for day to day services. Consultative partnerships are meant to get feedback on services, and involve formal settings in which community reference groups provide insights and suggestions on the services being provided. A disability reference group provides feedback from the perspective of the disabled, whereas a National Multicultural Reference group provides suggestions from different ethnic groups residing in Australia. The idea it to make the process easier for each member of the society, and hence feedback is taken from sample reference groups belonging to all demographics and ethnicities.

Another type of partnership that can help the agency in increasing its reach and impact is partnering with non-government organizations. This has been done by Service South Australia, which has partnerships with “agents”. Partner agents help Service SA in reaching out to aboriginal communities that are marginalized, with the help of agents who are able to deliver a few public services. In KPK’s case, such partnerships can be explored with government organizations like Pakistan Post, which have an elaborate network in the rural areas, or telecom companies, which have an increasing foothold in rural areas because of their financial services business. As the culture in some areas might not encourage women to go out of their homes to seek public services, the network of Lady Health Workers or BHUs can also be employed for service delivery
to women. The staff of third parties can be trained not only in service provision but also in educating citizens about how they can avail various services. What is often the case with many residents of rural areas is a lack of understanding of how the process works for various public services. Partnerships can be built on legal agreements signed between KPKs Public Service Delivery Agency and the agent that binds the agent to meet certain minimum standards.

Service Canada staff adopts a more inclusive approach to community involvement, travelling to areas where there might not be any formal community organization office, and working with local partners who are willing to host them. In KPK’s case, this can be done by using mosques as community centers, and asking the public for their feedback on services. A similar model of using mosques as community centers has been used by Akhuwat very successfully.

Training of Staff:

For aligning the organization’s goals with its culture, a college should be established, which trains service providers in improving the quality of public services. While a lot of emphasis has been laid on the training of program managers and senior staff, the problem is that the lower staff which actually delivers the services does not have the same mental model as the senior staff. The college should primarily focus on training the public service provides, who actually sit across a desk and interact with citizens, and not senior civil servants only.

Results Based Approach:

Overall, the organization must have a results based approach, being able to quantify its goals, which will then serve as performance indicators. While some areas like community engagement might be hard to quantity, measures like the number of service level agreements signed with different organizations, average time per visitor, quality of service and the agreed deliverables can be used to see how well the agency has done regarding the outcomes that it was meant to achieve.

Adaptability:

Each office needs to be given the adaptability and freedom to tailor some of its services according to the needs of the local residents, a model followed by Smart Services Queensland, another public service agency in Australia. The one size fits all model is one the reasons why public service delivery has failed in many parts of Pakistan. Local staff understands the needs of their citizens the best, and an inbuilt feedback mechanism can be used to tailor services for making the process easier according to the local context. The agency should have a system of feedback, whereby local staff members can suggest improvements or new products and can apply for actually implementing their idea.

A seed fund can be set up, which allocates money for innovative ideas to improve public service. Such a fun should be open to suggestion by the public as well as the agency’s employees. To have a fair selection criteria, the proposals should be reviewed by a panel including agency representatives, third party judges and community representatives. Successful ideas should then be implement by the author of the idea, with help from the agency. This will set a culture of rewarding innovation in the organization and urge staff members to think out of the box, while helping in saving costs and disincentivizing rent seeking through illegal manes.

Accountability:

A robust accountability model must be developed, as Integrated Service Delivery often blurs organizational boundaries, making it difficult for citizens to hold officials accountable. This has been the case in many countries which adopted New Public Management, as the civil service is able to put the blame on the agency, whereas the agency cannot be held accountable by voters. The office of a public service ombudsman can be introduced for hearing complaints, whereas there should be an elected representative on the board or in the administration of the agency.

Legal Structure:

The agency itself should be structured on Built-Operate Transfer Model, allowing private organizations to work with the government in designing the service and running for a few years. Also, as has been the case in many failed attempts to integrate service delivery, citizens start using the service only for submission of utility bills, as many individual ministries/departments develop their own online mechanisms. To ensure that the agency becomes a one stop shop, it should sign agreements with its partner clients that they will not be able to open their service offices within a given radius of the agency office so that there is no duplication of services.

Conclusion

From an administrative perspective, the idea will help ministries and government departments save money by cutting down on resources meant for service provision. This will also help reorienting the focus of government departments towards policy formulation and planning, which gets overlooked in the daily churn of operations. The only opposition in the administrative section would be from the civil servants, who often use their discretion over provision of such services for extending favors. Similar opposition was seen to the local government ordinance by the district management cadre of the civil service. For the reform to be effective, the civil service needs to be identified as a relevant stakeholder, and its input must be taken in the design and operations of the agency.

The integration of all departmental services under one roof poses a mammoth challenge from a technical perspective, given all the stakeholders and technological platforms involved. The infrastructure required to establish such a system needs to be robust and very well designed, as having all services under one roof poses the risk that if the system was to malfunction, than all services will stand suspended. There are examples of such services being provided by similar agencies in Pakistan, like NADRA providing pensions to EOBI pensioners. Similarly, COMSATS has been able to successfully run the National Testing Services on the lines of a modern organization, which is now being asked to design and oversee recruitment for a number of government departments. The services of COMSATS and NADRA could be acquired to set-up the agency, along with governance experts of the provincial governments. Since Australia is considered one of the pioneers of the concept, the potential of partnership with AusAid for provision of technical expertise could also be explored.

From the get go, it is expected that the idea will face a lot of political opposition, given how these services are used by influential individuals to oblige voters. This will be one of the biggest challenges that the agency will face. However, the only way to overcome this challenge would be through political will, and commitment by the province’s political leadership to introduce a reform which makes service delivery better for citizens. Similar commitment was shown at the time of introducing the RTS Act in 2014, and this agency could be set up by adding a clause to the same law.

If implemented with political will and while taking into account all the stakeholders and challenges, the idea has the power transform the way citizens of KPK think about their government. In daily life, the main interaction that the citizens have with government is through public service offices. It is maltreatment at these offices that has led to disillusionment of the younger population with the system as a whole. By providing an efficient solution for public service, the Government of KPK can provide its citizens with public services in the respectable manner that they deserve.

 

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