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Challenges of public administration in Zimbabwe today

02 Nov 2011 at 07:05hrs | Views
Public Lecture Talking Points by Professor Jonathan Moyo delivered at the Department of Political & Administrative Studies, University of Zimbabwe, October 21, 2011

I WISH to thank Prof Hasu Patel for his charitable introduction. Prof Patel is the Prof of Professors in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies. I am but one among many who owe a debt of gratitude to Prof Patel for his professional guidance and as such I am indebted to him in ways that I am yet to fully acknowledge.

I am also grateful to the Acting Head of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, Dr Charity Manyeruke, who is the reason why I am here today. Dr Manyeruke is showing us exemplary initiative at a time when such leadership is needed the most.

In the same vein, I am also aware and most appreciative of the support that the Dean of Social Studies, Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, is giving to this path breaking Initiative of the Department's public lectures and seminars led by Dr Manyeruke.

Furthermore, I wish to register my gratitude to the University Administration, the Faculty of Social Studies, the Department of Political and Administrative Studies and to all of you who are here this afternoon. The opportunity for town and gown to interact is invaluable and is thus to be cherished jealously.

My presentation is on Challenges of Public Administration in Zimbabwe Today. The underlying presumption is that we have a shared understanding of what public administration is, yet we of course all know that the presumption is in fact not true.

So what is public administration? While this question is an obvious starting point, answering it is complicated by the fact that definitions or understandings of public administration often tend to fall into the trap of textbook approaches to something that is otherwise quite mundane as an everyday phenomenon. It is, therefore, unwise to define public administration with reference to textbooks. A better approach is to use our collective or shared everyday experience as we go about seeking common solutions to common problems.

But since this is an academic forum, I should mention that a useful and recent reference to the understanding of public administration for textbook purposes is a volume edited by Donald C. Menzel and Harvey L. White (published in 2011) under the title, The State of Public Administration.

Otherwise for purposes of my presentation, public administration is about the organisation and maintenance of the interactive life of individuals, groups, communities, societies, countries or nations. It is about the impersonal or formal organisation and management of personal relationships that bring individuals together. As such public administration is about organised or structured life.

The essence of any modern society or any society for that matter is its public administration. The two key cornerstones of public administration are structure and strategy. All responses to public issues, challenges or problems require structure and strategy: and as the cliché goes, structure, which is fundamental to public administration, is always a function of strategy.

What is important for us to understand is that structure and strategy are not to be found in textbooks or other scholarly sources but from the sociological imagination of the individuals or communities that are affected by the issues and challenges of the day around questions of public service delivery. This is what has given rise to the view that where there's no vision, the people perish and this view is equivalent to saying where there's no thinking, there's no doing.

Another useful way of understanding public administration is by contrasting it with political science such that whereas the latter is about the making of a Republic; the former is about the running and maintenance of that Republic.  Hence, whereas Plato's Republic is very insightful in terms of explaining how the State comes into existence, his Laws is instructive about how the State is kept together or about how the State is administered or managed.

Against this background, the main question I propose to discuss with you is this:  What is the state of organised life or structured responses to public needs or public problems in Zimbabwe today? If we can answer this question honestly, we will have a substantive basis for understanding current challenges of public administration in our country.

For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to make it clear that the biggest and therefore most serious challenge facing public administration in Zimbabwe today is that it is for all intents and purposes dead: dead both as a study discipline and as a field of professional practice.

Examples of the death of public administration in our country are all around us for all to see. Consider these telling examples

• We have fire engines which respond to fire emergencies without water as a matter of routine;
• This reminds me of a story some years back of a building constructor who built a house without a door;
• ZESA has no shame in overcharging for electricity which it does not provide;
• Air Zimbabwe which not too long ago was charging US$5 to fly to China has been grounded and is now struggling to take-off alone without a strategic partner and has sometimes been flying to destinations such as China with 20 passengers;

• NRZ now exists only in name on the back of collapsed infrastructure at a time when our mining sector which heavily depends on railways is seeing a boom on the horizon;

• Our soccer and cricket teams want us to think they can win matches they don't prepare for while those who seek offices ostensibly to run those sports do so not to win matches but to win exposure to become politicians like me;

• Our ten or so universities in the country are churning out about 16,000 graduates a year and only 5% of these are able to get a job over the first year of their graduation in a country where formal unemployment is at least 80%;

• Moonlighting has become the order of the day in the public service: people are keeping their poorly salaried posts or jobs in the public service in order to use public facilities such communication and transport for private purposes;

• Corruption has become so endemic in the public service to a point of becoming the norm in that nobody across the hierarchy does anything for anyone for nothing;

• The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it needs $110m for the referendum on a new constitution and an incredible $120m for the harmonised general election thereafter. How can a second immediate election organised and run by the same body in the same country cost more than the first? Is this not telling evidence that something is fundamentally wrong with the state of our public administration?

√¢‚Ǩ¬¢ Our country celebrated the signing of the GPA on September 15, 2008, and exuded optimism which has been shattered by the palpable failure of the implementation of the GPA.  Implementation is public administration and all implementation challenges of the GPA are in my view an indictment of the discipline and practice of public administration in Zimbabwe and glaring evidence of the death thereof. What is most disappointing about this is that our would be experts want Zimbabweans to think that politicians are responsible for the implementation challenges of the GPA when that responsibility should squarely fall on the shoulders of our public administration scholars who appear to be sleeping on their jobs.

Given these illustrative examples, there's no reasonable person who can deny the obvious fact that the state of the organisation and management of public affairs or public life in our country today is worse than deplorable. As such, we are in effect here to discuss something that is dead.

This is not to say we are in a funeral to bury public administration because it is dead both as a discipline and a practice. Rather, we are here to interrogate its Lazarus Moment because, unlike human beings whose death is for real and forever, disciplines and practices such as public administration are unique in that, like Lazarus, they can always rise up from their death and live again as if they had not died in the first place. In a way, this reality reminds us that while history can slow down and even go into a coma, or seem to come to an end, it can always be renewed and revived in a big way.

What this means is that we have an opportunity to renew and revive the discipline and practice of public administration in Zimbabwe today. But in order to do that, we have to be honest about the reasons why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead. For comparative textbook purposes, we can take a leaf from the American Lazarus Moment as captured in two recent books (both published in 2011) you might find interesting for their divergent views about one and the same issue of revitalising a dying if not dead society: one by Jeffry D. Sachs, 'The Price of Civilisation: Reawakening America Virtue' and the other by Niall Ferguson, 'Civilisation: The West and the Rest'.

Back to our situation, as I see it, there are seven reasons why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead and they are as follows:

THE FIRST REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because of the pervasive Lazarus Moment in the country: Just about every institution, public or private, in our country, including the University of Zimbabwe, is going through a Lazarus Moment of its own.  We have an urgent need to unpack Zimbabwe's Lazarus Moment.

From a national point of view, the most important "Lazarus Moment" question facing the discipline of public administration in Zimbabwe today is the political science question of all time which is: what is a good society in our country today?

Public administration is not able to succeed in a country where there's no national consensus which responds to this question. The role of public administration in dealing with this question is like that of a medical doctor who diagnoses and prescribes medicine to a sick patient: The diagnosis and prescription must be damn right otherwise the patient will be condemned to death!

It is important to understand that the question of what is a good society in Zimbabwe is heavily contested not just in public administration or its sister field of political science but also in our country's politics as a whole. Our political class is not agreed on the definition and understanding of the meaning of a good society in our country and this has prolonged our country's Lazarus Moment.

I do not propose to proffer a definitive assertion of what a good society in Zimbabwe today is and as such I will not settle the question about the state of our Lazarus Moment. I think raising this question is in itself half of the answer.  The other half depends on how the discipline and practice of public administration will respond to the following key defining features of what should be a good society and these features are:

• What is the dominant model of individual in Zimbabwean society today? Is it (a) a citizen?; (b) a worker?; (c) a client (d) a customer or (e) all of the above rolled into one?;

• What is the minimum viable threshold of economic growth in Zimbabwe today as a matter of national policy?

• What it is the threshold of equity gini-coefficient in Zimbabwe capable of promoting equality across the board including gender, age, ethnicity, race and class?

• What is the minimum requirement for democratic participation in Zimbabwe? In other words, what should democracy in Zimbabwe objectively mean as opposed to the definition of "what shall we call democracy" type of formulations that are borrowed from elsewhere including from our erstwhile colonisers?

• What is the minimum threshold that would constitute the attainment of political, social, cultural, environmental and economic rights and stability in Zimbabwe?

• What are the minimum requirements for internal and external autonomy that should constitute a nationally shared and operational understanding of Zimbabwe's sovereignty?

In my view, an honest examination of the above questions is certain to provide a useable or working understanding of (a) the prevailing view of the individual in our country; (b) our communities, (c) our country or nation and (d) the design of an impersonal organisational model that adequately responds to our personal needs as Zimbabweans in the Weberian sense of constructing ideal-types that address the prevailing interests of society at a given time of its Lazarus Moment.

THE SECOND REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because of the poverty of scholarship in the discipline.

The discipline of public administration in Zimbabwe has not stood up to be counted as an academic field. Where there's no thinking, there's no doing and the going gets really bad!

There has been a notable tendency by the field's leading lights many of whom are here with us this afternoon to be mimetic in their scholarship or to altogether go political like what I have regrettably done since 2000. I am here today because I acknowledge the problem and I would like to be part of the solution and not to continue to be part of the problem. At some point, we all must go back home and my home is public administration as an academic. So I acknowledge the problem I have alluded to not to blame anybody but to take responsibility along with my colleagues in the discipline.

THE THIRD REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because there's widespread confusion between policy pronouncements or policy slogans and policy design. While policy pronouncements are political or executive, policy designs are technical and thus professional. The duty of public administration is not to deal with policy pronouncements but to provide policy designs where policy pronouncements have been made clear.

Zimbabwe today has a lot of policy pronouncements which are crying out if not begging for policy designs. Examples of these include the following  five cases:

• Look East Policy: While what it seeks to do is known and very commendable as pronounced by President Mugabe, what it is in design terms remains fuzzy from a public administration point of view. As a result, we have remained with look-East slogans without look-East policies from a design or implementation point of view. We need to start seeing some real scholarship on this front.

• Indigenisation Policy: Again, there's no doubt about the virtues of its pronouncements but questions abound about its implementation design from a public administration point of view, especially with regards to its beneficiaries'beyond ownership'who include communities, workers, the unemployed and the nation as a whole.

• Parastatal reform policy: Are parastatals to be privatised or commercialised? What is the difference between the two? This is one of the most confused policies at the levels of both policy pronouncement and policy design. Nobody knows what the policy on parastatals is and that makes designing anything about it particularly challenging. The experience of successful state enterprises in countries such as China has deepened and widened the confusion. There's a clear and present need for public administration to bring sanity to this area as a matter of urgency.

• Multi-currency policy: What exactly is this policy? Is it just about muddling through and hoping for the best or is there a game plan? What is its design and how does it relate to the rural population given the liquidity crisis in the country and the fact that rural populations are losing their assets through treacherous barter trading? Will the Zimbabwe dollar return? And if, as it must indeed return, will it replace the multi-currency system or will it become part of the multi-currency system? If it becomes part of the multi-currency system will that be for a temporary period or for an indefinite period?

• Decentralisation and Devolution policies: It is shameful that the academic community in public administration has allowed terrible confusion to arise over the distinction between tried and tested concepts in the field such as decentralisation and devolution during the COPAC process? There are now people in our country who think that devolution is synonymous with federalism when it is clearly not.

THE FOURTH REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because of the tension between the Public Service Commission and the Ministry of the Public Service. The tension, which typifies the classic dichotomy between politics and administration, has gone unresolved for much too long since our independence. The time has come to put a stop to it by moving on.

In our case, over 30 years since independence, having a ministry and commission dealing with the public service has become redundant. Something must give between the ministry and the commission. In my view, the Ministry must go and the Commission, which is currently operating like a government ministry and a dumping ground for redundant skills, must be radically transformed to reflect the technical or scientific thrust of public administration as both a field of study and practice.

THE FIFTH REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because of the personalisation of public discourse. Any and every national debate is personalised with the result that issues, processes and programmes become extensions of personalities and not technical or professional expressions of public policies.

This has considerably contributed in a negative way to the death of public administration in Zimbabwe. While policies can unite people and help resolve our country's Lazarus Moment, personalities cannot. What this means is that national consensus is possible and thus achievable but only when we focus on public policies. On the other hand, national consensus is impossible to achieve when we focus on public personalities.

Some key public administration policies that have suffered under the politics of personalities include:

• Cash based Budgeting in Public Administration.
• Results based Management in Public Administration or
• Misplaced structuring of the fiscal year in accordance with the accounting year which fails to take into account our agricultural year. Zimbabwe's fiscal year must be in tandem with the country's agricultural year (July to June) and not be based on the textbook convenience of accountants (January to December).
• Results-based Budgeting in Public Administration
• Programme Management in Public Administration.
• Ensuring Ethics in Public Administration; and
• Managing Corruption in Public Administration

THE SIXTH REASON why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because in 2003, and more so from 2005 after the general election of that year, Zimbabwe allowed public administration in Zimbabwe to be defined by one parastatal which inexplicably took over all Government functions: the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which turned public administration into a BACCOSSI affair.  Everything, everyone and every useful time became a baccossi without any policy accountability or professional responsibility.

This experience which is yet to be fully explained and fully understood led to the loss of the most important national symbol of public administration: the Zimbabwe dollar. I hope this area will attract research from up and coming public administration scholars as a case study with lots if not inexhaustible research dimensions and angles.

THE SEVENTH and final reason why public administration in Zimbabwe today is dead is because of the discipline's failure to translate a very clear and important political agreement and Constitutional Amendment into an implementable policy programme.

What this means, in my view, is that Zimbabwe suffers from an acute case of implemenetisis. This is a public administration disease unique to Zimbabweans whose essence is that we are unable to implement what we are able to formulate!

This then in my view makes clear what the challenge of our universities is. Our discipline and practice of public administration has been too silent to the point of becoming part of the silent conspiracy against the much needed transformation and development of country by unpacking its Lazarus Moment.

We have unwittingly allowed a situation in which the uninformed have been busy pretending that they are informing the informed or those who should be informed, and we have by that fact institutionalised indefensible ignorance.

What we need is a knowledge-based society through public administration and the first step in that direction should start with a critical examination of the challenges facing public administration in our country today. My view is that if we can get our public administration right and working, we will get everything else right and thus resolve our Lazarus Moment.

May I please conclude by thanking you all for listening to me this afternoon. I look forward to an open and constructive exchange of ideas with questions and comments arising from my presentation.

Professor Jonathan Moyo is a political scientist and MP for Tsholotsho North (Zanu PF)

Source - Professor Jonathan Moyo MP
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