Wednesday, 22 April 2015


DG, BPSR, Dr Joe Abah 
Dr Joe Abah, DG, Bureau of Public Service Reforms was a guest of AIT station on its 'Global Business' programme. In Part 1, Dr Abah spoke about the implementation of the Oronsaye report amongst other things. In conclusion, we have provided part 2 of the AIT interview in the transcript provided below.

AIT: Looking at the optimal performance of each, how equipped is the Nigerian public service to meet with twenty first century demands of the job of a public servant?

DG: I think that is a very good question and don’t forget that the public servant, just like every other Nigerian is constrained by issues to do with power, investment in technology and lack of investment in the public service. When you come at the public service sector with a preformed negative perception, that negative perception continues to re-enforce itself because we don’t then invest in the public service, in training or in technology to get them to do those things you want them to do. You dismiss them as being incapable, corrupt and inefficient. But what then are we doing to to address that?

Now, the public service needs to use technology better, there's no doubt about that, and if we use technology better, we will be far more efficient. And that is why the government has created a dedicated Ministry of communication technology to try and improve the way we use technology to manage government business. As an example, the Federal Executive Council is now fully automated in terms of how it deals with memorandums that come to it. We also have an organisation called the Galaxy Back Bone that delivers industrial training services to the public service, and many other initiatives. Recently, we have localised trainings so that people can no longer travel abroad for training programmes. These are some of the initiatives we are employing. Also, let me raise the other frequent accusation that the public service is corrupt. It is by the use of technology that the loop holes to corruption can be blocked. The country now runs a treasury single account and this makes it impossible for people to have multiple accounts in various places. There is a government information and financial management system that tracks how money moves in the system. These are some of the initiatives that has been put in place, but of course, there's always more to be done. 

AIT: Now lets look at attitude because as you have said, the public service is supposed to render service. You and I know that beyond the cliche of giving sweeping statements, there are differences between the way the public sector renders service as juxtaposed with the way private institutions provides service. How are you trying to reform the minds of the Nigerian public servant as regards to services rendered? 

DG: I think you are absolutely right, but then again I think you are making yet another sweeping statement that the private sector has better service delivery than the public sector. I don’t get better services from private airlines when I fly. They delay my flights with no apologies or compensations. They don’t bother to give legitimate reasons for flight delays and would tell you it’s due to operational reasons, as though that is enough for someone who has spent four to five hours to board a flight. Again, we must be careful when we make statements like this. 

AIT: Forgetting that sweeping statement, l believe you know what service is all about. Let us concentrate on the public service.

DG: There is a need for the public service to focus on the service to the public and not service to the public servants because a lot of what we do is focused on ourselves and quite often, the Nigerian public is the last thing on any body's mind. We need to change that and one of the ways of implementing that change is to put in place a new performance management system that actually sets out what you come to do in work on a Monday morning, what you are expected to achieve, measures of whether you have achieved that, and that affects your advancement, whether in terms of promotion of redeployment, based on what you have actually delivered. This is a scheme we are putting in place, working with the office of the Head of Service, the Federal Civil Service Commission, and the National Planning Commission and we hope to launch that this year because you can appeal to people's sensibility and say look, this should be patriotic, we should focus on the citizens, but unless it affects their pockets, or the way they can advance their careers, they will not take you seriously. 

This is why we are putting together the performance management system that will actually affect the ability of the public servant to advance in their career.

AIT: In putting together the Performance Management System, are you putting into consideration dress....

DG: I think as a public servant, one should look professional at all times and that professionalism could mean that you are either dressed in a suit or dressed decently in a traditional attire because the idea is to protect the professional and his/her image.

AIT: I'm asking this question because of what I have seen and my personal experiences with public servants and their dress sense. Are you putting into consideration the fact that you need to change the psyche in terms of dress sense.

DG: I think dress sense is only one aspect, you mentioned about how people say hello, the way they care for the elderly, the way they care for people with disabilities, the way they care for nursing mothers. It is having that motivation to serve and not feeling like I'm doing everybody here a favour kind of attitude. You know we Nigerians have this mentality in Nigeria where we love to see a long queue in front of us. That's wrong. We should strive to serve people as quickly as possible, as efficiently as possible, and make sure that they are satisfied with the services we provide. This goes for our hospitals, our airlines, our banks, our schools, and this is the attitude that we should engender. One way of doing this is making sure that we complain. Nigerians should complain more.

AIT: whom should they complain to?

DG: They should complain to whoever is supposed to provide that service to them in the first place. So when I go to the airport and I'm told that my flight has been delayed for operational reasons, I look for whoever made that announcement and say I'm sorry, but you owe me more of an explanation. What do you mean by operational reasons because I have been waiting here for three hours. Tell me if your plane has issues so I can decide if I will fly or not. And the same thing when I go to a bank and I am just told to queue, of which I have no issue with, but if some one jumps the queue, I would go to them and say I’m sorry but can you go back. This is the kind of attitude we need, we must demand more from the public services. The more we demand, the better the public service sector will become. 

AIT: In the case of civil servants, who will you complain to?

DG: There are a number of mechanisms that can be used to complain. You can write to the Head of Service of the Federation, who is in charge of the whole of the civil service. You can write to the heads of specific organisations. If a member of my staff hasn’t given you the right kind of service, you can also write to me and I will take it forward. There's also the Public Complaints Commission that can intervene on peoples’ behalf, you can write to SERVICOM also. There are lots of avenues through which people can complain.

AIT: How effective have their complaints been addressed?

DG: I feel for those who have written and more often than not, those complaints have actually been addressed. But of course, it depends on the nature of the complaint.

AIT: I am asking all these questions because you represent the public sector, in the sense that your Bureau is in charge of reforming the public sector. When you say more often than not, most complains have been addressed but I know a lot of complaints that have not been addressed. We are also looking at time because as they say, justice delayed is justice denied. So when you look at the time lapse for when a lot of these complaints were put forward, I begin to imagine if I were a foreigner and I am not treated well by your public service and I travel and come back in about four months time period, and my complaint still hasn’t been treated, I will not take your country seriously.

DG: Absolutely right, which is why the Head of Service of the Federation has put a seventy two hour limit for responding to all correspondence from the public. And there are times when people delay complaints, But there are times when the complaints are impossible to do. Take for example, some one who has been retrenched eight years ago, who has collected he's retirement benefit and has moved on to other things and then he decides to write, asking to be reinstated. when you say to them , I am sorry, you cannot be reinstated, the policy has lapsed, they will go back and say ''i am not happy with your response". There are instances like that, but this is not to say that people don’t respond to complaints in a timely manner. We do. And with our SERVICOM initiative, every public service administration is supposed to commit to a set of service standards which mean when you write to us, we will respond within a certain amount of time. And again, this is why our people should use the freedom of information act more effectively. Because the freedom of information act, gives the public service a time limit of seven days, during which they must provide any information that the public has asked for.

AIT: We have talked about the softer side of the public service. Now let us look at the harder sides. In stream lining the public service with the economy, with our high recurring expenditure, our revenues cannot meet it. And there is a school of thought that believes that the civil service can contribute more economically to the Nations pots, than what it is contributing currently. What is your office doing to stream-line the civil service in contributing more economically and also to be more effective in making sure the economy grows?

DG: Our starting point in the Bureau is that any reform we do must lead to tangible improvements in the services experienced by citizens. This is why we focus on those issues that can aid our country's economic growth by reducing the cost of business start ups, reduce the cost of governance, make it easier for investors to come in and register their companies and essentially do business here. One way which civil servants can do that is to be very efficient in the processing of applications and licensing and also by removing the corruption toll gate that delays things. We need to make sure that public services are predictable. When applying for a licence, we need to know that it will be processed in seven days, no more. And you don’t need to know any one on the inside. This is what we have done with our passport processing system in the Nigerian Immigration office. You can simply go and apply for a passport, you don’t need to know anyone, they will tell you when it will be ready for you to come and collect it. The same thing goes for our postal service system. You simply go into a post office, put a stamp on the letter, post it and it will arrive. You don’t need to know any one or see any one. And this is the predictability we need to get more of in our public service.

AIT: I like your optimism but not needing to know anybody on the inside does not usually obtain the desired result, except you say it will take time for the message to permeate to everybody.

DG: It will take time for Nigerians to believe that they don’t actually have to pay a bribe to get certain things or pay any sort of gratification. And that if they simply insist on a particular service, they will get it. Because if a public servant is supposed to deliver you a service, and they don’t deliver it, and you go ahead and insist that they deliver it, what defence is that public servant going to have for not giving you that service? And so sometimes, because we are always in a hurry, we don’t want to queue, we don’t want to wait, we don’t want to go through due process and that is why many of us actually corrupt the public service.

AIT: I like that you actually throw these things back to the Nigerian public. Yes we don’t like to queue, I personally will not like to go to collect my passport and see a staggering line of people because I know I cannot waste man hours on a queue and i have a job to do. Also, it seems to me that these people like to see the crowd and the queue too.

DG: Then we should ask ourselves what we should do as an enlightened Nigerian. Write to the controller general of immigration and say I don’t want to be seeing a hundred and fifty people when I go to collect my passport. 

AIT: So this is the message to the Nigerian?

DG: Yes, complain more. Get us to deliver the service you have requested. We are your servants. You pay us. Without your resources we do not exist. Demand services of us, demand performance from us and we will perform.

AIT: Thank you very much Sir. Joe Abah is the Director general of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms and he has been very articulate and straight forward on his answers today on how the public service will, should, and is already being reformed. The message he has put to us Nigerians is to complain and in the long run, our economy will be better.

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