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The Nut Cracker: Mr Vice President, I do not envy you in 2019!

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Perhaps measures that the DPP government will be assessed against in 2019 is the success or failure of the Public Sector Reforms being championed by the Vice President. Knowing the previous frosty relationships between the offices of the President and his/her Vice, I do not envy the VPs position. He is doomed if the reforms do not work and he is doomed if they work and he takes the credit and not the President. Whatever the case, this country needs the reforms to be successful!

The preamble to the Public Service Reform Commission’s report of December 2014 states that “the aim of this Public Service Reform Commission is to facilitate the creation of an effective and efficient Public Service that will spur economic growth…” Since then I have heard and read many a debate that seems to assume that the word ‘efficient” is and has always been the preoccupation of the private sector.

There seems to be a generally accepted notion in Malawi that the public sector is universally ineffective. This is plainly wrong! Efficiency is provided by the relationship between the effects, or outputs and efforts or inputs. The relationship is apparently simple, but practice often proves the contrary, because identifying and measuring inputs and outputs in the public sector is generally a difficult operation.

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Take the case of a school, if a school is built in a village the efforts involved in this investment can be easily identified: all costs incurred for the construction, the material basis, the wages, etc. But under what form are the benefits in this case? Can we identify direct economic benefits? The answer is “no”; in which case we meet only social benefits, such as: increasing literacy, ensuring better labour market, higher living conditions, difficult to quantify in cash. So, in conclusion, we can say that the economic efficiency of this investment is zero, starting from the definition of the efficiency (effects/ effort), precisely because the effects are difficult to assess in money.

The efficiency in the public sector must thus be seen as an amount between the economic efficiency and the social one. Also, the time horizon for measuring the efficiency obtained should be adjusted to the investment. Usually the private sector seeks the economic effectiveness on a short-term (annual profit), while most public sector investments generate results over a longer period of time, these future flows of efficiency are often ignored in the analysis. In order to apply the measuring techniques of the efficiency from the private sector to the public one its objectives must be measured quantitatively accurately, which is a rare situation. The difficulty of measuring the efficiency in the public sector is largely caused by the inability to quantify accurately the effects (outputs) because they are direct but also indirect due to the externalities which they generate, but also due to the clear and accurate non-statement of the objectives. As such it is impossible to express a relevant conclusion in terms of efficiency in the two sectors, as the ineffectiveness of an organisation is not entirely influenced by its ownership.

Malawi needs to be a player in the global economy and in order to do that, policy makers need to initiate collective reflection at all costs, in anticipation in the public sector’s performance. Decisionmakers should create more efficient economic programmes to anticipate future social-economic changes. Also, regarding the public sector, key decision makers must find a way to better communicate the final results and the measurable impact on the performance of the public sector.

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While recognising that the public sector is not the same as the private sector, Malawi needs to find ways to increase the performance of the public sector. Achieving efficiency in the public sector is not an easy thing to do. The issue of public sector efficiency is an issue that government have to face.

Public sector efficiency and effectiveness will only be possible if public officials and servants are the focus. The optimal dimensioning of the public sector’s management and staff is the starting point for obtaining real performances that have an impact over the private sector (which also contributes to the state budget with taxes and may lead to increasing the state’s revenue).

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