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Back | Programme Area: Governance

Efficiency, Accountability and Implementation: Public Sector Reform in East and Southern Africa



Five questions central to public sector reform in East and Southern Africa, and consistent with their proclaimed thrust, are addressed in this paper:

Has the size of government employment changed since the mid-1980s?
Have government functions become more focused on “core” activities, such as health and education, during this period?
Have real wage levels changed?
Has accountability improved?
Who supports and who opposes reform?

The study includes—in varying degrees of detail—Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is based on available literature, on interviews with and papers by civil servants directly involved in the reform, and on my research on Tanzania and Uganda. The focus is on civil service reform although certain aspects of local government reform are considered. Both domestic and external actors are included in the analyses.

Reform efforts in the region have so far produced mixed results. Employment levels and government consumption have tended to decrease across the region, although far from uniformly. Real public employment wages may have stopped falling and wages may even have risen in a couple of countries. A larger share of total expenditures is now used for wages, but this may have negative effects on efficiency because non-wage expenditures remain significantly underfunded. Health and education expenditures in real per capita terms have risen in some—but not all—countries. Military funding trends are also mixed. Accountability measures, such as performance-based contracts, Citizen’s Charters, public complaint mechanisms and service delivery surveys, are being introduced on a selective basis. It is too early to assess actual outcomes, but these depend as much on political factors as on managerial arrangements. Support for the reforms remains mixed, as can be expected with reforms that result in mixed, uncertain or unequally distributed benefits.

There are several implications of this. First, fiscally driven reductions of state employment and functions have gone too far and have not led to general and significant efficiency and accountability improvements. Second, too little attention has been given to the political dynamics of reform. Not all reform resistance is due to entrenched self-interest of state elites. It is also caused by the mixed—and sometimes severely negative—results of the reform. Third, donors are heavily involved in the reform (through conditionalities, funding and technical advice), but their track record suggests that they have no privileged knowledge about how to solve public sector performance problems in the region. This points to a final implication: the lack of attention to and understanding of the “ground level” of the public sector. From a broader efficiency and accountability point of view, a better understanding of the interactions between government agencies at various levels and urban, village and community-based groups is particularly relevant.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Feb 2001
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8186
    From: UNRISD