Close

GOVERNANCE

Covid-19 offers opportunity to reform public service by going digital

There is some silver lining in the pandemic - a chance to make public service more responsive and honest by automating it.

In Summary

• Public agencies that have been offering their services by requiring citizens to visit their physical offices have had challenges delivering on their mandates. 

• This could have been what Parliament envisioned by including a requirement under the Access to Information Act, 2016 that all public entities must computerise their records. 

A Nakuru West resident who had turned up to pay his taxes found the office chained.
NO SERVICE: A Nakuru West resident who had turned up to pay his taxes found the office chained.

Photo credit?

 

-0-

•Disruption of public services by Covid-19 has spotlighted the need to avail government services through virtual platforms as opposed to our largely analogue set-up.

• This could have been what Parliament envisioned by including a requirement under the Access to Information Act, 2016 that all public entities must computerise their records three years from when the law came into force, essentially by September 2019.

 

Today, public agencies that have been offering their services by requiring citizens to visit their physical offices have had challenges delivering on their mandates owing to the Covid-19 protocols.

In essence, the rationale for being physically in office to serve clients or receive a service has been turned on its head. The health guidelines put a strain on the existing lean public service workforce because of the directive that public officers aged 58 years and older work from home where possible.

Considering that more than 30 per cent of public servants are over 50 years and a good proportion being in top management, the negative impact of the pandemic on decision-making and ultimately services has been enormous.

Yet, despite this seemingly grim outlook for services during this pandemic, there is some silver lining for changing the course for public service that will be better equipped for the future. The history of Kenya’s public service has been blotted by inefficiency, unprofessional conduct, administrative injustice, mismanagement and corruption.

Over the years, policy and constitutional initiatives have been made to reform the service to better serve the citizens. It is in this context that the 2010 Constitution of Kenya emerged  out of the need to infuse professionalism, patriotism and citizen-focused into the public service.

The Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman) was established following the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution with the mandate of righting administrative injustice in the public sector.

The most prevalent administrative injustices hampering service delivery are unreasonable delay, discourtesy, misconduct, incompetence, misbehaviour, improper or prejudicial conduct, manifest injustice, abuse of power and unfair treatment. The Commission redresses such injustices by resolving complaints from the public.

For the past eight years, the Commission has received and processed more than half a million public complaints, with a more than 83 per cent successful resolution rate. Past attempts at transforming public service have at times fallen short due to failure to sustain gains made and improve on weaknesses identified.

This is the gap that performance contracting has sought to fill. And the Commission has been a critical player by monitoring the implementation of the indicator, ‘Resolution of Public Complaints’, by public agencies on a quarterly basis.

Within the performance contracting framework, agencies have the challenge to be innovative in meeting their customers’ needs. Perhaps these uncertain times are the right opportunity for government entities to reimagine their services and upend the traditional ways of working by digitising and automating their processes.

Since governments around the world are tackling the same challenges related to provision of services, it is prudent that our public service looks to those countries with near similar circumstances as ours to harness some useful insights on sustaining service delivery in unsettling times.

Taking government services online will mean employees can work from anywhere at any time, hence, the current arrangement of working from home will be the new normal. A well-designed and executed online system of providing services is bound to be more efficient, secureand transparent, hence, saving taxpayers' time and money.

Going forward then, deepening of ICT infrastructure coverage in the country, availing reliable internet connectivity and taking necessary measures to protect government systems from external attacks and protection of citizens’ data will be critical in evolving the public service into a fully automated digital space.

The importance of effective communication in a time of crisis like the current one cannot be gainsaid. Clear, brief, and empathetic communication emanating from government agencies is critical in minimising the negative impacts of the pandemic on service delivery and the attendant anxiety it visits on those unable to access certain services.

Kajuju is the chairperson of the Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman)