• Monday, June 24, 2024
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E-government and public sector responsiveness

E-government and public sector responsiveness

Have you ever written letters to public institutions, tried contacting agencies of governments through the official “contact us” on their websites or social media handles, or even submitted hard copy letters hoping they would respond to you? From my experience, only a few agencies of governments respond, while a few friendly ones will tell you to “do follow up.” Meaning you should never expect any official reply to your letter unless you follow up in “two weeks.” The idea of public service delivery becomes defunct when citizens cannot have easy access to information and systems that enable them to communicate their needs, opinions, and suggestions to governments and their agents. Given the efficiency challenges faced by the Nigerian Postal Service, the primary agency that should have provided a cost-effective correspondence service for state-owned institutions, digital responses via email correspondence become a sustainable and cost-effective alternative, yet most MDAs hardly maintain digital correspondence desks.

In a rapidly evolving digital era where citizens transact through swift and automated technologies, citizens want governments to deliver more responsive, affordable, and innovative public service to the people. When you consider this emerging reality, you will no doubt know that the future, which started yesterday, needs a different model of public service delivery and responsiveness to social demands—an efficient public service delivery that runs twenty-four hours to meet the needs of human life at the speed of light. Hence, as we review the one year in office of Mr. President and some state governors, we must do so bearing in mind the question of who reviews the efficiency of civil servants and non-elected public officials in delivering timely and useful responses and services to the general public. Those responsible for providing public goods and services must respond to citizens’ needs in good time, and such responses should be consistent with citizens’ requests and demands.

In order to achieve the purpose for which the state and government exist, the next generation of government must be reliable, responsive, fast, and closer to the people in providing for their needs through a flow of ease in citizen-public official interactions. To create such future public service efficiency, emerging civil servants and public officials must appreciate the role of government in a different way from what we know our government to be today. The next generation of public sector leaders must understand that the government must be available, innovative, and digital to satisfy public demands. Since almost every human transaction is now successfully switched to smart systems, the services of governments and their agents must swiftly switch to digital too, in order to be available to everyone, everywhere. Public services must be connected, integrated, and made convenient for citizens to follow through without long hours of physical presence, necessitating long hours of trips and waiting in queues.

The next generation of civil servants and public officials is required to provide premium service to the general public. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum set the goal that “we want our government to welcome customers more professionally than hotels; we want our government to manage processes better than banks.” This requires that public institutions hire citizens who are public and people-oriented, excellence-driven, and ready to provide them with the convenience and economic dignity that will enable them to do their work professionally.

If almost all sectors of private enterprises are open for twenty-four hours, the next generation of governments and their agents must deliver efficient and effective public services for twenty-four hours. Our government cannot afford to go on 5 p.m. closure, knowing that the function of the government is to secure the life and social wellbeing of every citizen, irrespective of what time of the day or night the “wellbeing” is needed. Human needs require round-the-clock solutions, and so does the role of government. But leaders cannot effectively be there for the people unless they are empathic to their plight. Governance should be more about how leaders connect to the needs, pain, and joy of citizens than how they want people to understand their excuses, incompetence, and failures.

Perhaps the more important route to achieving public sector responsiveness is public sector openness and transparency. We can start with questions on how accessible agencies and state audit reports are. How open and up-to-date are the audit legal framework and the effectiveness of state assemblies and local government legislative bodies to review reports of governance at the subnational and local government levels? Again and again, our collective attention seems to be fixed on the activities of the federal government alone, thereby leaving the subnational and local governments unaccountable. The next generation of civil servants and public officials has a duty to know that the beginning of openness in governance is a culture that recognises that there is no shame or foolishness in openness and transparency, even when it is inconvenient. It does not matter if it is at the lowest level; we need responsiveness and accountability from every level of leadership.

Government agencies must rejig their systems to ensure that their departments and staff are well trained with emerging governance skills and responsiveness to public demands. This requires them to respond efficiently and effectively to people’s real needs. If smaller organisations can send regular newsletters to people on their mailing list, government agencies have no excuse not to use digital channels to reach citizens about government policies, strategies, programmes, activities, and resource utilisation. This requires a Nigerian bureaucratic system that is truly responsive, sensitive, sympathetic, and able to relate to the needs of citizens within a reasonable timeframe. This will be the easiest way to build public trust, confidence, and public participation in government processes.

Ekpa, Stanley Ekpa a lawyer and leadership consultant wrote via [email protected]