Nile View: Managing Egypt

Since the January 25 Revolution three years ago, we have witnessed five changes of government, yet citizens are still complaining about government performance in general. What is it that other nations do, and do well, that Egyptians can learn from?

Egypt is going through a transition period marked by political turmoil and major economic difficulties. Since the January 25 Revolution three years ago, we have witnessed five changes of government, yet citizens are still complaining about government performance in general. When President Mubarak stepped down, many people thought most of their problems would be solved overnight. Expectations were very high. Much attention has been directed to fundamental questions such as writing a constitution and reviving the parliament. Meanwhile, many core services have deteriorated, including education, health care, policing, and traffic control. Indeed, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, Egypt ranked last in primary education, and 118th among 148 countries in higher education and training. Meanwhile, according to a World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators data report, Egypt government effectiveness decreased significantly in 2012, as compared to 2007, registering declines in public trust in government and perceptions of quality of government services.

What is it that other nations do, and do well, that Egyptians can learn from? On top of the list is managing for results, or performance management. This was the core of what is known as New Public Management (NPM), a concept that gained attention starting in the mid-1980s. Governments realized that the way forward is to abandon the rigid bureaucratic ways of administering work, with the excessive focus on procedures and rules, the extreme internal perspective on implementation of policies, and authority limited to spending money. Instead, as NPM envisioned it, governments and government officials should be accountable for results achieved, adopt a strategic perspective to managing their affairs with an eye always on the external environment, consider how to generate additional resources, and introduce greater management flexibility.

Recently in Egypt, in a debate about the draft constitution, supporters argued that the public should approve the document simply because the drafting committee had expended a lot of effort in the write-up. Similarly, the new constitution determined specific percentages for government expenditure on education and health. These moves reflect a type of thinking against current trends of public management. What really counts is the final product—the actual constitution, the quality of education and health services—and the outcomes and impact of government decisions. The time, effort, and money spent may matter, but is less significant.

Success stories in performance management abound. These can be found not only in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand—main contributors to the development and practice of NPM—but also more recently in India, Kenya and South Africa, to mention just a few. In the early 1990s, the United States introduced the Government Performance and Results Act and achieved positive outcomes in terms of better quality services, measurable results and more accountable government spending. In Britain in 2006, a Capability Review Program was developed as a tool to assess how government departments met their objectives. In Kenya in 2006, the Performance Contract was developed and used as a management tool to measure the performance of different government units against agreed to and negotiated performance targets. In 2008, the Scottish government started implementing the Scotland Performs reporting system to communicate government performance data to the public. In India in 2009, a Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System was developed for government departments. Each year, all agencies define their objectives and priorities and report on their achievements against predetermined measurable targets. In 2013, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, vice president of the United Arab Emirates, announced the launch of a national performance management system called Adaa, with the purpose of achieving continuous improvement in the quality of services rendered by federal government institutions.

Performance management is not without its problems and critics. Measurement is more difficult for many government activities that are shared between several organizations and entities; some activities and functions, such as work of foreign affairs ministries, are more difficult to assess than others. However, there are always ways to overcome these hurdles. So far, the strides taken by various countries around the world in focusing on results, and holding managers and officials accountable, based on results achieved, were instrumental in achieving progress in government management and in enabling governments to meet citizens’ needs and expectations. We hope that in the new Egyptian Republic, one of these days we will have a comprehensive government performance management system in place.

Laila El Baradei is the acting dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.