The success and survival of new local governance
system depends upon its ability to deliver to the public. Instead of
statistical juggling that has been a hallmark of our politicians and
bureaucrats, people need physical and tangible services in the community
they belong. Recent failure of civic life in Karachi due to monsoon
rains is a stark reminder to our leadership that all is not well, and
actions speak louder than words.
Pakistan's local governance reforms have been bold in
terms of their scale, and speed of implementation. Introduced in August
2001, it will be premature to comment on these reforms on the extent and
volume of public concern reflected in the media. Part of this concern
comes from vested interests (e.g. bureaucracy that has been deprived of
its absolute powers), and is partly due to the fact that newly elected
councils are getting used to new rules of business. Some
inter-departmental functional details are being fine-tuned, and with the
exception of police department's performance, people in general are 'not
unhappy' with the new system. This state of being 'not unhappy' is an
achievement, as we see new system having overthrown the ancient rule of
bureaucracy, a legacy of British Raj in India.
A creation of National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB),
the new system is aimed to produce good governance and quality
management practices in local communities. Under the devolution of power
plan, traditional system has been subjected to drastic changes, and all
departments have undergone or are in the process of restructure for
greater efficiency. This means better services to local community by
curtailing red-tape, nepotism, and duplication and avoidance of
responsibilities in housing, public health engineering, transport,
public safety and other departments.
In contrast to private enterprise where it is common
to gauge performance of projects, and human resource etc to improve
overall business health, performance measurement is a relatively new
concept in public sector. Our definition of performance measurement will
be different in the framework of local governance, because of
differences in evaluation criteria and strategic objectives. In local
governance, public satisfaction instead of volume of earnings is a
relevant criterion. The success of new system will be gauged by the
outputs i.e. services delivered, and whether those services made a
difference in everyday life of ordinary citizens.
A performance measure or indicator can be as simple
as measuring actual expenditures with the budget allocated for a
project, and can be as complex as gauging satisfaction level of local
youth with employment opportunities in the area. Besides tracking and
improving performance, performance measurement is also useful due to its
focus on goals, legal compliance and social responsibility. However its
cost must not exceed the anticipated benefits. Pakistan is a poor
country and cannot afford to spend huge payoffs for so-called
consultants and expensive dossier studies. In practical terms, some
benefits can be hard to quantify or may be too far to make a realistic
We can use two types of performance indicators to
gauge the effectiveness of new local regime i.e. corporate
effectiveness, and community satisfaction. Corporate effectiveness deals
with the effective and efficient utilization of scarce resources
available, to achieve time-bound goals in different departments e.g.
education, employment, sanitation, public safety, industry etc.
Community satisfaction deals with the actual feedback by local citizens
about the level and quality of services being delivered. There is a
greater need to benchmark performance standards across different
departments, and a periodic review to track progress of corporate
effectiveness and community satisfaction. Annual plans for each
department may need to be customized in terms of specific local needs,
size of community, and diversity in cost and services.
As a rule, a performance measure should relate to
strategic goals of the department being managed. A simple and
understandable measure is always easy to collect and analyze. It should
be quantifiable as a number, ratio or a percentage and be an integral
part of the departmental objectives e.g. unemployment ratio in the youth
between 20 and 30, or the number of crimes in a particular area per
month etc. It should always be linked to a standard or benchmark e.g.
for the next fiscal year, our target is to improve female primary school
enrolment rate from current 40% to 60% etc. It should be focused on
community service and welfare, and opportunity cost must be kept in mind
while deciding about allocation of finance and other resources e.g.
trade off between building a primary school and renovation of municipal
committee building etc. There should be a regular feedback mechanism
through which genuine citizens and not the toadies of establishment can
express their candid opinion about pros and cons of new initiatives.
Performance measures should be periodically reviewed to track if the
system is moving in the right direction at the right pace, and if any
corrective action is necessary at certain level?
Besides human resource development in local
governance (that I have discussed in a previous article), there is also
a need to improve financial reporting in the local government
organizations. As a practice, departments do not accurately report a
significant portion of their assets, liabilities and costs. Some of
these inaccuracies are intra-departmental and affect the performance of
one department only, whereas many such as intra-departmental
transactions affect the overall government. No wonder that the local
government institutions are generally unable to correctly measure full
cost of a project and in the absence of financial monitoring, cannot
manage the performance of its programs. Many such departments do not
have timely, correct and practical financial information. As a
consequence, they lack sound controls with which to make informed
decisions and to ensure accountability as a continuous process.
There is a multitude of benefits associated with a
systematic recording, analysis and review of financial performance data.
Good financial reporting will result in good financial management, which
is vital to offer viable and spotless services to the community. It will
help in controlling government expenditures, in setting fiscal
performance benchmarks, and in improving the efficacy and productivity
of different projects. NRB's new local government system should make it
mandatory to produce auditable financial statements by all concerned
departments under its administration. It may involve installation of a
suitable financial accounting system at all levels, and prohibition of
The development of suitable performance measure will
be a trial and error process in Pakistani scenario where we do not have
a history of accountability and audit. There may be a frequent need to
fine-tune this system over time with an aim to make it more viable, cost
effective, transparent and capable to deliver. Monitoring and reviewing
performance measures entails a culture of continuous improvement and
acceptance, and demands from us a blend of sincerity, competence and
commitment. The NRB has set the ball into motion. It will be useful to
help them improve this system with a constructive frame of mind.
Jawad S. Naqvi is a human resource practitioner in
Lahore, Pakistan. He may be reached at email@example.com