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Administrative reform

Service orientation and transparency

by Tom Pätz, Günther Taube
Ethiopia has been implementing new structures in its public service since the beginning of the 1990s. Initially, functional issues were the main concern but it has become apparent that the conduct of civil servants requires the most urgent attention. [ By Günther Taube and Tom Pätz ]

After many years of civil war, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) moved to Addis Ababa in 1991 and toppled the regime of socialist military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. He fled to Zimbabwe. Economic development and reforming Ethiopia’s public administration have been given a high priority since then.

During the socialist military dictatorship (1974 to 1991), the legal framework for the public service remained largely unchanged from when it was as introduced under imperial rule (see text box). The Mengistu regime, however, changed the structure of the government, creating new ministries, commissions, agencies and local administrative bodies. Within a few years, the number of civil servants effectively doubled – from around 100,000 to over 200,000. Military officers took over leadership positions all the way down to the lowest levels. A “military administration” was established, which helped to boost their power, control the population and support the fight against the EPRDF and the Eritrean independence fighters.

When the EPRDF took over the government at the beginning of the 1990s, they did not want to reform the administration at first. Of uppermost importance to them was a smoothly functioning state apparatus which could implement their ideas for development. From 1991 to 1996, the focus during the first phase of reform was essentially on structural adjustment, with economic liberalisation and structural reforms in the public sector. The World Bank and the IMF, in particular, acted as advisors. Staffing levels in the public service were cut by 10%.

However, public sector services did not improve much. Ethiopia had a small apparatus as it was, with approximately four civil servants per 1000 inhabitants. By comparison, African countries had 30 on average at this time, while Germany had 56 public servants per 1000 citizens. Obviously the new government’s main concern was to lay off the cadres of the military government.

From 1996 to 2000, in the second phase of reform, it was evident that the public service still had to undergo extensive reforms in order to acquire an effective administration. The Civil Service Reform Program developed during this phase involved amending the legal framework, standardizing structures and processes and training staff. This reform was based very closely on the new public management model, which was being discussed around the globe. Progress was made in the system of public finances and with shaping the legislative framework for the public service.

During the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, there was tension between the different wings of the EPRDF, but the group led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gained the upper hand with their aim of leading the country away from state socialism and towards state transformation by implementing liberal reforms. The head of government gave up concentrating on the details and created more ministries, agencies and other implementing organizations at federal level. At the same time, the regional governments took over more responsibility which strengthened the federal system.

However, this differentiation did not make the reform process any easier. On the contrary: the citizens’ expectations of the regional and local administration increased.

The third phase of reform began in autumn 2001. The newly formed Ministry of Capacity Building (MoCB) is now responsible for further changes in the public service. Meanwhile, civil service reform offices have been set up at federal and regional level. Donors want to support them but they do not coordinate their activities and therefore hamper the effectiveness of the entire programme. So in May 2003, the Public Sector Capacity Building Program, with which the MoCB was to coordinate Ethiopian efforts and the various donor programmes, was initiated. The reforms have been implemented since 2005.

15 years of progress

The reform of the public service in Ethiopia has made good progress within the last 15 years. Weaknesses from previous political systems have been overcome or at least reduced. Capacity to implement the government programmes has been built or increased, and service orientation, transparency and accountability of the civil service has been improved.

On top of that, gender issues are taken into account in the civil service today. Ethnic equality is also supported, which is a huge step forward for Ethiopia. Furthermore, there is less corruption and nepotism. The legal framework of the public service is by and large consistent.

Measures to train staff as part of capacity building programmes at federal and regional level have also made their impact felt. Meanwhile, Ethiopian social scientists also engage in these types of issues and offer the government advice.

Nevertheless, there are still many challenges to tackle in the next few years. There is general agreement that the conduct of the 300,000 public servants – a quarter of whom are women – has to change above all. It was already apparent back in 2005 that the much criticized poor performance of the administration is due to the attitude and behaviour of civil servants. A survey of managers showed that although many officials and salaried employees have adequate technical qualifications, they lack the soft skills required to deal with uncertainties and conflicting interests constructively and to enable them to shape change processes.

Most Ethiopian officials continue to behave the same way they are used to from the traditional informal context. However, service-oriented administrations expect more; the ability to interact with citizens and business in a flexible manner while abiding by the rules and regulations, for example.

A professional development programme for managers in the public sector, which was implemented with the help of Capacity Building International (InWEnt), has shown that the participants themselves want changes in attitude. Their performance can be improved in practice. This is proven by the fact that the training material developed for the central government as well as selected regional governments was quickly adapted by other regional governments, who were not part of the programme. They started using the material for their own training measures.