Published on July 26th, 2016 | by admin0
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED AND WHAT NOW?
THE SECOND ROUND OF MINISTERIAL PERFORMANCE AGREEMENTS SHOWS MARKED IMPROVEMENTS, BUT MANY QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE SYSTEM, WRITES BRILLIANT MABHENA
The Harambee Prosperity Plan that has become the politico-economic and governance guide to Namibia’s prosperous future clearly states that by the end of each financial year, a new set of ministerial performance agreements should have been signed. Last year, the performance agreements were only completed by November, leaving Ministers only a few months to meet their targets. This year, they were a bit faster, though still late – on July 12, more than two months after deadline, this year’s agreements finally materialised.
LAST YEAR’S RESULTS
Before analysing the new agreements, it would be useful to know how well the old ones worked, and to see whether government took any lessons from the first attempt. To assess how the ministries were managing the targets they had set, Insight selected a few goals that would be easy to confirm from each ministry’s agreement and asked how they had performed. Many of the Ministries that responded actually did well, showing they were on the right track, with some exceeding the targets they had set in their initial agreements. The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, for example, claims to have exceeded their target of land acquired for resettlement purposes by a considerable amount. The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) appears to have done a similarly good job – where the performance agreement stated that by 31 March 2016 the ministry should have provided 12,000 households with subsidised inputs for rain-fed crop production, MAWF claims that by that date 45,729 households had benefited from the Dry-Land Crop Production Programme. However, we still lack the information to assess whether the performance agreements worked in their first year of implementation. Only ten ministries responded to the questions we sent them, despite having weeks to respond. In April this year, media reported that President Hage Geingob would release the ranked performance evaluation results of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries for the 2015/16 financial year by the end of May 2016. It is not clear whether this report has been done or not. Without it, we cannot answer the most pressing questions about this system. Did the task prove too much to handle for the Ministers? Were the ministers too ambitious in setting their targets? Perhaps there was inadequate prioritisation of objectives and performance measures, leading to some performance agreements containing too many objectives and performance measures. What then should be done? Trying to get an official response from the designated offices has proven difficult. After receiving confirmation that our questions had been received, Insight received no further answers to numerous emails sent and follow-up calls made.
A study done by the Public Service Commission of South Africa in 2009 on the ‘Analysis of Performance Agreements as an Effective Performance Management Tool’ revealed that, “the development and signing of Performance Agreements (PAs) does not in itself lead to effective performance. Managers need to consciously integrate PAs into their day to day management practices and processes, and use them to promote a culture of accounting for performance. Failure to do this raises the risk that once PAs have been entered into, they will simply be put away in dormant files and perhaps only be pulled out when annual performance assessments are conducted.” The new set of performance agreements, however, give a glimmer of hope at first glance. Firstly, the agreements are now easily accessible online, which is a tremendous improvement over last year’s limited access and a real sign of progress in terms of transparency. Ministries have done a lot better in sticking to a consistent format for their contracts, and the adding of weights for different categories is also welcome. In addition, it seems many ministries have learned their lesson from overpromising last year, and several have reduced targets or changed timelines. While the new goals might sound less exciting in some cases, they are achievable. Finally, the agreements are aligned with the Harambee Prosperity Plan. Whatever one thinks of this plan, it is crucial that all targets are coordinated and focused, so this is a good move. Overall, the agreements seem more thoroughly conceptualised, more professional, and more consistent. However, once looked at more critically, some issues still need to be ironed out, such as figures and data being inserted which are sometimes not realistic and other times not clear. The Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare still reference figures that have no clear indication as to what they mean exactly. Meanwhile, a number of targets seem to be repeated from last year, such as the Gender Ministry’s target to sensitise a specific number of community members on gender-based violence. It is unclear whether the goal has been carried over due to nonperformance over the last year, or whether the programme is simply continuing after success in 2015. The missing report from President Hage Geingob thus does not only affect our ability to assess last year’s performances, but our understanding of this year’s targets.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The signing of the performance agreements is one of the more commendable initiatives introduced by President Hage Geingob. The administration of this initiative, despite improvements, still leaves a lot to be desired. Coupling these agreements with other instruments of accountability such as the Public Service Commission Act, could make them more manageable instead of having them trying to capture every responsibility at once and being ineffective at the end of the day. There is a need to know to what the consequences are for those who did not do well with the performance targets last year and for those who did a good job. In the real world, performance targets and agreements are mechanisms to assess someone’s fit to hold office – in other words, they serve to either reward or penalize. The Ministerial Performance Agreements do not appear to incorporate this critical consideration. Perhaps these agreements just serve to encourage better performance. Performance agreements have the potential to be a useful management tool, but the most important ingredient for their success is political will. Though some political will has been shown here, this needs to be worked on more as it could help go a long way in terms of performance improvement. That said, the official review report on the first round of performance targets needs to be publicly released as a matter of urgency. At stake is government’s claim of improved accountability. Proceeding with new targets while it is unclear to what extent the old targets have been achieved or rolled over does not sound sensible. We thus call on the offices of the President and Prime Minister to release the review report on the first batch of ministerial performance agreements.