Dasuki I. Arabi, an engineer, is the director- general, Bureau for Public Service Reforms (BPSR). In this interview, he spoke on his efforts at building Nigeria’s public service into a highly functional, professional, customer-focused and result-oriented institution.
Since its establishment 15 years ago, what has the BPSR been doing to ensure that it delivers on its mandate?
Basically, the BPSR was created in 2004 to serve as an engine room for reforms at the federal level. We monitor, initiate, inform and evaluate reform activities in every facet of government at the federal level.
OVER 5,000 NIGERIAN MEN HAVE OVERCOME POOR BEDROOM PERFORMANCE SYNDROME DUE TO THIS BRILLIANT DISCOVERY
We publish books from results of our researches, but getting contact on our own with citizens is not possible, so we rely on the media to help us reach out to the public.
The president has signed and committed Nigerians to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), part of which is to open government to citizens by giving them access to participate in governance by allowing them to ask questions.
The BPSR was established in 2004, basically to serve as the engine room for reforms in Nigeria. Somebody may ask: why that time? From pre-independence till today there has been a lot of reforms carried out by various governments in Nigeria, but those reforms were aimed or targeted at addressing specific issues around the public or civil service. For example, Udoji was meant to address payment of salaries etc while we came as a bureau to look at the entire public service. An attempt was made to basically reform all our processes and Nigerians working in the public service.
We have initiated a lot of reform activities around the budget, procurement, tax management, civil service administration, human resource management within the service, pension, which gave birth to the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) and the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD); and quite a number of innovations have come as a result.
Apart from that, we have tried to see into the professionalism of the core cadres within the service. Some reforms are initiated by us, others are initiated by other central agencies of the government, but the BPSR still has the responsibility to monitor, evaluate and report on all reforms.
We push human resource to the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, who has the mandate of that task.
We have a coordinating document called the National Strategy on Public Service Reform, which is built around four pillars. Pillar Four is specifically looking at reforming the civil service, and the office of the Head of Service is doing a lot. They have gone further to add their transformation programme (2017-2020), which has been captured in our National Strategy Reform, and it monitors other reforms by other agencies.
But the most successes are around Pillar Three, which is dealing with public financial management, which is important because government is looking for money to implement their projects and programmes and fulfil promises made to the people.
The buy-in of government agencies has brought success stories around the PPPIS, GIMIS, TSA, IPSAS, BVN and other reforms, so transparency has increased, corruption has been reduced to the barest minimum because man-to- man contact in pursuing contract payment has reduced drastically as we are almost paperless. This has placed us at par with our development partners and in the international community.
How does the BPSR get feedback from ministries, departments and agencies?
Through the office of the Head of Service, a department was created in all the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). It is called the Department of Reforms, and is manned by directors. Members of staff deployed there serve as contact between us and the ministries, departments and agencies. They also serve as contact to parastatals that report to the MDAs.
Apart from that, we work under the supervision of a committee called Steering Committee on Reforms, which is like our board of directors. It is chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), permanent secretaries of key agencies; and parastatals are all members. At the end of the day, we produce a document called Compendium on Public Service Reforms and advise government accordingly.
How does the BPSR want to attain its vision of building an integrity and merit-based and professional public service, driven by national interest and efficient management of resources and talents?
We don’t work directly with civil servants, we work with ministries through the Head of Service, who is leading Pillar Four of the National Strategy on Public Service Reform, which has the nod on incorruptible civil servants.
Apart from that, we try to get the cadres of the service professionalised, we try to push for open governance, freedom of information, accountability and anti-corruption.
We also have a scorecard for ranking of government website, which has to do with the MDAs deploying all aspects of their activities, especially finance.
Then Pillar One of the strategic reform document is talking about enabling business environment, which focuses on getting the anti- corruption agencies supported by the government to do their work properly and critically. In this regard, we work with other anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) etc.
In achieving its mandate, how does the agency intend to initiate, coordinate and ensure full implementation of government reform policies and programmes?
Anytime there are reform initiatives, we sensitise Nigerians first before we deploy, but every activity of every agency that has to do with reform must involve the BPSR. So we support those agencies to push forward with their initiatives. We go beyond and look for the best practices they have, which we think can improve quality of service. For example, in the management of information services, we have information officers, but how professional are they? So we are also re-branding information scorecard and carrying out various trainings for such officers.
Also, the new media has changed the way we manage information.
Most civil servants resume work at 8am, some much later, and leave before 4pm, do you agree with those who believe that the service should be scrapped?
No; bureaucracy helps government to deliver. If you scrap the service you will get all the civil servants out, then how do you want to deliver that. We have such challenges but they are human; some don’t come regularly, but we have pockets of successes within the service. There are people who are dedicated to their duties.
That is why in the Bureau we are calling for a cultural reorientation of not only the public servants but Nigerians, for us to see Nigeria as our country, to have that interest and zeal to deliver service as at when due. In Rwanda, they think Rwanda first. We should look at the president and carry his model forward in all aspects of service delivery.
The Head of Service introduced a peer review mechanism in the service, where she paid visits to permanent secretaries to see what they are doing and exchange ideas.
Civil servants have a register where they clock in and out. We have pockets of people who are not dedicated, but it is not general. We have some of the most intelligent, hardworking nod dedicated Nigerians working in the public service.
Civil servants are not different from Nigerians, they are picked from the society. Civil servants are doing very well, but there is still room for improvement.
Government agencies should do capacity building for their staff, some of them don’t have skills, so we need to raise the skills of our workers.
What legacies do you want to leave behind?
I have been in the Bureau since 2008. I have been part of its history and success story. The BPSR eats and sleeps on the National Strategy for Public Service Reforms, so my target is to see that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approves the strategy and to see the full implementation of the reforms. By the time this is done, Nigerian public service will be among the best by the year 2025.
Some years ago, Nigeria was at the same level with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore etc, but regrettably, these countries have superseded us. My hope is that through my activities we will push Nigeria to be among the first 20 countries.
I am happy that I have a leadership that will support me. The SGF has been quite supportive and cooperative with our programmes, which revolve around improvement in governance, and to see that the quality of service has touched every Nigerian.
At the end of the day, I want to see that every Nigerian public servant has a change of attitude. There should also be an improvement in the quality of service delivery to Nigerians.