Performance agreements go public

Citizens can now keep a track of the state’s performance as the government makes agreements between ministries public

Performance agreements go public

Last month, the Government of Pakistan made the document stating performance agreements with the ministries public, for the citizens to keep track of the state’s performance. Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that the government would ensure that all the promises made to the citizens for effective service delivery were met. Is this something we have heard for the first time or just another rosy promise by a politician?

The performance agreements have been the talk of the town. They are being discussed in newspapers columns, on TV and among the academia. Much has been said already, however, the debate continues to grow interesting mostly after the public has access to the agreements document. Here is an opportunity to look into the process and implementation rather than just listening to what is being said on the media.

Yearly performance objectives were already discussed and shared with the public and government in the ministry year books (most of the year books are available online on the ministry websites). These yearbooks detail the implementation of previous years’ objectives and that too in an organisation-wise fashion. A prominent demerit is that these yearbooks present a reactive picture. It is still a source of information on the performance of state units working under various ministries. The performance agreements document goes a step ahead and takes a pro-active stance.

Theoretically speaking, the performance management has three main ingredients, according to Van Dooren, Bouckaert and Halligan‘s, (2010) framework, the measurement of performance, its use and the incorporation of performance information. The documentation of goals is one form of incorporation. The other obvious incorporation strategy is performance meetings with the ministerial staff and Cabinet. The prime minister’s Performance Agreement Plan tends to take performance measurement (defining goals and objectives) and incorporation quite seriously and does a great job at it. However, the use of measured performance for accountability seems to be beyond the plan although one of the six key pillars of governance reforms was transforming governance towards better accountability, empowerment and service delivery. Accountability being one of the key pillars should have gotten the right attention. A PIDE seminar on the topic highlighted the question: what if an organisation working under a ministry refuses to implement the objectives they are assigned based on the performance contract? What will happen to them? Linking the sanctions or rewards clearly with the defined objectives and agreements would have been beneficial.

The prime minister’s reform team working on this document continued to highlight that goal documentation would lead to accountability on performance and that’s all they have planned for now. Well, this might be a key step for measurement and incorporation of Performance Management Systems (PMS), but does it really ensure performance-based accountability? One did not find evidence of this in the recently published research by Zahra and Bouackert in the International Journal of Public Sector Management. Their empirical evidence from the state organisations stated that performance contract and the goal documentation improve the use of measured performance for steering and control on the way and also learning from the mistakes and successes but the performance-based accountability needs strategic steps linked with performance-based rewards and sanctions.

Another aspect absent from the document is the management of performance in inter-organisational settings, ministries and the organisations working under them. The Prime Minister’s Office has entered into agreements with ministries on behalf of all the organisations working under the respective ministries. Now, the ministries should step forward to elaborate the ways they will get the work done in collaboration with the relevant departments, autonomous bodies and public companies.

Meanwhile, there is lack of cooperation from the autonomous bodies to deal with, as highlighted in the PIDE talk. It needs to be clear that the key idea behind granting autonomy was to ‘let the managers manage’ while ensuring that they are held accountable on performance (read Moynihan, 2006; Lægreid & Verhoest, 2010) when the world shifted to the creation of autonomous bodies in the public sector with the prevalence of New Public Management Reforms. Being granted autonomy does not exclude them from the cycle of accountability though control related to the procedures needs to be curtailed.

Various units of the state have to work in coordination; be it the ministerial staff or the organisations working under them. The Peer Review Committee (PRC) and the National Information Technology Board (NITB) online portal are necessary steps towards coordination and collaborative governance at the level of ministries. Taking it further is crucial; since the organisations working under ministries have to cooperate with the ministerial staff. Meanwhile, ministries have to involve the key actors from the organisations working under them in PRCs for the goal development and the strategies for the implementation. Not taking them already in the PRC’s and coming up with the yearly performance plans has initiated resentment across the autonomous organisations which will certainly hinder the implementation of such agreements. The government should have reflected on this earlier; if not taken already, state organisations key staff should be invited to the forthcoming review meetings. All employees of the state organisations should cooperate with the ministries for effective performance management and service and optimising network governance.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Department of Governance and Global Studies,      Information Technology University, Lahore

Performance agreements go public