Over the past few days, The Government of Ghana announced changes in portfolios especially at the Presidency. One portfolio that caught the attention of many Ghanaians (and rightly so) is the appointment of Dr. Valerie Sawyerr to head a Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU) . It would appear that this is in fulfilment of President John Mahama’s promise in 2012 of establishing what was at the time called a “Policy and Delivery Unit” at the Presidency which was to be charged with “monitoring, reporting and taking corrective action on this Government’s number one policy priority, the creation of stable, well paid, jobs”. However, since the announcement, it would appear that critics of government have taken umbrage in our ‘politics-as-usual’ way, heaped opprobrium on the Presidency. I guess it is important to establish that there has been always been a policy monitoring mechanism at the Presidency to ensure that governments deliver not just on campaign promises but also on key priorities of government as captured in key policy documents. This framework, as far as I know, was central to the tenure of President Kufour (Office of Accountability) and also existed during the tenure of the late Prof JEA Mills (Policy Monitoring & Evaluation Unit). Indeed, one of the highlights of President John Mahama’s first days was the appointment of a renowned policy expert, Dr. Sulley Gariba, as Senior Policy Advisor to the President. Therefore from Mrs. Chinery-Hesse, Dr. Tony Aidoo to Dr. Sulley Gariba, there has always been a centralized mechanism for monitoring the delivery on key sectors of our economy. Whether these mechanisms have been effective or not is another matter.
It is the reason why in this write-up, I intend to walk away from the politics out there to the core issues that this mechanism should address if it is to be made an effective tool for the delivery of quality services to the citizens of Ghana.
Let me begin my mentioning that over the past decade or so, countries have established Delivery Units as a means of driving performance improvements in critical service delivery areas and ensuring effective implementation of domestic policy priorities towards the attainment of tangible and significant results on the ground. Alessandro et al (2014) establish that one of the first examples of a dedicated centre of government Delivery Unit was the UK Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU) established by Tony Blair in 2001 under the leadership of Sir Michael Barber. The PMDU was tasked with ensuring that the Prime Minister’s domestic policy priorities were implemented effectively so that they achieved tangible performance improvements and significant results on the ground.
In some other countries, these Units were created centrally, often under the auspices of Presidents and Prime Ministers, and within line Ministries to focus on delivery in specific sectors. Indeed, Todd (2012) suggests that a Delivery Unit is an approach (emphasis mine) to results-driven performance that is aimed at:
• Shifting the focus of national level discussions and policy announcements from the allocation of funds and implementation of activities to the attainment of results.
• Addressing the lack of clarity as to the practical steps needed to turn national policy commitments into tangible outcomes
• Correcting the lack of coherence in sharing responsibilities for the implementation of policy priorities that cut across the remit of Ministries to ensure accountability in performance delivery
• Ensuring quality of service delivery once responsibility is devolved to local and sub-national levels.
• Tackling the general tendency in the civil service to focus on processes and procedures rather than results. This is due to the fact that in some areas of the civil service, there is also little sense of urgency to make a positive difference as compared to the compressed time frames within which Ministers are in post and expected to deliver results, and
• Dealing with the lack of local level understanding of national commitments which leads the failure of implementing agencies to deliver on the intended results of new initiatives
Although many countries have implemented the approach in various forms, Malaysia has been touted as having one of the most successful adaptations of the Delivery Unit approach. The Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) was established as a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department in 2009. In order to attain its mandate, the PEMANDU publicized its transformation plans, invited critical comment and catalyzed a results-based culture across the country. In order to attain this, the two key innovations introduced by PEMANDU included the creation of ‘Delivery Labs’ to bring together a range of key stakeholders and experts to work intensively to draw up detailed, practical solutions to delivery issues and the holding of Open Days to communicate the government’s change programme and gain citizen ownership. The PEMANDU also made efforts to promote its approach and methods internationally, holding seminars that were attended by current and potential partners and countries that were willing to learn from their experience. These international awareness-raising efforts led directly to Tanzania’s adoption of the ‘Malaysian approach’ in February 2013 with the launch of its ‘Big Results Now!’ programme.
What would make Ghana’s Presidential Delivery Unit work?
If Ghana wants this approach to deliver on development objectives, we may have to take a cue from the experiences of countries that have gone along the same path. Indeed, Alesandro et al (2014) in undertaking a study for the Inter-American Development Bank for performance delivery in Latin America and the Carribean made suggestions for adaptation by governments that want to establish this mechanism. If Ghana wants to make its mechanism deliver, the President might want to consider some of these suggestions including empowering the PDU to:
• Create a secretariat or program management office that is focused on achieving results.
• Design and use analytical tools to inform decision-making. This might mean conducting an assessment of the human resource available at the Unit and taking effective steps to capacitate or overhaul the Unit.
• Establish stronger links with the delivery system, including local governments.
• Invest more attention in learning from what works, and what does not work and seeking collective approaches towards remedying what is not working. In order to do this, it is important for Unit not to strike a good balance between its policing and learning and accountability objectives. Any attempt by Dr. Sawyerr and her team to emphasize one over the other might not attain the needed results.
• Take practical steps to increase citizen engagement in the process so that value-for-money is demanded
• Ensure that the Unit is adequately resourced and that these resources (human and non-human) are focused on a limited number of key priorities that are clearly defined. There should be clear leadership so that these priorities are understood and can be articulated across the delivery system. In doing so the PDU must develop a strong link between key priorities and resources so that adequate budgets are available to support each priority.
• Focus on developing a clear understanding of citizen-centred outcomes so that key priorities are viewed from the perspective of what is achieved at the level of individual citizens rather than what government spends or what services do. This will involve shifting the focus of Ministries from what I call the “Ya Yor” syndrome to the ‘Enti di3n’ mentality. To wit, we need to move away from the implementation-oriented ‘We-Have-Done-It’ mentality to a results-driven “So-What” approach. We need to start asking the critical “so-what” question till we hit our intended impact.
• Regularly collect quality data to measure what matters. This must be done without imposing excessive cost or burden on front-line workers in the process. The PDU must ensure that data is analyzed and used regularly to inform decision-making and hold the delivery system to account.
• Use regular data as the basis for establishing effective performance management routines. Baseline data, benchmarks and other relevant information should be used to produce mutually agreed targets which are both realistic and achievable. What this means is that there must be regular monthly, quarterly and six monthly routines to review progress to ensure continued focus on delivery. As is being practised by some institutions like the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, forums, comprising focal persons from the various ministries and agencies need to be established to review progress and ensure that the appropriate people are held accountable for results.
• Actively engage relevant stakeholders in analyzing delivery issues and owning outcomes. What it means is Dr. Sawyerr and her team must work closely with all relevant stakeholders in designing corrective measures if gaps are identified. Some of the methods would include regularly publishing performance data, plans and targets and soliciting feedback so as to enhance citizens’ engagement and ownership of service delivery. Care must also be taken by the PDU not to take seek credit for success but instead ensure that acclaim is received by the relevant department and service providers. This could incentivize other departments and agencies to perform.
• Assist Government and her implementing agencies to strike the right balance between planning and delivery.
• Play an effective support and challenge function and add real value to Ministries by working collaboratively to build capacity and solving problems if they are to play a successful role in achieving outcomes. The Unit needs to gain the respect and trust of Ministries and act as an amplifier of the authority of the Office of The President rather than seeking to impose their own. Units which establish an adversarial relationship with Ministries are destined to fail and,
• Develop an effective marketing/communications strategy. A key function of a delivery unit is to rapidly engender change and reform to ‘turn around’ a perceived decline in standards of service delivery. To do this entails engaging multiple stakeholders and creating in them both the belief that things can change and the willingness to engage in change. This in turn means that significant effort has to be put into publicizing the work, and eventually the successes, of relevant Departments.
According to Barber et al. (2011) and the World Bank (2010), experiences from other places have brought to the fore certain essential features that have made the approach deliver results in other places. These features which Dr. Valerie Sawyerr might want to consider include:
• Establishing a structure that is small and which acts as an extension of the office that established it. In other words, Dr. Sawyerr’s outfit needs to be selective in choosing the best staff. We do not need a large office that ends up replicating some of the structures and functions which they are supposed to performance-manage.
• Courting the commitment of Government from the very top in order to change behaviour and improve outcomes. The experiences from other places adduce the failure of DUs to this apparent lack of commitment from the very top. What it means for us in Ghana is that the DU must have the authority to act so that leaders at all levels are held accountable for results. It is not okay to assume that since the unit has been established by the Presidency, it would automatically have the support of the establishment. Precisely because of its role, the Unit must consciously make efforts to always have other sectors and players understand its mandate and cooperate with it.
• Establishing a direct line of communication to the President and must be located outside the system’s line-management hierarchy. The argument is that if Ghana’s PDU has a line management relationship with the people whom it is trying to influence or those with direct delivery responsibility then this can compromise the nature of its advice, influence and effectiveness. There needs to be a strong connection and understanding between the PDU and the Presidency in order for the delivery system to view and respect the Unit as a direct extension of the President’s authority.
• Establishing a direct link with the Policy Monitoring and Evaluating Units of the various ministries in order to be effective.
Food for Thought
It is important to note that part of the criticism of the new arrangement stems purely from the changes in the names of the mechanism. From a policy perspective it gives a semblance of not being clear about what the Unit ought to be doing. In fairness, critics have a point and Government must accept this. From an Organisation Development and planning perspective, Government should be advised to put a lot of thought into clarifying what it wants such a unit to achieve. What the unit delivers and the impact it makes on us is more important than what the entity is called.
For the PDU to perform optimally, it must insulate itself from the Communication machinery of Government. Government must make its own arrangements to propagate what it has achieved and not see the PDU as an extension of its communication outfit. The Unit must only be a tool for ensuring accountability and improvement in service delivery through feedback and learning.
Lastly, we cannot overemphasize the fact that the intended impact of Dr. Sawyerr and her team will be jettisoned if the Presidency does not show real commitment in providing the support the unit needs in order to deliver.
In conclusion, I want to acknowledge that these ideas may not be new and other stakeholders may have articulated them even better than my good self. What I am seeking to is to add my little voice to the discussions for the good of Mother Ghana. In making this modest contribution, I am taking a leaf and some inspiration from what the Burmese Nobel Prize laureate and international icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, told her audience in a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School in September 2012. She said, “We have just started on the road toward shaping our country into the kind of nation that we want it to be. We want to start out by creating a responsible society. … Freedom and responsibility are different sides of the same coin.”
We have a responsibility to shape our beloved Ghana. Let’s balance our freedom with some responsibility. It is never late for Ghana to work again.
1. Alessandro, M., Lafuente M., Santiso C. (2015) Governing to deliver: reinventing the center of government in Latin America and the Caribbean / Martín Alessandro, Mariano Lafuente, Carlos Santiso.
2. Barber, M., Kihn, P., & Moffit, A. (2011) Deliverology: From idea to implementation, McKinsey and company
3. Blair, T. (2013) “Leading for Results”, McKinsey Voices on Society Vol.5, The Art and Science of Delivery
4. Cabinet Implementation Unit, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2013) Ten Years Strong: PM&C’s Cabinet Implementation Unit
5. Todd, R. (2012) Sharing experiences of effective performance management within the context of decentralisation paper presented at the Government of Malawi/UNDP/GIZ Government and Development Partners Group on Decentralisation
6. World Bank (2010) GET Note: Center of Government Delivery Units