New Zealand and Australia.
Since the 1980s, the accountability of New Zealand's public officers
has been built on a quasi-contractual relationship between the
executive government (ie, the ministers) and the senior management of
central government departments (ie, departmental chief executives). In
Australia, on the other hand, the accountability of public officers
centred on the primary role of the executive government, with senior
management expected to work under the ministers and follow their
directives. Which system works better?
The New Zealand system of accountability in central government
highlights the role of departmental chief executives. They are held
responsible for the achievement of policy objectives and for the
delivery of outputs from their departments. Policy objectives are
agreed upon with the ministers who, in a sense, act like 'purchasers'
of outputs from the departments.
This arrangement results in a public commitment by the departmental
chief executives to deliver public service performance. Their role is
akin to the one of chief executives who are appraised on the basis of
their merit, rather than, say, political affiliation or consistency
with the conduct of the ministers. Indeed, in the New Zealand system
it is not uncommon for departmental chief executives to publicly
justify the conduct of the departments while the ministers are kept
distant from day-to-day management.
The Australian system of accountability in central government
highlights the role of the executive government. Elected public
officers who take ministers' roles have the power to appoint and
dismiss senior department managers, who tend to closely follow the
directives that originate from the prime minister and the other
secretaries. Senior managers are not subject to a formal process of
performance appraisal and are mostly expected to execute governmental
policies in a politically impartial way.
Both systems have faced particular challenges. In New Zealand,
excessive focus on departmental policy objectives has led to a lack of
attention on other parts of the system of public service delivery that
are not specified in the quasi-contractual relationship of
collaboration across departments.
In Australia, auditors have noted that departmental chief executives
are too dependent on the ministers when it would be desirable that
they challenge them if appropriate. Today discussions are on-going in
both countries about rebalancing the relationship between the
executive government and senior management in order to improve the
respective systems of accountability.
---Notes on Accountability, Center for Financial management, SOAS, London
The Nigerian system of public financial accountability can be better
configured to deliver value to the citizens by learning critical
lessons from far and wide.
(c) Yakubu Aliyu