The performance appraisal contract signed by ministers with President Jonathan is a welcome idea as it would propel the cabinet members to action but the president would need a huge dose of political courage to deal with the ministers in accordance with their performance, writes Vincent Obia
His vast experience and appetite for hard work once gave him a reputation as the administration’s best hope. But Professor Barth Nnaji resigned as Minister of Power last week in the wake of a performance bond President Goodluck Jonathan had signed with members of his cabinet the week before. The question agitating every mind is, was Nnaji’s resignation supposed to be part of measures put in place as supporting acts for the Performance Contracting Agreement the president signed with his cabinet members on August 22?
Although many Nigerians testify that power supply had improved under his watch, Nnaji’s tenure had been mired in controversy over reports that companies linked to him were engaged in a bid to buy over power plants slated for privatisation by his ministry. Recently, labour unions under the power ministry have also questioned his management of their pension fund.
The federal government has said Nnaji’s resignation was meant to give credibility to the privatisation process. But reports have it that it was actually the president that demanded the minister’s resignation. For a president who only recently acknowledged that he was the most criticised Nigerian leader, such demand, certainly, may not be out of place. At a time the Jonathan administration is coming under severe criticism for alleged non-performance and corruption, many think Nnaji’s exit could be one in a series of schemes laid out as supporting acts for the president’s performance evaluation agenda.
Developed by the National Planning Commission, the initiative, as a global practice adopted by several countries, including the United Kingdom, Malaysia and South Africa, is premised on the saying, “what gets measured gets done.” It is meant to gauge the performance of the ministries, departments, and agencies of government according to established Key Performance Indicators. The MDAs are required to develop detailed documents to guide implementation of the KPIs up to 2015, and on each of the KPIs there would be six monthly reports to the president and the public as well as a scorecard.
Jonathan said the initiative was to demonstrate his government’s commitment to service delivery and accountability. He assured ministers that it was not a witch hunt. According to the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamshudeen Usman, the performance system initiative is based on three basic principles: “what gets measured gets done, if you cannot measure success you cannot reward it, if you cannot measure failure you cannot correct it.” Perhaps, to demonstrate the importance the government attaches to the evaluation process that took about one and half years to develop, a whole new department has been set up for the project, with most of the personnel coming from the private sector and the development partners.
Many point with satisfaction to the potential of the initiative to aid delivery of promises to the citizenry. Some states like Anambra, Cross River, Lagos, Ekiti, Jigawa, Niger, and Rivers have already adopted similar performance measurement mechanisms or are working towards it.
Experts attribute the idea of performance evaluation in governance to former United States President Franklin Roosevelt. After his inauguration on March 4, 1933, at a time of great depression in the country, he was said to have appointed a cabinet based on merit and tasked his cabinet members with specific targets they must meet within six months or get the boot.
However, under Nigeria’s peculiar circumstances, where ministers and other cabinet members are mainly nominees of political godfathers and patrons, and where political interests more often than not overshadow merit, many doubt if the performance evaluation system can be effectively practised to bridge the appalling achievement gap in most state institutions. If, for instance, a minister or cabinet member scores below average and the public call for the sack of such officer, would the president have the courage to heed the citizen’s voice?
Jonathan would have to demonstrate that the new evaluation scheme can eliminate the unfortunate situation where ministers and other government officials simply become demigods upon their nomination and approval by the Senate, without minding the deliverables they were appointed to make available to the people.
The country’s public institutions have been hampered by a terrible performance deficit. Many believe the evaluation system, if properly implemented, would help get Nigeria out of this situation. Besides, the new system of tracking achievement goes beyond budget performance, which has in recent time been a source of conflict between the presidency and the National Assembly. Whereas budget performance tends to focus on deployment of budgeted funds, without necessarily tracking achieved outcomes, the latter is the core of the new performance initiative. Many, thus, hope the scheme would not just be a modest response to the budget performance questions raised by the National Assembly – though budget performance remains a critical aspect of achievement tracking.
The new evaluation system also serves other purposes. Public institutions and governments in the country have been inundated with haphazard measurement systems often introduced by organisations and individuals. The evaluations are often based on arbitrary and, sometimes, abusive criteria. But this time, the KPIs would provide clear and objective criteria to measure performance by governments and agencies. Civil society organisations can pick the KPIs and try to match claimed governmental achievements against the established principles. The performance evaluation initiative provides citizens a window to come up with parallel reports that can be used to test claims by governments and public institutions. To facilitate this, however, the government has to make the KPIs available to the public.
Ultimately, what the Nigerian situation at the moment requires is change that would provide the right policies and create the right environment in which governance could become a net producer of resources and happiness for the great majority, instead of its present state of being just a net consumer of resources.