The dual need for privatization, public sector reform
Our urge to privatize — and we in Jordan have taken many serious steps in this very direction recently — seems to be largely justified; at one level, in fact, it seems to be the natural, logical, thing to do.
For one thing, the government alone cannot be expected to shoulder all responsibilities and foot all the bills. For a long time, we in this country in particular (and in the Arab world more generally) have been too reliant on government, expecting it to take care of all our needs and solve all our problems. It is time that we the citizens, as represented through private ventures of all sorts, chipped in and got involved.
For another, experience has shown that the private sector is in many cases (though by no means all) more efficient than the public sector.
The public sector's overall performance has, over the past decades, been anything but satisfactory. There are some happy exceptions and some isolated stories of success here and there, to be sure; but the general picture, regarding public-sector performance, has not been pleasing at all. One can in fact claim that our urge to privatize is, in many ways, a direct result of our dissatisfaction with the performance of the public sector.
Thirdly, privatization seems to be a global trend, and we have become affected (“infected,” if you will) by it like everybody else in the world. Rightly or wrongly (rightly, one hopes), we in this part of the world receive almost everything that comes to us from abroad with open arms.
The specific cases of the public-sector establishments which have been, or are expected to be, privatized seem not only to justify the steps taken, or to be taken, in the direction of privatization but to compel us to do so. Take the past and present record of the Telecommunications Corporation, the Public Transport Authority, the Electricity Company, Royal Jordanian airlines, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Jordan Television, and the many other governmental and public-sector institutions. Aside from the isolated exceptions and sporadic/temporary stories of success spoken of earlier, their performance has been far below expectations.
If we look closely into the obstacles and impediments which have stood, or are standing, in the way of these institutions' development and progress, we find them to be many. At the top of the list, however, I would personally place bad management as the primary cause — the root of all evil.
Some may call it mismanagement, some impulsive management, some immature management, some unqualified management, some corrupt management, etc.
At the end of the day, it is bad management.
Which brings me to the second point in this article. While privatization is the solution to bad public-sector performance, the other solution should public-sector reform.
Clearly, we cannot privatize everything. Some (many) public-sector institutions are, and will continue to be, public and are, and will continue to be, vital to citizens. What do we do about them? Since they cannot be privatized, their performance needs to be upgraded and made more effective. To this end, some serious reforms need to be effected, and increased attention needs to be paid to these institutions.
What must be done? I would argue that it all begins and ends with management. Public-institution posts should not be looked at as rewards for some individuals (for all kinds of reasons), favors for buddies and relatives, retreats for those whose term has come to an end in some other institution or who have been removed for one reason or another, safe havens for the mediocre and inefficient, the natural right of so-called senior individuals or those from influential families, etc.
Top management needs to be chosen carefully, on the basis of merit, experience and/or potential. We need to do our homework searching for the right person(s). Once this is done, everything else follows naturally. Good management sets up a good system, devises creative ways of going about its business, trains staff, boosts their morale, rewards the diligent and excelling, and suppresses and marginalizes the mediocre, the perverse and the corrupt.
I honestly don't think that lack of funds, of competitive staff or of technology is the reason why our public-sector is not performing well.
Rather, it is lack of able, creative and effective management.
The matter here is plain and simple: good managers create a good system, a healthy atmosphere in which personnel perform efficiently and effectively, in which creative ideas and healthy attitudes and behavior thrive. Bad managers, by contrast, create a bad system, an unhealthy atmosphere in which laziness, mediocrity, inefficiency, cliquishness, conspiracies, perverseness and corruption prevail; creativity is suppressed, while negative attitudes, frustration and devious behavior flourish.
Our public-sector institutions can be developed, reformed and made to function as positively and constructively as those of the private sector. Let's zero in on the matter of management. We can't rely on privatization alone, for privatization is half the solution. The other half lies in public-sector reform. ― ( Jordan Times )
By Dr. Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)