Rethinking Civil Service in a Digital World

Seye Oyeleye - Western Nigeria Digital Literacy

Being a paper delivered by Mr Seye Oyeleye M.A, LL.B (LOND), Director-General DAWN Commission at the Southwest Heads of Service Strategic Meeting on Thursday 19th May 2022 at the International Culture and Event Centre, Akure, Ondo State.

Rethinking Civil Service in a Digital World

Protocols

I am delighted and humbled to be amongst the respected and highly influential Heads of the Civil Service of each of the States in the Southwest. Your continued participation and contribution to the successes of the several Southwest Heads of Service Strategic Meeting is highly appreciated. It signposts your belief and support for regional integration and cooperation. I am grateful to our host state, Ondo State, under the leadership of Mr John Adeyemo, the Head of Service, for their partnership in putting this edition of the strategic meeting together.   

INTRODUCTION

This edition’s theme, “Rethinking Civil Service in a Digital World”, is fitting as it builds on the deliberations of the previous edition which focused on deepening professionalism in the civil service, particularly through the delivery of quality and efficient goods and services to citizens and residents alike. 

The quality and efficient delivery of public goods and services are at the heart of any civil service and by extension, civil servants. The professionalism of civil servants both directly and indirectly influences the extent to which public goods and services reach the end-users, citizens. The adoption of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the process of delivering these goods and services can be considered an innovation that contributes to the professionalism of the civil service.  

Human beings as a consequence of their very nature are limited in their capacity. The introduction of ICT in the delivery of public goods and services offers immense benefits to citizens, businesses, governments and civil servants themselves. 

For the purpose of my paper today, I will be making a case for deepening efforts towards the stronger adoption of digital technologies in the civil service amongst States in the Southwest. I will focus on explaining the benefits of adopting digital technologies for the civil service while providing examples of countries that have benefited from the adoption of these technologies for the good of the people. I conclude the paper by offering my modest recommendations for the adoption of digital technology within the civil service of the Southwest States. 

BACKGROUND

The Nigerian civil servant of 1992 is not the civil servant of 2022. In the recent past, the public service was characterized by the bureaucratic principles of hierarchy and the strict adherence to rules and edicts. Papers and several approvals were required before policies were implemented or even considered. 

This was the case in many countries before the advent of the internet. The digital age brought about radical movements toward the increased use of ICTs in the business world as well as in the personal lives of people. The high rate of efficiency and productivity that the use of ICTs brought into the private sector prompted governments to begin adopting ICT as a reform in the provision of public goods and services (Obiageli, Anthony, & Junior, 2020). 

The use of ICT by government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to more effectively and efficiently deliver government services to citizens, businesses and other arms of government has been termed electronic-Government. It is the application of ICT in government operations towards achieving public ends through digital means (UN E-Government Knowledgebase, 2022). 

The underlying principle of e-Government, supported by an effective e-Governance institutional framework, is to improve the internal workings of the public sector by reducing financial costs and transaction times so as to better integrate workflows and processes and enable effective resource utilization across the various public sector MDAs aiming for sustainable solutions. 

e-Governance in this context refers to the development and enforcement of the policies, laws and regulations necessary to support the functioning of government MDAs  (Bibhusan Bista, n.d.). 

e-Government incorporates four key dimensions, which reflect the functions of government. These include: 

    • e-Services:  the electronic delivery of government information, programs, and services often (but not exclusively) over the internet.
    • e-Democracy/e-Participation: the use of electronic communications to increase citizen participation in the public decision-making process.
    • e-Commerce: the electronic exchange of money for goods and services such as citizens paying taxes and utility bills, renewing vehicle registrations, or government buying supplies and auctioning surplus equipment.
    • e-management / e-administration: the use of information technology to improve the management of government, from streamlining business processes to maintaining electronic records to improving the flow and integration of information.

While e-Government encompasses a wide range of activities, there are three distinct models: Government-to-Government (G2G), Government-to-Citizens (G2C) and Government to Business (G2B). Each of these represents a different combination of motivating forces. However, some common goals include improving efficiency, reliability, and quality of services for the respective groups (Ojo, 2014). 

Government-to-Government (G2G)

In many respects, the G2G Government-to-Government model represents the backbone of e-Government. It is felt that governments at the national, state and local government levels must enhance and update their own internal systems and procedures before electronic interactions are introduced with citizens and businesses (Ojo, 2014). G2G involves sharing data and conducting electronic exchanges between governmental actors. This involves both intra- and inter-agency exchanges at the local, state and national levels, as well as exchanges between the national, state, and local levels (UN E-Government Knowledgebase, 2022). 

Government-to-Citizens (G2C)

G2C involves initiatives designed to facilitate people’s interaction with the government as consumers of public services and as citizens. This includes interactions related to the delivery of public services as well as to participation in the consultation and decision-making process (UN E-Government Knowledgebase, 2022). Government to Citizen facilitates citizen interaction with government, which is the primary objective of e-Government. This attempts to make transactions, such as payments of taxes, renewing licenses and applying for certain benefits, less time consuming and easy to use. It also works towards improving access to public information.   

Government to Business (G2B)

The objective of G2B is to reduce burdens on business, provide one-stop access to information and enable digital communication using encrypted and secured applications (IGI Global, n.d.). Government to Business involves business-specific transactions (e.g. payments, sale and purchase of goods and services – i.e. procurement) as well as provision online of business-focused services (UN E-Government Knowledgebase, 2022).

The G2B model revolves around a two-way interaction and transaction between government and businesses. The government to business model is an online interaction between the various levels of government with the commercial business sector. These relationships and interactions are not connected with commercial enterprise but have the sole objectives of giving out business information and advice on electronic-business operations. The specific purpose of the Government to Business model is to create an easy and conducive environment for business transactions, ensure the provision of vital information that will aid the growth of businesses (Ojo, 2014).  

BENEFITS OF e-GOVERNMENT

As previously stated, the adoption of digital technologies for the delivery of public goods and services has tremendous benefits for the people, businesses, governments and civil servants. Some of these include: 

Attracting Young Employees

By adopting the use of technology in the civil service, it becomes more appealing to younger workers. Graduates are expecting a technologically-advanced workplace. They have grown up in the digital age, often being completely unfamiliar with the way things used to be. They will do therefore do their best work when given the technology they are proficient at using (Civil Service Colllege, 2018).

Reduced Cost of Administration 

The implementation of ICTs in the civil service allows for a significant reduction in information handling costs. This process enables faster sharing of information thereby reducing the frequency with which data is collected when it is handled manually. The introduction of e-government initiatives will reduce the frequency of mistakes and the time required to process transactions. ICTs in public service delivery reform public administrative processes by streamlining internal processes which enable faster and more informed decision making and transaction processes (Obiageli, Anthony, & Junior, 2020). 

Governments can also use ICT to reduce operational costs by, for example, implementing telework and teleconferencing solutions to save money on office space and travel expenses. Moreover, when government agencies adopt digital technologies to improve efficiency it translates into direct savings for taxpayers or better allocation of government resources.  (Atkinson; Daniel, 2008). 

Providing government services online can often provide significant savings to governments and government service users. Many e-government initiatives allow citizens to interact with government through the Web, thereby saving taxpayers money and often improving service. 

Digital technologies also assist governments in identifying ghost workers and tracking various performance indicators thereby reducing costs and cutting out waste. 

Improved, Fast, and Accurate Service Delivery 

The digitization of the operations and services of government agencies makes service delivery to the citizens more convenient, faster and accurate. ICT eliminates time-wasting, loss of documents, delay in responding to requests, and kickbacks normally associated with traditional delivery of service. e-Government initiatives put government services online thereby reducing bureaucratic bottlenecks, offers round the clock accessibility, fast and convenient transactions and enhances the quality of services. 

ICT also helps to automate government services that previously required bureaucratic hassles, such as requesting government documents. It is used not just to improve the efficiency of government services but also to improve the quality of government services. Digital technologies are especially useful at improving government efficiency and reliability in large-scale applications for basic government functions, such as conducting a census and collecting taxes. By automating a variety of tasks, government agencies can increase productivity and improve the quality of services delivered to citizens, businesses, and other government entities. 

e-Government initiatives help streamline government functions which benefit businesses and save them money. Often government regulatory hurdles impose significant costs on businesses and decrease productivity. 

Creates Access to Transparent, Accountable and Participatory Governance

ICT enabled delivery of public goods and services improves citizens’ participation in public sector management. It creates an opportunity for citizens to have greater access to information from governments. ICT helps increase access to public records. Governments can utilize digital technology for public educational purposes as well. 

Recent advances in ICT enable citizens to hold government officials more accountable for fraud, waste, and abuse. The Internet makes it possible for governments to operate more openly and with more citizen oversight (Atkinson; Daniel, 2008). 

Adopting digital technologies creates opportunities for citizens to review budgets, accomplishments, policies, laws, and projects. It also allows governments to use e-procurement/open contracting applications to increase supplier choice and reduce corruption. e-Procurement practices make the procurement process more transparent, efficient and accessible. 

ICT can also bring more transparency into the electoral process and reshape the influence of money in politics. Electronic filing and reporting applications can be utilized to provide more transparency in campaign financing. 

Online or any technology-enabled feedback mechanism adopted by governments are also methods that promote participatory governance. The Lagos State Citizen Gate and the recently launched feedback mechanism in Osun by the State Civic Engagement Centre are good examples in this regard. 

Data Gathering/Harvesting

In a country like ours, where the paucity of data is a threat to the sustainability of reforms and the scaling up of already existing programmes and policies, adopting digital technologies with the appropriate cloud and server supporting services is an appropriate source of relevant data for development projects and programmes. 

Governments can also use electronic record management systems to help ensure secure data storage, easier access to information, and more accountability. 

INTERNATIONAL GOOD PRACTICES IN e-GOVERNMENT

Some governments have transformed themselves and empowered their citizens by streamlining their activities and processes to facilitate citizens’ access to information, as well as by creating more openness and transparency in government operations to allow better public oversight.

Below are a few examples of countries with good practices in e-Government: 

Ghana

  • In November 2008, a nationwide e-Government network infrastructure construction began in Ghana. This was intended to extend the national backbone infrastructure to all districts in the country and provide national data centres (Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana, 2018).
  • In Ghana, the Ghana Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) which was launched in May 2009 is used by the Controller and Accountant General’s Department to decentralize accounting administration and government budget. GIFMIS has been deployed to interconnect all MDAs and Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). It allows for real-time reporting purposes. Regional offices can have access to data and transmit reports to the central data repository which is found in Accra (Tchao, Keelson, et al, 2017). 
  • The Ghana Government Online Services Portal (available on eservices.gov.gh), provides a one-stop window for services and information being offered by the various government agencies. It is made up of four sub-portals, namely, “Citizens”, “Non-Citizens”, “Businesses” and “Governments”. Available on the Online Services Portal are services rendered by some of the following agencies: 
    • Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) (IRS, VATs, RAGB, LTU); 
    • Driver’s and Vehicle License Authority (DVLA); 
    • Passport Office (MFA-PO); 
    • National Identification Authority (NIA); 
    • Births and Deaths Registry (BDR); 
    • Food and Drugs Board (FDB)
    • Ghana Tourist Authority (GTA); 
  • The Portal has made it easier for: clients of the Passport Office to submit personal details for the application of their passports online; for individuals and businesses to register their businesses, file returns and pay taxes online, food product importers to register online with the FDB; Births and Deaths (BDR) Registry to also administer and respond to birth certified copy requests from the public amongst others. 

China

  • Once upon a time in Beijing, China, starting a new business required an application to 8 government agencies and having meetings with multiple people. In 2000, Beijing’s mayor launched an initiative called Digital Beijing to simplify the application, reporting, and administration processes. Investors in Beijing now conduct all of these activities from a single website that shares information across multiple agencies. 

Philippines 

  • In the Philippines,  the Customs Bureau invested in an IT system to automatically process import clearance documents, payments, and release orders for shipments. By automating this process, the Customs Bureau eliminated many of the bureaucratic delays and corruption that had mired their paper-based system. 

Sri Lanka 

  • In rural Sri Lanka, most community members are prevented from using the Internet to get information by barriers such as the lack of access to computers and the Internet, digital literacy, and language. To respond to this challenge, Sri Lankan government ministries helped form the Kothmale Community Radio Internet Project—an interactive radio program that provided listeners with a virtual Internet browsing experience. Broadcasters browse the Internet on behalf of their listeners and then explain and discuss the information with guests (e.g., a doctor might be invited to explain information on a health website). 

Chile 

  • In Chile, government agencies had no standardized procurement process prior to 2003. That year, the Chilean government launched an e-procurement initiative called ChileCompra to make the procurement process more transparent, efficient, and accessible. The government posts procurement announcements on a website, and the results of all bids are posted online. In 2007, Chile reported that over 900 agencies had used the ChileCompra system to conduct USD $4.5 billion in transactions.

RECOMMENDATIONS/WAY FORWARD

To enable the civil service in the Southwest to be 21st century compliant and adopt digital technologies, the following are my recommended steps for action: 

  1. Financing the transition to e-government is no doubt an expensive venture. However, its benefits as I have attempted to describe are enormous and will serve as a source of further revenue regeneration for the government. Efforts should be geared towards mobilizing the political will to achieve this. 
  2. A budget specifically designated for the training of civil servants on digital technologies should be created by the Ministry of Trainings and Establishments in cases where it is presently non-existing. Moreover, Public Service Training Institutes (PTSIs) staff and facilities should be equipped with the relevant update to date skills and knowledge to facilitate such trainings.   
  3. State governments should domesticate the Federal Government e-Government Master Plan and work towards implementing the plan. 
  4. In recruitment processes, prioritization should be given to digital literate applicants. 
  5. Provide the necessary infrastructure that will aid the successful implementation of e-Government including providing functioning desktops and laptops, robust broadband services required for internet access, regular power supply, data centres amongst others. 
  6. In transitioning to a more digitalized civil service, significant attention should be paid to the change management process in order to address the challenge of civil servants resisting the transition. 
  7. Policies and frameworks that will guide the implementation of e-Government initiatives should be developed with inputs from relevant stakeholders. 
  8. Considering citizens are the end-users of e-government goods and services, it is imperative their readiness and ability to interact with e-government platforms should be assessed.  
  9. Build the capacity of Senior Civil Servants to efficiently handle e-government operations. 
  10. Explore Public, Private Partnerships (PPP) in developing e-Government projects. 

Conclusion 

The changing role of the civil servant as we move along with the breathtaking speed of the digital world is a conversation I am glad we are having at this edition of the Southwest Heads of Service Strategic Meeting. Although our States are already making great strides toward fully implementing e-Government initiatives, we must not rest on our laurels.  

The rate at which the world is evolving is threatening the traditional role of the civil servant. The digital revolution is underway and we are clearly decades behind. It is up to our collective effort to take concrete and urgent steps in preparing our civil service for the digital age. A 21st-century compliant civil service contributes to entrenching good governance for the benefit of the people. 

 

Thank you for listening. 

 

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