The public sector reforms are ongoing across the world as a response to the urgent need of reducing the governments’ national deficits. Governments across the world face similar challenges, which include strained budgets against increased expectations and slow growth. In almost every country in the world, the public service is the largest spender of tax revenue. Due to the increased need for reforms, different trends of the reforms are emerging including the New Public Management (NPM). From the NPM’s perspective, government institutions should be managed like private organizations. This paper discusses some of the successful reforms in the government of the UAE coupled with evaluating the government initiatives such as citizen centricity, accountability, and service innovation. The paper finally recommends some actions that the government may take in a bid to improve its service delivery to the citizens.
The public sector in every country needs to be both effective and efficient. Efficient and effective public service should entail good management of public finances, strict administrative policies and civil service, a fair tax collection system, and transparency in operations (Goldfinch & Wallis, 2009). These elements contribute to good service delivery to citizens. In almost every country in the world, public service is the largest spender of public finances. The sector is also the largest employer and it determines the policy environment for the other sectors of the economy. The quality of a country’s public sector, which is determined by the accountability of public officers, effectiveness, and efficiency in offering services, and transparency of operations, contribute to development.
The public sector reforms are going on across the world as an immediate response to the urgent need of reducing the governments’ national deficits. These reforms aim at creating contemporary government services, which are sustainable, cost-effective, efficient, and highly responsive to the needs of the citizens. Globally, governments face similar challenges, which include strained budgets against increased expectations and slow economic growth. Therefore, there has been a new paradigm in the public sector. This paradigm shift aims at delivering cost-effective services in a way that supports economic growth (Dawoody, 2014). Governments are embracing transparency in their operations in a bid to bring about continuous improvement. Transparency exposes the wastage of public resources and the taxpayers can evaluate how the tax revenue is being used. When this aspect is combined with increasing technological innovations, it creates an accountable, efficient, and effective government.
The public sector needs an open culture with minimum bureaucracies, which is focused on delivering services rather than the processor structures (Dawoody, 2014). In this culture, public servants can challenge some decisions. In addition, the public officers are given the requisite training and skills. The training improves their capacity to execute their jobs roles with responsibility and accountability. Public servants need to be equipped with adequate commercial skills that give them confidence in commissioning services from the private and voluntary sectors. They need digital skills to design online services that can solve their needs. Public servants need leadership skills to enable them to adapt to the changes that are needed to deliver government priorities and projects within time and cost limits.
An emerging trend in public management is the New Public Management (NPM). This new approach is different from the traditional bureaucratic approaches. From the NPM’s point of view, government institutions should be managed like private organizations (Pollitt, & Bouckaert, 2011). Two principle features drive discussions around the NPM. The first principle holds that elected leaders should not participate actively in service delivery. Their roles should be primarily at goal setting. According to this principle, all the duties relating to the delivery and production of services to the citizens are conducted in a market. In such a case, there will be increased service efficiency and governments will incur fewer costs. In the other principle, the NPM advocates less control of inputs while emphasizing the assessment of impact and performance. As a result, it requires organizational models that give priorities to management from the perspective of the economy and societal needs. Although many governments have accepted this view, it draws criticism because it defines public institutions as places where social equality can be administered through mechanisms of accountability. These mechanisms are made to make public services accountable to the public and de-politicize the process of offering services effectively (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011).
Successful Initiatives in the UAE
The UAE government controls several affairs of its Emirates (Gonzalez, Karoly, Constant, Salem& Goldman, 2008). Out of this, the Emirate of Dubai has managed to forge ahead a well-funded mission, which has a well-structured new public management program. This program brings electronic services into all branches of public service. In the region, this program places the UAE at the top place in e-government readiness, departmental websites, and broad-spectrum e-government services. Most departments of the government offer extensive online services for the convenience of users and the efficiency of the system. Consequently, the UAE ranks fifth worldwide due to its transactional services.
Dubai has implemented new public management initiatives that have increased the efficiency of providing government services. The Crown Prince of Dubai has a website where citizens share information with him directly. In a signed agreement with the government, Zayed University provides career training internships to university students studying information technology. This move enhances the competency of the ICT students by providing internship and outreach programs, development, and research projects.
The department of social welfare, labor, and finance has a website that offers e-services to citizens (International Monetary Fund, 2013). Through the website, citizens can create accounts and sign documents electronically. The website offers various transactional services such as payment for credit cards and online submission of forms. Visa application is also done using the website. Tourists are given a printable two-dimensional bar code, which is readable by a computer to embody their information. The notable benefit of this aspect is the minimal human labor and reduced application-processing time significantly.
Both the local and the federal governments of the UAE have e-financial services. For example, the e-Dirham is a virtual currency, which citizens use to deposit their money in the banks. From the banks, the citizens can make transfers and pay government fees such as permits fees, and traffic fines among others. The government of Dubai has another platform called mPay, which is a mobile service for paying for government services without charges. This service was primarily designed for the payment of toll fees on highways, but its use has expanded to include other government services.
Another successful public management initiative is the e-stamp, which is used to verify all Smart Forms. Corporations complete their application details and pay for the service using e-currency. Citizens also get various e-services from the Dubai police department. Citizens subscribe to the police e-service in a bid to receive up-to-date traffic information by SMS. The department also runs a wireless applications website. Citizens can access this site using their mobile phones and get information from the police department while on the road. The department also provides a link via the web to the database of the stolen cars.
Government agencies in Dubai use the e-procurement system. Both the federal and local governments use a “decentralized approach to public procurement” (OECD, 2010, p. 192). The right to purchase is devolved to the various arms of the government. The e-procurement operates through Tejari, which is a government corporation. Using e-procurement, the Armed Forces have achieved over 40% savings on their firefighting equipment and about 14% on ICT hardware. Government employees working with the electronic procurement service are trained thoroughly on how to use the system. Suppliers are familiarised with the e-procurement system by attending seminars.
The government has a highly successful public-private partnership that helps to integrate the Ministry of Labour with various government agencies. One involves an ICT service provider from the private sector working with the ministry to design Smart Forms. These forms help the citizens to apply for services from the government. The system encrypts the citizens’ information and transforms it into labels with barcodes that can be printed. This aspect has improved the quality of service and reduced waiting time for processing. The ministry contracted two other private agencies for document authentication, which links service seekers with the ministry. The private ICT provider is networked with the labor ministry and that finance to act as a business center where those seeking services from the two ministries can submit their applications. Citizens applying for services present their forms at the public counter of the ministry of labor. The agents, in this case, the ICT contractor, “scan the barcodes and the system processes the applications according to the set rules and regulations” (OECD, 2010, p. 194). The partnership has reduced the number of trips that citizens have to visit the ministry offices to submit their applications.
The labor ministry has a team for change management using a parallel organization approach. In this case, a special e-government unit is established for providing an e-system for work permit processing and application for licensing. This approach has facilitated the electronic completion of about 40% of applications. The establishment of this unit is one of the key factors in the ministry’s process of transformation.
These reforms have encountered some challenges. For instance, Dubai lacks the necessary infrastructure for improving the e-services. The existing system needs improvements to solve the inconsistencies amongst departments, which have led to the loss of valuable resources. These inconsistencies arise because the local and the federal governments acquired their systems separately.
Evaluation of the Government Improvement Strategies
Governments all over the world have the challenge of delivering services to their citizens effectively. Citizens are empowered and they are increasingly demanding more transparency in the government and increased efficiency. This aspect has changed the way services are provided, thus forcing the government institutions to be innovative (OECD, 2014). Service providers in the public sector need to engage citizens in improving their services. Inputs from the citizens enable the development of services that are based on understanding the needs of the citizens. The process of attaining citizen centricity involves four stages, viz. citizen neutral, citizen aware, citizen motivated, and citizen-centric. At the citizen-centric stage, the government has a clear strategy and mission that places the satisfaction of citizens as the main focal point. Citizen centricity also involves a structure with dedicated teams to review the citizens’ feedbacks in a bid to implement the necessary actions. Citizen-centric governments use their resources to offer services that meet or exceed the expectations of their citizens.
Most of the UAE’s government institutions are placed in a transition from stage two to stage three (Citizen aware to Citizen motivated). The country itself is transitioning from stage one to stage two.
About 90% of government institutions feel that engaging citizens in the design of public service is important. They also believe that meeting the needs of both the citizens and the private sector should be the key focus of their strategy. Several institutions do not carry out frequent review feedbacks from citizens and the private sector (OECD, 2014). This assertion holds because they lack a well-defined process that can capture the citizens’ expectations and reflect them in their service delivery. Mostly, government institutions use industry representative groups and surveys to engage citizens and the private sector in service design. Other infrequently used channels include town halls, web forums, and targeted interviews.
The UAE has taken the right steps towards citizen centricity by defining its vision 2021at the federal level. Nevertheless, the right systems such as culture, organization, and processes are needed in a bid to respond to the private sector and citizen needs effectively. Therefore, the government should design an effective organizational structure for quick decision-making and implementation. The government should also train public servants regularly to develop their skills in customer service. This goal can be achieved by establishing links with education institutions for continued learning of public servants. The process of attaining citizen centricity can also be accelerated by disclosing, measuring, and tracking the key performance indicators in public institutions. This move, in return, helps in redesigning and optimizing their processes to meet customer needs.
In an innovative move to ease the access of public services by citizens and keep the global trends, the government of the UAE is shifting from traditional planning systems. It engages its citizens to collaborate in the designing of civil services. A good example is how the education strategy of 2010 was developed. The government came up with a working formula and sought the public’s opinion. From the Prime Minister’s website where it was published, the strategy was downloaded more than fourteen thousand times. In addition, the strategy gathered more than seven hundred comments from the public (OECD, 2014). The government held social workshops with various groups of citizens such as teachers, parents, and experts among others to refine and validate the education strategy. At one point, the Prime Minister responded to a few comments from the citizens. His response compelled many people to participate. The comments were grouped to form eight strategic elements, which were then linked to the main strategic initiatives.
The UAE government, through the office of the Prime Minister, runs a star-rating system, which was launched in 2011. This rating awards institution that delivers innovative public services to individuals and the private sector with stars ranging from two to seven. The star rating considers a set of quality criteria. This criterion involves various service delivery factors, strategic alignment of the agency’s services, and the use of enablers like technology applications and capacity development (OECD, 2014). The seven stars rating, which is the highest, requires sharing of knowledge about the service delivery openly and achieving high satisfaction scores in user and employee surveys.
Currently, in the first round of rating participants volunteer themselves. The office of the Prime Minister guides the agencies and service providers that wish to participate in the rating. The participants are given various training options (Osborne, 2012). This move aims at generating the improvement of sustainable actions. After the agencies are rated, spot checks are conducted to check continuous compliance randomly. This assessment is repeated after three years from the initial rating. Assessments can be done before three years if sudden and significant changes are expected. The star-rating initiative is one of the measures initiated by the federal government to improve the quality of public services. The government provides a customer service charter for its agencies to implement. A feedback system is put in place both physically and digitally (MyGov). Government excellence awards and service labs aim at instilling progressive strive for public service innovation. Due to this move, 23 departments of government participate in this star-rating program (Osborne, 2012).
The new public management approach “considers two types of accountability, viz. accountability to politicians and accountability to the citizens, which focuses mainly on efficiency and performance” (Fatemi & Behmanesh, 2012, p. 45). Nevertheless, for social and political correctness, efficiency is not guaranteed. In a bid to perform, management accountability will lead to reduced political accountability. Fatemi and Behmanesh, (2012) ass that the “proponents of the NPM believe that increase in customer options will lead to freedom of managers and empowerment of political control” (p. 48).
The UAE has its accountability authority, viz. the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority, which was set up in 2008. Its major role is promoting accountability as well as transparency in the civil service. It oversees the government’s departments, local councils, and all projects or companies that the government has a stake of more than 50%. The accountability authority ensures that government agencies use their resources according to the stipulated guidelines. The authority runs a center for training graduates in auditing. In addition, the authority conducts auditing in government offices and agencies, investigates corruption, and sets up anti-fraud programs. The issue of accountability is the responsibility of the government when it comes to public service delivery. Government managers need to be highly effective when influencing third-party actors. This aspect ultimately shapes the results to the public (OECD, 2010).
The fundamental need for accountability has grown over the years, Therefore, in a bid to “deliver services to the public, the government should have diverse actors and proper underlying structures, but changes in governance pose challenges to accountability” (Pollitt, Bouckaert, Dooren, 2009, p. 75). Through pursuing these opportunities by practice, the 21st Century governance offers a potential for achieving unparalleled levels of accountability (Massey & Johnston, 2015).
Reforms in the public service are not a one-time goal, but rather a continuous process. This way, the leadership (management) keeps pace with changes that are taking place both locally and globally. The public sector reforms focus on organizational structure, processes, and people. The reforms highlight the need for changing the existing ways of offering services. Its purpose is to change systems, policies, attitudes, and structures in the organizational culture. This aspect gives both the staff and the organization the ability to serve the public effectively.
The human resource base and the financial resources of the government are the key inputs to the proper functioning of government agencies. The UAE government has prioritized the training of civil servants as a driver of excellence and efficiency in service delivery within the public sector. In a bid to enhance the quality of training of civil servants, hence service delivery, the government agencies should focus on the following areas.
There should be external auditors to evaluate the training programs continuously. This move will ensure high quality and credibility in the evaluation of the program.
In the local government role, the heads of departments should interact directly with the human resource department to discuss various training needs of the different departments.
The government should promote an environment that eliminates hierarchical barriers by encouraging teamwork. This move will foster hard work, innovation, and achievements as opposed to seniority.
The human resource and training departments should drive a culture that allows knowledge sharing among the civil servants.
Dawoody, A. (2014). Public administration and policy in the Middle East. New York, NY: Springer.
Fatemi, M., & Behmanesh, M. (2012). New Public Management Approach and Accountability. International Journal of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, 1(2), 42–49.
Goldfinch, S., & Wallis, J. (2009). International handbook of public management reform. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Gonzalez, G., Karoly, L., Constant, L., Salem, H., & Goldman, C. (2008). Facing human capital challenges of the 21st century: Education and labour market initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates: executive summary. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp.
International Monetary Fund. (2013). United Arab Emirates: Selected issues. Washington, D.C.: IMF.
Massey, A., & Johnston, K. (2015). The International Handbook of Public Administration and Governance. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
OECD. (2010). Progress in public management in the Middle East and North Africa: Case studies on policy reform. Paris, France: OECD.
OECD. (2014).An Exploratory Look at Public Sector Innovation in GCC Countries, 2014 update. Paris, France: OECD.
Osborne, S. (2012). Handbook of innovation in public services. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Pollitt, C., & Bouckaert, G. (2011). Public management reform: A comparative analysis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Pollitt, C., Bouckaert, G., Dooren, W. (2009). Measuring government activity. Paris, France: OECD.