Mthuli Ncube: How to make public service work

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube

Mthuli Ncube, the newly appointed Minister of Finance, writes on his views on building capacity in the civil service to improve service delivery.


Public financial resources ought to be managed with integrity, transparency and accountability, all for efficient and effective service delivery, sustainable economic growth and development.

Above all the “value for money” principle should be a guiding force, underpinned appropriate policies and choice of the most cost-effective interventions, which should be implemented efficiently. At the level of the citizen, the impact of public financial resource management is felt through the quality of service delivery.

Effective service delivery

With the exception of a few countries in Africa, the experience of ineffective service delivery and resource management across government departments is all too pervasive. Likewise, Zimbabwe has suffered from ineffective service delivery and need for improved resource management.

This issue has a financial dimension in terms of the inefficient deployment of financial resources from the Zimbabwe Treasury. The problem is not always that the public service is too big, but that service delivery tends to be poor. The reasons for, and solutions to, poor service delivery in the public sectors in cross-country experiences is a subject I teach in the Master of Public Policy Course at the University of Oxford, and have written about using examples from Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, among others.

Here, I would note, a few salient points, starting with the need to cultivate a culture of effective service delivery. This will require acquisition of new skills by civil servants, in order for them to imbibe the value for money objectives and improve service delivery. An appropriate initial focus is with senior managers in the national civil service and municipal and local authority managers.

These managers would need to be better equipped through skill-acquisition programmes to enhance their performance and that of the teams they supervise. The training could begin with a Leadership programme for Permanent Secretaries and directors in Government ministries and municipalities.

When I was Dean of Wits Business School, many years ago, I launched a programme

jointly with Harvard Business School for leaders in the public sector. Such a programme in the case of Zimbabwe could also be done through a partnership with both a local and international university, for joint certification.

Furthermore, my experience from when I was Vice President and Chief Economist of the African Development Bank, informs me that the government could approach the African Development Bank, through the African Development Institute (ADI), to partly support the programme.

Capacitating senior civil servants

In particular, the ADI, which I supervised, has developed various capacity development programmes, and has the resources to assist in developing the type of leadership programme that I am here proposing for Zimbabwe. We could also approach a government such as the United Kingdom or South Korea and seek retired senior civil servants for secondments to mentor Zimbabwe senior public managers, including at the Zimbabwe Treasury. These international secondees would spend a year or so and be funded through grant assistance from their home governments.

At the local authority and district level, again a skills programme would support the “devolution” agenda that seeks to empower the Zimbabwe regions to deliver and to be held accountable.

When I was Dean at Wits Business School, I developed a programme for Municipal Managers on municipal finance. That programme has trained over 3,000 personnel at the municipal level in South Africa, and one year it was cited by the South Africa Parliament as the reason why that year over 60% of the accounts from municipalities had passed the rigour of the Accountant General’s assessment. In particular, Zimbabwe Treasury should require that the managers should have these necessary resource management and service delivery skills, for accountability on financial resources that it provides.

All this would impact service delivery positively in the public sector and enhance the value for money objective.

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