Citizen-friendly Public Service: Achievements and Challenges

Bappy Rahman

2 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Citizen-friendly Public Service: Achievements and Challenges

Bappy Rahman

No nation runs without the constant and determined work of the people who live there and strive every day with a sense of service to the public. Public service delivery is vital to creating healthier communities and more inclusive, sustainable outcomes. They determine whether families have access to lifesaving care, whether children get an education, or whether communities are able to enjoy clean and safe environments. In many countries, public services remain the primary point of interaction between the government and most members of the public. An open government plays an increasingly important role in improving public service delivery. It encourages greater coordination and collaboration between public institutions, private sector actors, and civil society.

Many countries struggle with ways to strengthen public service delivery. Three key actors – citizens, service providers and policymakers – are critical to improving the quality of public service delivery. Ordinary citizens are in close contact with service providers. The responsiveness of service providers to citizens’ concerns can make a difference to the quality of public service. When citizens voice their concerns to politicians or policymakers, various reform activities can be adjusted and then implemented by service providers.

The governments around the world have adopted several regulations to improve public services. The Malaysia Urban Transformation Centres are an example of an innovative government initiative that provides a one-stop centre for urban residents to deal with numerous government bodies seven days a week until late in the evening. These services include licenses, passports, skills training, health clinics, fitness centres, and many others. Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU), as the central agency for modernisation, is responsible for the development of the Malaysian Public Sector ICT Strategic Plan (ISP) which is the main reference for all government agencies when implementing ICT projects. The current ISP 2016-2020 is aligned with the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) which emphasises addressing citizens’ needs through ICT adoption.

In Singapore, the newly launched Government Technology Agency (GovTech) will aim to make digital government services more citizen-friendly, and this means better making use of the data on hand to do so. One example of this is GovTech and the Ministry of Finance partnering the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to explore the use of MyInfo to the finance sector. MyInfo is a consent-based platform that allows users to upload certain personal data, and acts as a digital vault.

In order to meet the holistic changes of politics, economy, technology and society, the Chinese government has pushed large-scale administrative reforms since the early 1980s for the effectiveness of promoting governance. Civil servants were required to adjust the way they treated their clients, which compelled them to be more citizen-friendly on their jobs.

The success of Bangladesh government in transforming the country’s public services through innovation and technology earned global plaudits. During the 2008 elections, the Awami League’s election manifesto ‘Vision 2021 Bangladesh: A New Horizon’ introduced the concept of Digital Bangladesh. The concept was also reiterated in the government’s updated manifesto. The Digital Bangladesh agenda composed of four pillars that outline key areas like human resource development, connecting citizens, digital government and private sector.

The main initiative under the Access to Information Programme of the present government, the Union Digital Centre, aims to achieve the two citizen-centric pillars of the Digital Bangladesh agenda to connecting citizens and delivering services to the citizens’ doorsteps. The centres are housed at a publicly accessible location, e.g. a Union Parishad Office, and are run by a villager or local entrepreneur. The digital centres have got the acceptance already by all in the course of some important role like birth registration, labour registration, student registration etc.

With the aim to ease of getting services and information from the web pages, the government of Bangladesh has launched national web portals containing 64 district web portals with the name of 64 administrative units of Bangladesh. Education, health, agriculture, business, district profiles has ranged together for citizens. The web portals also have the opportunity of getting information about the day to day works, circulars and notices from the government organisation by the citizens of all.

District E-Service Centres (DESC) has been introduced in Bangladesh for better service delivery to the citizens with the launching of the DESC desires to ending the era of over 200-year-old traditional ways of providing government services, which often cause sufferings to the millions. The most common and routine works of the DESC are applications from citizens for getting services, application for Porcha, official applications as well as know about the condition of progress of application by tracking system.

The government of Bangladesh made a decision to introduce ‘Government Performance Management System’ (GPMS) as one of the most comprehensive interventions to improve productivity and service delivery in the public sector. Government decided to introduce GPMS in the light of the recommendations of the Public Administration Reforms Report-2000 and National Integrity Policy- 2012.

However, there is still a long road ahead. The experiments with the e-Governance, public-private partnerships, market-led approach, and local government decentralisation in the context of a highly resistant bureaucracy now look like small islands of experimentation. Strong legacies inherited from the colonial rule have made the reforms limited to marginal changes. The present government is now aware of the inherited institutions, trying to adapt them to modern values of public administration by supporting good governance reforms. Strong commitment and lots of hard work alone are not results. Hence, the main contribution of performance should focus on achieving positive results. Similarly, challenges in public service delivery are inevitable. To remain competent, truly representative, and to play a proper role in the reconstruction and development process is not an easy task. To fulfil this role effectively, the public service should focus on successful innovations in service delivery.

Enhancing the quality of service delivery needs strong collaboration between core government-related agencies as well as engaging with youth, women and family, and communities as the whole. Fundamental changes are needed in the administrative structure. The monolithic, hierarchical structure should be desegregated into managerially autonomous units. Administrative and financial powers and responsibilities should be devolved down the line. In order to extract the best performance from an individual, while assigning responsibility, the individual must be given authority that is commensurate with the functional needs. The system must give time to a top functionary for more relevant and critical matters like development related policy issues, mentoring junior colleagues, looking into genuine citizen grievances, etc.

(The writer acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)


The writer is a Chinese Government PhD Fellow and Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka