A Case Study of Decentralisation as a Tool for Effective Customer-Friendly Service

Mr Ashimi Jamiu Adewale, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State (Nigeria)Mr Ashimi Jamiu Adewale, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State (Nigeria) is a University of Ibadan graduate with a Bachelors  Degree in Zoology and has earned a post-graduate Diploma in Public Administration  from the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria. His first place of work was at Lagos State University, Ojo. In September 2001 he transferred to the Lagos State   Civil Service where he served in various capacities and participated in a number of state and national assignments. On 20th December 2012, he was appointed the Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Public Service. In 2005, Mr Jamiu Adewale Ashimi published the book ‘Development Strategy and Management: The Nigerian Experience’. He has published articles in local and international journals including the Commonwealth Innovations vol.14 no.3 titled ‘Strategic Management and Public Administration in Developing Countries: A Case Study of Nigeria’. He has presented papers at CAPAM Regional Conferences in Abuja (2010) and Trinidad and Tobago (2011) and has written the case study “Planning of a Local Government Housing Estate” published by CAPAM in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat – June 2011.


Most modern day public services have adopted the strategy of institutional and policy reforms to cope with the ever-changing demands of their environment, customers and stakeholders. At the beginning, most organisations start very small. As demands for services increase, the need to create departments becomes pertinent. When there is a geographical spread of service demands, the need to decentralise becomes imperative.
 
This case study focuses on the use of decentralisation in achieving effective service delivery at the Lagos State Local Government Pensions Board. The strategy led to a reduction of fatalities among aged pensioners throughout the intake process, reduced fraud resulting from exploitation of the formerly rowdy and over-centralised verification exercise, and achievement of a more accurate database for monthly pension payments.
 
BACKGROUND INFORMATION 

Decentralisation in the public service has always been a subject of controversy. While proponents have stressed the positive benefits of ensuring efficient service delivery at the grassroots, opponents have argued that the level of institutional development required at this level would make decentralisation a disaster. If management capacity is lacking, the possibility of mismanagement resulting from such additional responsibilities is very high.
 
In their paper titled, “The Impact of Decentralisation in Service Delivery, Corruption, Fiscal Management and Growth in Developing and Emerging Market Economies: A Synthesis of Empirical Evidence”1, Shah, Thompson and Zou observed a myriad of outcomes resulting from the implementation of decentralisation in many developing countries. In some cases the study revealed negative impacts associated with high- perceived corruption and poor service delivery. In other cases the impacts were inconclusive as the local officials may have had a good understanding of local needs, but exhibited inadequate responses because of procedural, financing and governance constraints. There were also many empirical cases of decentralisation with positive impacts that led to increased transparency, reduced corruption, and successful service provision. In terms of the economic impact of decentralisation, the study also revealed a myriad of results varying from negative, inconclusive and positive. In theory, decentralisation is expected to ensureresponsiveness, accountability, efficiency and equity. However, the absence of effective coordination, capacity to deliver services, and stakeholder understanding and support could negate the positive expectations from decentralisation.
 
As part of Public Sector Reforms carried out in Nigeria between 1999 and 2003, the Contributory Pension Scheme (funded by the government with contributions by employees) was introduced. This new initiative existed side- by-side with the old Pay-As-You-Go Scheme (funded by the government). By its nature, government funding of the old pension scheme is expected to continue to decrease until the last beneficiary dies.
 
To ensure an accurate database, an annual ‘I am Alive’ verification exercise is conducted by the Lagos State Local Government Pensions Board with over 10,000 pensioners. During the exercise, pensioners are expected to come forward with the necessary documents for screening and retention of their names on the pensioners database. Those outside the country and those who cannot be there because they are indisposed are expected to take photographs with recent newspapers and send proxies with relevant documents so that they can be cleared. The exercise normally takes ten working days, and until 2013 has always been in one venue. Pensioners are expected to appear before the respective committees assigned to their local government, and there are 57 local government and local council development areas.
 
CHALLENGES 

The Board carries out this exercise at the car park of the Old Government Secretariat at Ikeja. Canopies and chairs are provided with conveniences, light refreshments, and skeletal medical services in case of emergency. In spite of the facilities provided, casualties, in some cases fatal, are recorded annually. As well, the process is always disorderly and takes up to 48 hours for most of the pensioners to complete screening. Because of its rowdy nature, fraudulent individuals and their insider accomplices smuggle fake names onto the list of cleared pensioners resulting in erroneous payments by the Board. Lastly, the amount released by the state government for the verification exercise has been decreasing yearly. Management was thus faced with the challenges of addressing the unruliness and finding innovative ways to achieve better results in the face of dwindling resources.

STRATEGY 

To address these challenges, a meeting was held with the pensioners’ unions where agreement was reached to decentralise the exercise to 12 of the 57 local governments. Inherent benefits such as reduction in travel distance for the pensioners and reduction in the number of pensioners expected at each venue were identified. A total of 12 screening panels were constituted. Each panel consisted of two senior staff members of the Local Government Commission from other departments (excluding staff members of the Pensions Board), one external auditor, one internal auditor, and the internal auditor and pension desk officer of the local government where the venue was located. Screening panel membership was expanded to include executive members of the pensioners’ unions in their catchment areas to ensure that infiltrators were easily detected, since most of them worked for 35 years before retirement. Because venues were spread throughout the state, the location of a member’s residence was taken into consideration in determining their placement on panels so that transport allowances could be reduced and accommodation allowances avoided.
 
To implement this change within the available budget, council managers in the selected local governments were contacted, and they provided canopies, chairs, medical staff and first aid facilities and conveniences. At some venues light refreshments were also provided. These gestures made it possible to reduce costs and work within the budget approved for the exercise.
 
The list of pensioners was also divided into groups associated with the local government located closest to each pensioner’s place of residence. Each of the 12 lists was further divided into eight groups. Pensioners of the subdivided lists were to report on a specific date during the first eight days of the ten-day screening exercise. The last two days were reserved for special cases including those who missed the exercise in any of the eight specified dates.
 
In view of the expanded panel memberships and because of change in modalities for the screening exercise, a one- day training programme was conducted for panellists and selected staff of the relevant local government to ensure a smooth verification exercise.
 
OUTCOMES 

As a result of the strategies deployed, the exercise recorded no casualties that year. The screening time per pensioner was reduced to five minutes. The monthly pensioners pay was reduced from an average of N210,000,000 to N184,000,000. The travel distance to the venue was also reduced considerably to less than two kilometres. At the end of the exercise, not all the funds released to augment the fund provided by the state government were utilised. Finally, the Union of Pensioners wrote a letter to commend management for organising the most effective verification in the history of the exercise.
 
CONCLUSION 

This case study underscores the need for a continuous review of modes of operation by government agencies so that they are in line with existing realities and achieve efficient and customer-friendly service delivery. One of the initiatives that can be deployed is decentralisation of services closer to the grassroots. This approach requires careful coordination of efforts, enlistment of stakeholder support, and building official’s capacity at the grassroots through joint implementation of service delivery with experienced state officials and training. Public servants should as much as possible review and evaluate modus operandi to accommodate changes that will improve the impact of their service delivery.
 
It is also important to note that in addition to internal resources, external resources could be tapped using goodwill to accomplish assigned duties. Finally, public servants should explore the use of decentralisation for effective service delivery as appropriate where the geographical spread of customers is large.


REFERENCES

1 Shah, A; Thompson, T; and Zou, H (2004). The Impact of Service Delivery, Corruption, Fiscal Management and Growth in Developing And Emerging Economies: A Synthesis of Empirical Evidence. C Einfo DICE Report1/2004, World Bank, Washington, DC.