HARARE: Praise is an actionable device to encourage a positive outcome. For instance, a teacher could praise her student by saying, “John, your handwriting has improved since last week. Good job!” Now, such words of praise can help John to improve his handwriting further. He knows what his teacher likes, and he can work on his handwriting to produce better results.
However, if the teacher says, “John, you’re good in class. I think you’re the best!” these words are unspecific, vague, and offer no direction for improvement to the receiver. John will, of course, feel good about the kind words from his teacher, but he wouldn’t know how to be better in his class.
In relation to the above narration, Weekend Reader by Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) reads, “Poor performance by public officials has for years been impacting negatively on citizens who bear the brunt of poor public service delivery amidst corruption and mismanagement of public resources.”
This was a few days after performance contracts were issued to cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, chief executive officers and chairpersons of local authorities, and public entities.
Rarely in Africa will leaders apologise or face dismissal for failing to meet their economic targets. Research by USAID has shown that a series of political and economic crises have led to a general decline in the standard of living and a breakdown in public health, education, and infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
To dodge the pincer movement of pressures from poor performance and mediocre service delivery, the President, Emmerson Mnangagwa moved to the introduction of performance-based contracts on public officials.
The President urged the officials to heed and put the interests of citizens in their implementation of duties.
“As leaders of the public sector, your focus must be on improving the living standards of our people, anchored by better performance of public entities and the delivery of critical public goods and services,” said Mnangagwa, presiding over the signing ceremony.
The President also highlighted that the performances of office bearers will be judged in the domain of the citizenry and the results will be made public.
However, questions have been raised on the genuineness of the contracts, transparency, and if the citizens will have a role in setting up the key performance indicators that will be used to measure desired performances.
“Without earnest implementation, the desire to turn around public sector performance in Zimbabwe will remain a pipedream. The implementation of performance contracts must be guided by a thorough and impartial results-based monitoring and evaluation exercise,” further noted ZIMCODD.
The organization further underlined that the process of performance contracts should not just end with the signing of the contracts but should include decisive and punitive action to be taken on nonperforming public officials.
In an effective social accountability model, citizens play a crucial role in monitoring and evaluating the effective use of public resources, and also demanding accountability from duty bearers.
Director of Transparency International Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Chikumbu believes that the contracts should be aligned to the budget itself for proper implementation and tracking.
“If aligned to the budget, then that means the contracts are more or less in the public domain. The achievements or failures should be entirely based on poor performance by the officials rather than the non-availability of resources,” he said.
Chikumbu further noted that access to information by the public and transparency on the contents of the contracts if the citizens are to hold the government to account.
“It is more important for what they committed to be made public. There should be portals within government departments’ websites where such contracts are publicized so that citizens can access and hold institutions to account referring to contracts in the public domain.”
Nevertheless, the civic society and experts say the introduction of performance contracts by the President is a positive step that must be celebrated at least.
“It is something very positive especially given the emphasis in government on results-based management and focuses on enhancing productivity in the public sector. Not only is it in line with regional and international best practices but they incentivize productivity within the government,” said economist, Dr Prosper Chitambara.
Other African countries such as Rwanda and Kenya have been successful in using the performance contract model.
However, accountability is at the core of this model; the public is empowered to monitor and assess whether government leaders are indeed working in the interest of society, which puts them under pressure to protect their jobs not through bribery but by maintaining strong performance records.