Ministers’ performance-based contracts: Results matter

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By Emmanuel Zvada
IT’S true, action speaks louder than words. The performance-based contracts signed by Cabinet ministers and heads of public institutions last week have brought a new dimension that results speak louder than actions.

Having performance-based contracts ensures the effectiveness and efficiency of all local authorities, public institutions and State-owned enterprises in Zimbabwe on condition that enough support is given to realise intended results.

What are performance-based contracts?
A performance-based contract is a negotiated performance agreement between government, acting as the owner of an agency and ministers acting as employees. It is an agreement between two parties that clearly specifies their mutual performance obligations and in this case it’s the government and its ministers as employees. It specifies what needs to be achieved, expected levels of achievement, timelines and reporting modalities. Performance agreements are used to define accountability for specific ministerial goals and to help executives align their daily operations with the agency’s programme goals.

Finance-minister-Mthuli-Ncube-bigs-up-President-Emmerson-Mnangagwa-after-signing-his-performance-contract

It is a freely-negotiated performance agreement between the government, acting as the owner of public agency on one hand, and the management of the agency on the other hand. The performance-based contract specifies the mutual performance obligations, intentions and the responsibilities of the two parties. Similarly, it also addresses economic/social and other tasks to be discharged for economic or other gain.

Zimbabwe’s case on performance-based contracts
Cabinet ministers, heads of State-owned entities and parastatals signed performance-based contracts last week and among those who signed was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya and others.

Performance-based contracts for permanent secretaries were launched in 2020 in a bid to create robust public sector institutions and leadership.

It’s true that performance-based contracts are the best way to manage public officials, especially heads of departments and senior managers but the implementation part will be key.

The idea of performance-based contract is that nobody must be permanently employed when non-performing.

If there is no value for money, the employer, which in this case is the government, must be able to dismiss an underperformer. In the past, senior officials have not been accountable to the employer in terms of performance but only in terms of reporting for duty.

Why performance-based contracts?
The government acknowledges that over the years there has been poor performance in public sector, especially in the management of public resources which has hindered the realisation of sustainable economic growth. Some of the contributing factors that can be attributed to poor performance include excessive regulation and control, frequent political interference, poor management, outright mismanagement and a bloated staff establishment. There are a lot of factors that adversely affect the performance of the public sector and the introduction of performance-based contracts will expose those who are inefficient but continue to hold public office.

Stronger alignment with results-oriented goals
Goals help align employees with the organisation’s mission. They also help employees (ministers) see how their contributions fit into the bigger picture and the value they bring to the country in their various ministries.

Performance-based agreements define accountability for specific organisational goals, help executives align daily operations, and clarify how work unit activities contribute to the agency’s goals and objectives.

Performance-based agreements provide a useful vehicle to bring results-oriented performance information into the executive’s performance evaluation. Goals direct and guide employee efforts, motivate performance, and improve performance evaluation and strategic planning. In other words, without the right goals, performance and engagement suffers.

Continuity of programme goals during leadership transitions
Leadership continuity helps to sustain an institution’s viability and future mission by supporting its people and developing its human capital. Preparing for transition at the top is only a part of establishing a culture of leadership continuity and performance-based contracts can assist in such transitions.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi

Performance-based agreements reinforce accountability for organisational goals during leadership transition. The agreements serve as vehicles for new leadership to identify and maintain focus on the organisation’s goals.

What gets measured gets done
If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure. This means that regular measurement and reporting keeps you focused because you use that information to make decisions to improve your results. Your most critical measurements are called key performance indicators (KPIs) which l hope these performance-based contracts have. KPIs are a number of agreed-upon measurements that reflect your organisation’s critical goals for success. They must be measurable, objective and actionable. Having KPIs in various institutions will let us know if things are running well on a daily basis.

Way forward

  • Continuous information dissemination

Citizens should be kept abreast with information and updates regarding the performance contracts, government policies, developmental projects and actions meant for their overall wellbeing, for them to be able to make informed decisions. Information is key in a democratic society. The media plays a critical role by constantly relaying information between government and citizens, and from citizens to government. Dissemination of performance information should be done quarterly rather than waiting for a long period to review and evaluate performance.

  • Performance-based contracts should not be politicised.

They should be apolitical in their decisions and stay duty-bound, for they are citizens first, and, therefore, mirror the Zimbabwean dream in their visions while performing their duties under these contracts. Public institutions or ministerial positions serve the interests of the citizens not a political party, hence the need to be apolitical in executing one’s duty and on deciding key issues that affect the country. It calls for boldness, honesty and accountability for the nation’s shared vision to come to fruition.

A culture of participation, accountability and transparency to be fostered
Accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion should be a new development consensus if we really want these performance-based contracts to work. Everyone who signed the contract agreed to take responsibility in their own areas, at the same time they should be accountable in terms of results. There is no need to keep underperforming ministers.

Transparency initiatives involve promoting information disclosure and access to information for a wide range of government processes such as budget formulation and implementation, revenue management and procurement processes in sectors as diverse as health, education and the extractive industries. Participatory approaches aim at empowering beneficiaries to participate at all stages of decision-making, implementation and monitoring processes as a means to promote vertical forms of accountability.

Public participation and involvement is key
One of the biggest challenges affecting performance-based contracts is how to involve the citizens in formulation and implementation of public service functions and delivery at all levels.

The expected outcome of the performance-based contracts includes improved service delivery, improved efficiency in resource utilisation, institutionalisation of a performance-oriented culture in the public service etc, hence public participation is key.

Public participation involves the direct participation by non-governmental actors in decision-making. In that scenario there will be an active process of information exchange, discussion and consensus building, through which more meaningful public input is incorporated into regulatory policy setting and decision-making.

Public participation is widely seen as crucial in advancing the three key cornerstones of democracy: Effectiveness, legitimacy and social justice.

Continuous training on the implementation
The highly-dynamic industry environment today demands our government to invest in re-skilling its employees to remain competitive.

We are now in the digital era. If leaders do not appreciate that then it is a big challenge. In order to prepare ministries/departments and State corporations for implementation of the performance-based contracts, a series of sensitisation workshops targeting key stakeholders including permanent secretaries, chairpersons of State corporations, chief executive officers etc. Continuous training and mentoring are essential to raise the overall performance of government.

The rot at parastatals, local authorities and other key government departments can only be curbed through accountability, meritocracy and innovation, with deliverables constantly measured. These performance-based contracts are the best way to manage public officials, especially heads of departments and senior managers so that we ensure nobody is permanently employed yet non-performing.