Session 8: State Capabilities & the Public Sector

This session was chaired by Ibrahim Stevens (IGC). As the first speaker, Oriana Bandiera (London School of Economics) made a presentation on ‘Breaking Down Public Sector Motivation: An Overview’. She emphasized that research on the public sector should look at how to improve the public organisations; and highlighted that the recruitment process is depends on the financial benefits, career prospects, status and social impact the employee is expected to receive. She stated that research should also look at how to improve tax compliance and, as such, it is important to understand what the motivation to pay tax is. Furthermore, research questions should be of interest to both researchers and policy makers. However concerning, she pointed out that tax structures and rates are very similar across high and low-income countries yet the Revenue/GDP ratio is much lower in the latter.

Daniel Rogger (University College London) was next to present on state capabilities by providing evidence from a study on public sector worker absence in Uganda. He highlighted that motivation of public sector output was achieved through: i) politicians providing top-down incentives by choosing the most effective organisations and providing incentives, and ii) a bottom down approach where citizens provide the motivation. However, management is missing in between these two approaches. Furthermore, he presented results on a study in Nigeria on performance management that revealed varying degrees of practices across different organisations. Likewise, it was also revealed that the more risk a project faced (e.g., construction of a dam) the lower the performance management.

Using evidence from Uganda, Andrew Zeitlin (Georgetown University) discussed about how to improve teacher attendance. Based on the fact that “schooling isn’t learning”, he emphasised the importance of improving teacher attendance. Delegated incentive strategies could be challenging but they bring the incentives to go to school. The main lesson from his presentation was that the type of local accountability that harness stakeholder performance can have powerful effects; but it is concerning that parents do not seem helpful in the monitoring of teachers attendance.

The discussant for the state capabilities session was Patrick Muzaale (Public Service Commission, Uganda). Patrick emphasised that is necessary to improve participation at the level highlighted in the projects so that it is synonymous with what the needs are. He also emphasised that the right people were needed on board with the right attitude, because incentives alone were not enough to improve productivity.

Some of the major issues arising during the discussion that followed are: i) teachers attendance does guarantee that the quality of teaching will improve; ii) there is need to factor in the issue of the wage bill and common payments’ freeze; and iii) tax collection costs, especially when trying to bring the informal sector in, should not exceed the value of the actual collection.