Public Sector Efficiency. No Joke

The hightlight of this week is the International Public Sector Effectiveness Conference in Vilnius, organized as a part of a program of events associated with Lithuanian Presidency of EU in 2013. I kept being puzzled if organizers didn’t lose the point in translation: Lithuanian version of the title contained the word “efektyvumas“, which, to be precise, translates to English as “efficiency“. The speakers, however, did not let themselves be led astray by a name, and it was efficiency of the public sector institutions that remained in focus.

Public sector in Lithuania has little to say about how more efficient it got, even during the  “Kubilius years“, the economic downturn period of 2009-2012. The notorious Sunset Committee, which was supposed to target waste and complexity in government processes, well, saw its sunset without accomplishing anything worth mention.To be fair, previous government, the Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte in particular, did a lot to raise the issue and to do whatever was humanly possible at the time of crisis, including a freeze on government wages and hiring. The number of employees in government jobs decreased from 54945 to 51799.

Right now, with Social Democrats at helm, the trend reversed, and the number of government employees grew by more than 900 positions in just half a year. The Social Democrat vice speaker Gediminas Kirkilas in his keynote speech mentioned, among other things, that headcount is not going to be any measure of efficiency for this government, because it strives to provide also job security and motivation to employees. How this government is planning to do the trick of growing efficiency with ever increasing staff, remains its secret. Or, possibly, a translation error.

The problem,of course, is with the fact that Parkinson’s effect on government bodies in Lithuania is just as profound as everywhere else. Agencies are fragmented, not bothering to look into each other’s affairs, even just to streamline processes. This very European Presidency has been an excuse to take up additional staff across many ministries. I wonder, if they are going to be laid off after it.

In the words of Ken Miller, the public consultant and a speaker at this conference, “somebody needs to look at the plumbing and will most likely find how convoluted, complex and inefficient the government processes are“. The trick here is to start looking, and apparently, there is no one at the moment in charge of it.

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