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New Public Management Reforms – a relevant issue for the citizens of Zambia?

New Public Management Reforms by Tobias Mulimbika, André de Waal and Robert Goedegebuure

Abstract: New Public Management Reforms – a relevant issue for the citizens of Zambia?

This paper assesses the extent to which New Public Management (New Public Management) reforms have had an influence on the service New Public Managementquality delivered by public institutions in Zambia. While Zambia has taken up elements of the New Public Management agenda, there have, as of yet, not been studies to evaluate the relationship between the implementation of certain New Public Management reforms and the level of service quality as delivered by Zambian public institutions. This study focuses on the New Public Management reforms implementations in the Patent and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) and the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA). These two institutions are statutory agencies of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry in Zambia. In February 2012, the New Public Management and Simple Service Quality Questionnaire was distributed to all managers and employees and several customers of the two statutory agencies. In addition 150 customers of each agency were interviewed.

The study found that PACRA had a higher adoption of New Public Management than ZDA. However, both institutions were still rather low in adopting the commercialisation process and information technology, though their adoption levels were different. PACRA had a higher service level than ZDA but, interestingly, the shapes of the service level graphs was identical for the two institutions. In addition, a weak positive relationship was found between New Public Management and the level of service quality in these two public institutions.

Keywords: New Public Management, New Public Management, reforms, Agencification, Service Quality

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Since the early 1990s the Zambian Government has been implementing New Public Management reforms to stimulate the efficiency of the public sector and improve service delivery to Zambian citizens. However, despite these reforms the performance of government institutions has continued to fail in either quantity or quality of services as expected by tax payers. As Mulenga (2013) noted: “the abysmal state of the public sector in Zambia is no secret to the consumers”. The implementation of New Public Management reforms is supposed to bring about increased efficiency of the professional administration and improved service delivery by public institutions (Pendlebury and Karhai, 2002; Pollitt and Talbot, 2004; OECD, 2005). This is because New Public Management reforms create statutory agencies or semiautonomous public institutions (the so-called agencification of public institutions) which bring about more flexible, responsible, customer friendly public service (Atreya and Armstrong, 2002; Pollitt et al., 2005; Vinni, 2007; de Waal, 2011). This effect is supported by the fact that, as Van Thiel (2009) states, public managers in statutory agencies or semiautonomous public institutions operate at arm’s length of the government and therefore can carry out public tasks in a relatively autonomous way, thus having considerable managerial freedom.

However, as observed by Mulenga (2013), despite the New Public Management reforms bringing about a great deal of change in the public sector, these changes have not caused a proportional increase in the quality of service citizens were receiving from the public sector. This raises the question whether there is a relationship between the implementation of New Public Management reforms and (increased) delivery of service by the institutions. To answer the question this study explores the relationship between the implementation of New Public Management reforms and the service quality as delivered by Statutory Agencies, to be more precise, whether elements or dimensions of New Public Management reforms are directly related to the quality of service provided by public agencies.
The following were the specific questions for the study: What is the current level of implementation of New Public Management reforms? What is the opinion of the public and public institution staff on the level of service quality in public institutions? What is the relationship between New Public Management reforms and service quality in these public institutions?
This study is unique in the sense that most of the research that has been done on the New Public Management reforms is on the level of adoption of the reform in public institutions in Western settings (Olufemi and David, 2010) while this study looks at the effects of New Public Management reforms in a developing country. This article is structured as follows. In the next sections the New Public Management reforms and the case organizations, Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) and Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA), are described. Subsequently the research approach and research results are given. This is followed by an analysis, and the article ends with a conclusion, theoretical and practical implications of the study, limitations of the study, and possibilities for further research.

Literature Review

New Public Management (New Public Management) has reached developing countries in various strands and forms but the key element has always been to redefine the role of the State. It is in this context that developing countries have embarked on various degrees of decentralization and corporatization of public service delivery through the establishment of executive agencies. OECD (2005) noted that New Public Management programs have had a devolution orientation in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, with an expectation of having an extensive and profound impact on public service delivery in the medium-to-long term. All the four countries mentioned by the OECD have implemented an “agency model” in the search for options for improved public service delivery of services. The “agencification” trend in Zambia started in the mid-1990s as an element of New Public Management reform (GRZ, 2004). The aim of this reform was to separate the central policy functions of government from the tasks of implementation and service delivery (Fjelstad and Moore, 2008). Creation of agencies was seen as key to providing high quality services that citizens value, accompanied by increasing the autonomy of public managers, rewarding organizations and individuals on the basis of whether they met demanding performance targets, and making available the human resources and technological resources that managers need to perform well (Ehsan and Naz, 2003; Roll, 2011).
However, the evidence of the degree to which agencies have been successful varies considerably. This is because agencification is influenced by three elements (Pollitt et al., 2005):

  • structural separation,
  • managerial autonomy, and
  • managerial accountability.

These three elements capture the essence of a successful agency, but they are not always implemented in the same level in all countries. Further, there is evidence that agencification does not necessarily lead to high performing public institutions, as Roll (2011) noted the effects of establishing semi-autonomous agencies have been patchy and sometimes contradictory. In addition, agencification has often been interpreted differently and has consequently led to inconsistencies, for example that agencification leads to ‘managers of these institutions to have more discretions’ while in other cases agencification leads to ‘managers of the agencies to have limited discretion’ (Baclija, 2012). A study conducted by Sulle (2011) in Tanzania showed that most agencies, if not all, were not allowed to have their own human resources policy or strategic decisions on vital areas such as employment and salary levels for their employees. The mixed results of the reforms indicate that the creation of semi-autonomous agencies will not automatically turn public institutions into high performing organizations which deliver high quality services. Thus, according to Roll (2011), the impact of agencification in developing countries is limited. Andrew and van de Walla (2012), in an empirical study of English Local Government institutions on the effects of New Public Management practices on citizens’ perceptions of four key dimensions of public service performance, confirmed that New Public Management reforms had contradicting results. They found that public-private reforms had a negative relationship on citizens’ perceptions of service performance, but at the same time an entrepreneurial strategic orientation exhibited a positive (albeit weaker) effect on citizens’ perceptions. Further, they found that these relationships were partly contingent upon the circumstances in which local governments operated, with externally facing practices proving likely to have fewer benefits than internally facing ones in organizations confronting more challenging socioeconomic
circumstances. These results have both theoretical and practical implications for developing countries, including Zambia.
Olum (2002) conducted a critical appraisal of New Public Management implementations in Uganda during the period 1989-2002 and concluded that, despite the government reporting many successful reforms, Uganda remained one of the poorest countries in the world with New Public Management - Zambiaa high debt folio, low standard of living, inefficient service delivery, poor regional distribution of services, high levels of corruption, and underdeveloped industrial and agricultural sectors. These findings are not different in the case of Zambia. The Zambian Sixth National Development Plan stated that, despite the implementation of many New Public Management reforms in Zambia, its public institutions were still ineffective (GRZ, 2010). This opinion is shared by de Haan (2011) who stated that results of New Public Management reforms in Zambia have in fact resulted in ineffective public institutions. Rosta (2011) agreed with de Haan’s statement and argued that, while developed countries’ literature reports numerous successes, for developing countries the introduction of New Public Management reforms in most cases resulted in failure. The main reasons for the failure of New Public Management reforms in these countries was that most times, the application was prompted by donor advocacy, did not take into account the local context, there was a lack of mature public services to begin with, and there was a lack of required pre-conditions to adapt New Public Management creatively and realistically (Atreya and Armstrong, 2002; Larbi, 2003; Mongkol, 2011).

A study of New Public Management reforms in Zambia by Michelo (2007) showed that the majority of respondents that sought to obtain services at any of the Ministry of Education offices stated that the quality of service rendered to them was generally poor. In addition, the main complaint was that at the time they went to seek the service they were referred to other officers, were kept waiting for a long period of time, or were made to undertake several trips back to the office before they were attended to. Further, this study indicated that effectiveness in the public service did not improve as a result of the implementation of the reforms. This was because the restructuring program did not put the right people in the right positions, and thus ill-qualified people were appointed to management positions. Michelo’s study confirmed the conclusion by OECD’s (2005) meeting on Governance and Capacity Development held in Nairobi in 2002 that structural reforms have had little positive direct impact on the delivery of public service.
However, other researchers like Manning (1995) argue that there is so much debate about the public service reforms because these reforms are linked into a virtuous circle: more demanding citizens trigger improved service delivery, and improved service delivery encourages citizens to demand even higher service. This circle of rising expectations and rising standards in turn triggers a demand for higher public service effectiveness in broader areas of government responsibility, including economic regulatory management. In support of this theory Rosta (2011) argued that New Public Management reforms increase the awareness in public institutions of the service demanded by citizens.
In conclusion, in the literature only a limited number of studies can be found into the relationship between the implementation of New Public Management reforms and the level of service quality delivered by the public service in Zambia. Most of the studies done in African countries, including the one by Michelo (2007), focused on the review of a variety of streams of New Public Management literature and its adoption by various countries but did not look at the relationship between reform programs and level of service quality. The study described in this article was intended to fill this gap in the literature and to offer new insights into ways to improve the performance of the public sector.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical underpinning of the study is based on Roll (2011), Pollitt and Bouckaert (2004) and Ehsan and Naz (2003) who all argue that New Public Management reforms are meant to bring deliberate changes to the structures and processes of public sector organizations, with the objective of getting them to run better so that public service is increased. In this regard, structural changes may include merging government institutions, or creating or splitting public institutions into semiautonomous agencies.
Public service is defined as a bundle of characteristics and features that represent a particular level of service, distinguished by policies and service infrastructure investments that enable public institutions to offer a more frequent, extensive and convenient service for citizens (Oliver; 1993). The dependent variable in this study is service quality in public institutions while the independent variable is New Public Management Reforms. Using these variables, the study undertakes a quantitative assessment of the implementation of a range of New Public Management elements using Brudney, Hebert and Wright’s model (Baclija, 2012) with the following indicators to measure the implementation of New Public Management reforms: use of information technology, human capital, re-engineering of working processes, and infrastructure & business premises (GRZ, 2004, 2005b). These themes are common in most countries undertaking New Public Management reforms (Hood, 1991; Hope, 2001; Atreya and Armstrong, 2002; Sarker, 2006; Berry, 2007; Fjeldstad and Moore, 2009; Rosta, 2011).

Baclija (2012) noted that a quantitative assessment of the implementation of New Public Management reforms is difficult, and therefore used selected indicators such as quality improvement programs, strategic planning programs and human resources management programs. Use of information technology is understood to improve management processes and thus to enhance efficiency, service quality and accountability.
Human resources management is defined as the knowledge, skill and attitude of public employees. As such, it is an essential element in improving service quality. Infrastructure and business premises include customer facilities and office location. This can positively impact service quality by streamlining operations and motivating people who like to work in good conditions. It also encourages use of information technology to manage data and decision-making, as such allowing more information to be made available to the citizens. Re-engineering work processes is defined as fundamental rethinking and radical redesigning of business process to achieve improvements in service quality. Scholars like Oliver (1993) defined service quality as a bundle of characteristics and features that represent a particular level of service, distinguished by policies and service infrastructure investment that enable the public sector to offer a more frequent, extensive or convenient service for citizens. Output quality is then defined as the actual service outcome that citizens experience. Saunders, Philips and Thornhill (2009) argued that service quality is a function of a particular industry within which it is measured and stated that different users of a service might assign different levels of importance to the same quality dimension.

New Public ManagementIn addition, the use of generic constructs to measure a particular service’s quality may not provide the details necessary to define specific causes of a problem rather than just obtaining its symptoms. Generic constructs, therefore, may fail to account for the uniqueness and the realities of the specific service and how these are expressed and interpreted by the parties involved. Mori (2004) and Price Waterhouse and Coopers (2007) in their studies, noted that the determinants of service quality in the public sector were primarily found in factors such as the speed of the service, flexibility of the service, timeliness of service provision; bureaucratic requirements, professionalism and competence of staff and fair treatment of customers; and staff attitudes-friendly, polite and sympathetic to customers’ needs and information about the public service. The evaluation of the quality of service in this study is based on the attributes as identified by Brewer and Selden (2001), Moynihan and Pandey (2003), and Van Ryzin (2003). To measure service quality, in this study, modifications are made to the SERVQUAL model of Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1988). Next to this framework there are other instruments, such as the Facility Management SERVQUAL developed by Wan Yussof and Ismail (2008), which can be used to measure service quality through the mechanism of comparing customer expectations and actual perceptions of the quality of services provided by public institutions (Ojo, 2010; Parasuman et al, 1993).
The performance of public organizations may be closely associated with citizens’ overall views of government political attitudes (Stipak, 1977). According to Ehsan and Naz (2003), it may be difficult to keep politicians at a distance from the implementation of government programs, in so far as they may want to interfere in detail whenever they feel. Thomas (1998) acknowledges that ministers may intervene in managerial decision making when it suits their political purpose. For example. Obosi (2008) found in Kenya that there always was a compromise of expected professionalism in the delivery of public service because of political interference. Another issue about the challenges of public service delivery is the distortion in the conditions of service (Obosi, 2008).
The reward system may not be commensurate with the levels of input by the civil servants. Obosi (2008) found that in Kenya the difference between the earnings of the top, the middle and lower levels was so wide that juniors who drive the civil service cannot be inspired to focus on the work to be done. The distortions in conditions of service and political concerns are outside the focus of this study….

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