Scholars across the world including those in Bangladesh ponder on the way public servants can be made more accountable, and their actions can be made realistic, complementary to development discourse, and pro-people. From long back, the performance target for Deputy Commissioner (DC) and Upazilla Nirbahi Officer (UNO) has been fixed. Similarly, there are defined targets for those who conduct judicial functions, e.g., the required number of hearings to be completed or the numbers of statements of the witnesses to be recorded, number of judgments to be passed etc. The developed world started implementing specific performance frameworks long ago to make public servants more accountable. Devising a way to improve the performances of the public servants has now become highly necessary in our country.
Since the past few years, a Medium-Term Budgetary Framework (MTBF) is in operation in Bangladesh. The multi-year budgeting approach, MTBF, includes indicative budget allocations of a ministry or division for three consecutive years. It is essentially a rolling financial plan since the ongoing financial year is replaced by a new year at the end of the financial year to ensure a three-year budgetary plan.
The most plausible way of ensuring an appropriate account of the regular activities of the departments and judging good performers among them was under consideration for a long. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in charge of power, energy, and mineral resources ministry, had set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the Power Division. The KPIs included the existing amount of system loss against acceptable limit, improvement of the load-shedding situation and electricity frequency, and the target of electricity generation. It was how the performance appraisal system had begun. Later in 2012-13, the Result Based Management (RBM) system rolled out.
Result Based Management and Key Performance Indicators were two sides of the same coin. However, whether adequate supports were available to perform a specific task was not appraised initially with due diligence. It is essential to provide employees with the necessary infrastructure, required amount of resources, sufficient workforce, enabling legal provision, and a convenient environment for decision-making. Based on these thoughts, the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) system evolved.
At first, activities of the ministries and divisions, their performance target, the process of measuring their achievements against targets, quality of works, and priority of works were determined with the help of the Governance Innovation Unit (GIU). At the outset, APA of the departments attached to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) such as the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA), NGO Affairs Bureau, and NSI, had been prepared. In two rounds of Cabinet meetings in 2015, on behalf of the ministries and divisions, concerned secretaries signed APA with the cabinet secretary in presence of HPM of all ministers. It was the first instance where a ministry or division in Bangladesh signed an agreement with the Cabinet division regarding targeted work. In reality, these were not mere agreements, rather a giant leap in the public service delivery system, the beginning of a new era, an introduction of new ideas, and advancement towards a new higher level.
It is important to understand what the APA is, how the tasks listed in the APAs are redistributed among the departments under the ministries and divisions on how to devise performance indicators of the offices at division, zila, or upazila level. To acclimatise the ministries with the process, APA was introduced first in February 2015. However, the complete roll-out of APA began in July 2015. Since the annual budget of the government is approved by June 30, all ministries and divisions become aware of their budget allocation. Depending on the resource allocation, the ministries discuss proposed APAs with the Cabinet division and finalise the documents. APA makes activities of the ministries measurable.
Every ministry has specific work plans. As a result, the measurement criteria for their performances are essentially different. To conduct such an intricate set of activities, a post of Secretary for coordination and reform has been created inside the Cabinet division. The Secretary is responsible for anticipating new reform ideas, implementing and coordinating reform activities. This was how a new office began its journey to monitor the scopes of innovation in public service. Although some works can be done by an individual ministry, some of the works involved several ministries. Similarly, various government departments depend on other ministries to complete their tasks. Such interrelated activities are bundled together, and achievements against the targets are equally applicable to all concerned ministries. Since it is difficult to measure such a complex system of work delivery, concerned employees must have adequate training on the subject. When the system was introduced at the grassroots, achievements against the target were sent from upazilas to zila, zila to division and finally, it reached up to the ministry through the departments. It is possible to extend this programme further below.
Governments in Bangladesh assume office for five years. They declare their economic, social, political, and diplomatic plans through election manifestos. Hence, it is logical that the election manifesto of 2009, 2014 and 2018 of the winning party Bangladesh Awami League has been considered as the guiding principle for all the activities of the government. Accordingly, all ministries have taken initiatives to implement the manifestos. We know that Bangladesh received an initial recommendation by the concerned UN agency for graduation from LDC; it is now preparing for the second recommendation in 2021. The government is working to devise appropriate plans to face ensuing adversities due to the withdrawal of the facilities after graduating from LDC, and consequently, it is exploring new avenues. Annual Performance Agreement is a very useful tool that may facilitate our actions concerning graduation from LDC status. It will also play a significant role in implementing SDGs. According to the national planning documents, Bangladesh's steps towards development starting with becoming a middle-income country by 2021, which will be followed by realising the SDGs by 2030, becoming a developed country by 2041, the birth centenary of Bangladesh in 2071, and the Delta Plan 2100 for a safe delta are linked very closely to the Annual Performance Agreement.
Currently, preparation, implementation, and appraisal of the Annual Performance Agreements are conducted as per the 2015 guidelines of the Cabinet division relating to the APA. Now a law on the APA could be enacted to give it a permanent shape. Besides, presently the APA applies only to the organisations and offices. It is yet to roll out at the individual employee level. Present Annual Confidential Report (ACR) for the employees has to be replaced by the Annual Performance Report or Annual Performance Review (APR) which the ministry of industries started piloting from 2019. This is an effective way to link the Annual Performance Agreement of the offices at upazila, zila, administrative division level, departments, divisions, and ministries to the performance of the concerned employees. Gradually, the role of the public service in realising the national budget and five-year plans will be institutionalised.
Furthermore, a significant portion of the executive branch of a country comprises various autonomous commissions, such as the Public Service Commission, Anti-corruption Commission, Information Commission, and Human Rights Commission, which are yet to come under the Annual Performance Agreement. Since these organisations are regarded as vital components of the executive branch of a country, the success of the government largely depends on their accomplishments. These commissions may voluntarily declare their annual targets to the citizens to ensure accountability and commitment, which will increase their efficiency and effectiveness. The Anti-Corruption Commission in a limited way started setting KPI and introducing APA for each employee and also implementing yearly targets on the way to renewed commitment to the nation
Bangabandhu once said that there was no shortcut to becoming affluent. To ensure a wealthier future, we need to struggle to the highest limit. Every public servant must fulfill their responsibilities to realise Bangabandhu's Sonar Bangla. In doing so, the APA can be one of the vital elements of success.
Abul Kalam Azad is a former Principal Secretary and SDGs Coordinator, Prime Minister's Office.