Progress in Development Studies 12, 2&3 (2012) pp. 135–151
Organizational culture and public sector
reforms in a post–Washington consensus
era: Lessons from Ghana’s good reformers
Francis Y. Owusu
Department of Community and Regional Planning,
Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA
Abstract: Reforming Africa’s public sector has been on the agenda of African governments and their development partners for decades and yet the problem persists. This failure can be attributed to two related factors: solutions to the ‘African public sector problem’ have been dictated by external interests, and the policies have ignored the experiences of organizations within those countries. This article contributes to the search for effective reform policies by making the case for inclusion of the experiences of organizations within each country. Using the concept of organizational culture as a framework, I propose an approach based on the following claims: In every country there are some public organizations that perform relatively well, given their constraints; there is the need to understand why and how there are poor and good performing organizations within the same country; and information from such analysis should form the basis of public sector reform policies. The applicability of the approach is demonstrated with a study of Ghana. Key words: Organizational culture, public sector reform, post–Washington Consensus, public sector performance, Ghana, Africa
Bureaucracies in many poor countries suffer from low capacity, often do not deliver effective services, and are frequently staffed
with poorly trained, poorly remunerated,
and poorly motivated public servants. Yet
there is another reality in most of these
same countries – a reality of well-trained and
committed public servants, well-functioning
organizations, and efﬁcient services. (Grindle,
Few will dispute that many public sector organizations in Africa are mired in inefﬁciency.
© 2012 SAGE Publications
However the nature, causes and possible
solutions to Africa’s public sector problem
have become sources of contentious debate.
Indeed, the nature of these debates has also
changed over time. For instance, in the ﬁrst
post-independence decade, Africanization
of the inherited small colonial civil service
and rapid expansion of the same were the
norm. Given the lack of requisite personnel
and resources to deal with these challenges,
public sector capacity-building efforts centred
on human resource development and technical
assistance, especially from the former colonial
Organizational culture and public sector reforms
powers (Ayee, 2005; Brautigam, 1996). The
economic crisis of the 1970s and the subsequent introduction of neoliberal Washington Consensus policies in the 1980s ushered in a
different approach to public sector reform.
During this period, the continent’s economic
problems were blamed on excessive state intervention in the economy, and a set of neoliberalbased public sector reform policies, including to ‘quantitative’ ﬁrst- and the ‘qualitative’
second-generation reforms, implemented
across Africa (Girishankar, 1998; Haque
and Aziz, 1998; World Bank, 2001). The
Washington Consensus policies were subjected
to intense criticism, which led to the emergence of the ‘Post–Washington Consensus’ (PWC) in the late-1990s that attempted to
broaden the scope of development to include
non-market factors such as social norms
and power balances. It also represented an
admission that states play an important role
in the development process; and that markets
and states should be seen as complementing
rather that substituting for each other (Önis
and Senses, 2005; Stiglitz, 1998). This shift
also resulted in another change in public sector reform to one that focuses on delivery of public services, particularly health and education services to poor people – these are the...
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