Same sector, different outcomes
Stephen Ndegwa

Editor's note: Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, lecturer-scholar at the United States International University-Africa, author, and international affairs columnist. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Imagine a world where the private sector is the governing agency of countries as opposed to the government or the public sector for that matter. Well, it is a situation that billions of citizens would loath to live in for the simple reason that pursuance of the profit motive above all else has been the bane in achieving a fair world for all.

Celebration of the United Nations Public Service Day on June 23 this year comes in the wake of a world in dire need of readjustments due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's theme is "Innovating for a new era: Leveraging the role of technology for the future public service."

This underscores the importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in efficient service delivery to the largest number of people possible. Moreover, ICTs are cost-effective due to their ability to cut through the limitations of time and distance. With owning a smartphone now second nature to many people, governments have been able to develop and disseminate apps that can be accessed instantly with negligible bureaucracy.

One tough lesson the pandemic has taught us is that money is not a panacea for all the world's challenges. If it was, then developed countries would not be under such grave economic duress caused by the coronavirus-induced global recession. Interestingly, rich countries have suffered more socio-economic challenges than developing ones.

The role of public service is overarching. Other national sectors can hardly operate properly or exclusively without the contribution of the necessary not-for-profit services. Neither can big programs like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals be successively domiciled and implemented without efficient public service.

It is a time to refocus on the principles of public service and who is best suited to drive the agenda. This rules out both the political and business classes because their inherent or incidental self-interest is inimical to the common good.



Public service is founded on fairness, which demands that all taxpayers are given both equal access and the right to public services and amenities. The other tenets are transparency and accountability, which help in eradicating impunity and reducing corruption to low levels. Through accountability, public officers are more responsive to the needs of the citizens and offer value for money in the expenditure of public revenue.

The basic question that governance experts might need to interrogate is whether public service is usually optimum under a liberal capitalist system or a socialist people-centered system. The answer is not difficult to predict though.

Two examples of the effectiveness under the two systems can suffice. One is the fight against extreme poverty. In 2020 China became the first country in the world to win the war over absolute poverty, ahead of the so-called developed countries mainly based in the West. It took dedicated and focused public service officials in China to achieve this feat.

Conversely, mobilizing the bulk of public service in a liberalized capitalist system is a difficult task because of the ingrained "what's in it for me" culture that seeks commensurate pay for the job at hand. Going the "extra mile" is usually seen as the preserve of missionaries and other non-State actors.

A report released in May of 2018 by Philip G. Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the U.N., claimed that 40 million Americans lived in poverty, while 18.5 million Americans lived in extreme poverty at that time. This state of affairs is totally unexpected of a superpower.

The second example is in the fight against COVID-19. While the U.S. wasted valuable time and paid a hefty socio-economic and even political price for its confusion, China deployed the necessary manpower and resources to deal with the scourge. Making money from people's misfortunes is anathema for public servants whose work is to solve humanity's problems without thinking of self-gain. No wonder, then, that China was the only major economy to record positive economic growth amid the pandemic in 2020.

Efficiency in public service delivery is not automatic though. It goes in tandem with a people-centered political and governance system that demands results from those given the privilege and responsibility to serve in that capacity.

But public service also has its downturn, particularly where it is not guided by a strong and honest political leadership or party. In the absence of strict oversight, the public sector becomes a purveyor and abettor of grand corruption, resulting in the massive pilferage of public funds. This works against the spirit of service delivery as it removes money from programs and projects aimed at improving people's welfare.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at

Search Trends