what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Succeeding in spite of the system - Part I


My latest paper paints a dark picture of the world of Technical Assistance in ex-communist countries where I have worked for the past 20 years. In fact there are some bright splashes (successes) – but, as the Morgan quote in yesterday’s post suggests, they have been despite rather than because of the rules of the game. And, before I explore the question of a better system for this work, I need perhaps to say something about the positive experiences I have had in my various projects – and how these came about.
Frankly, it took some time for me to adjust to the role of adviser or „expert” – and it was just as well that everyone was learning in the 1990s about how systems in these countries could best be transformed. I was better in the early years at analysis (setting out the reality of CzechoSlovak and Romanian local government in the early 1990s) and ad-hoc advice than at institution-building – which only really started in the mid 1990s with the work setting up 2 Regional Development Agencies in North-East Hungary where they seemed pretty capable without my input and where indeed one of my counterparts, reporting on the results of his study visit, memorably said „I learned that I have nothing to learn”! My first experience of leading a major project at a national level was in Uzbekistan between 1999 and 2002 – where they were more interested in techniques for career development and EU experience of local government than change per se. So it was a good opportunity for me to read up on these subjects - as is evident on this paper I gave them on EU experience of transfer of functions.

Azerbaijan 2003-2004 was, however, my first real consultancy – and success. I was supposed to work with the Presidential Office on the implementation of a Civil Service Law which the international community had saddled then with. They didn’t know what to do with it (Ministers appointed family and friends) – and the World Bank (and a previous Team Leader) had given up. Noone seemed very interested in challenging the kleptocracy. Painstakingly I set out the various steps needed to make a reality of the Law - building on a confidential document I had found about the need for change. The old President died - and his son took over. My office was in the Presidential Academy for Public Administration - next to the Presidential Office – and I decided to start working with some of it staff. Jointly with 2 of the staff we wrote the first books in the Azeri language on PAR, civil service reform and HRM - the spirit of which is captured here. And I started to do training sessions with public officials. None of this (books;training) was in the ToR. And slowly I got signals from the Presidential Office that I could and should go public with arguments for a more meritocratic systems of appointments – and this I did with interviews in newspapers and even an hour’s TV show. A few weeks after I had finished the project, a Presidential Decree established the Civil Service Agency along the lines my project had recommended – and the very day I arrived back in Baku in March 2005 to escape the Bishkek Revolution, the 40 year old lawyer I had worked with and was lunching with was called to the Presidential Office to be appointed Head (Minister) of the Agency! Six years on, it is going strong. A potential disaster was turned into a great success by doing things which were not in the project specification. In those days, there was no European Delegation - and my desk officer in Brussels was supportive!!
To be continued

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