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