Book review: To reform or not to reform government agencies

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The book takes the reader through how one of the most important government institutions was transformed and made to be effective and efficient

By Chuks Oluigbo

The book takes the reader through how one of the most important government institutions was transformed and made to be effective and efficient

Government is made up of sub-
units or components. It is the aggregate of how the institutions function independently and when integrated others that determines the of governance and governments. Government determines the environment in which businesses operate and how takes place. It is government policies and institutions that determine the trajectory of and, ultimately, the of life of the people. This explains why if fake drugs flood the market, it is because the government agency charged that regulatory mandate is inefficient. Same applies to substandard goods and regulation of standards, collapse of buildings and regulation of building control, among others. When financial institutions fumble, the explanation is that the regulator buckled.

Regulatory effectiveness and efficiency affect in ways one can imagine. Unfortunately, it has not been given adequate attention. Flashes of effective government institution, especially those doing regulatory work to protect all of us, should be encouraged, supported and celebrated.

Reform is fundamentally a leadership issue. Some have argued that to reform government can take forever, but there is a consensus that it is a worthwhile venture. After all, if all government institutions are performing as envisaged in their respective mandates, then the entire institution of government will be considered effective and its impact on businesses and of living will be evident.

This message is the central thrust of what emerge as the Nigerian book of the year for 2021, Strategic Turnaround: Story of a Government Agency. The 300-page book, authored by Dakuku Peterside, a former DG/CEO of the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA), takes the reader through how one of the most important government institutions was transformed and made to be effective and efficient. It details events and turnaround initiatives embarked upon in the agency in the four years of Dakuku’s that transformed NIMASA from a laggard institution to a respected and admired government agency.

Aside from the story of bold changes, the 13-chapter book highlights challenges to watch out for when embarking on the reform of any government institution. It navigates through changes in culture, priorities, human resources, reputational positioning, commitment by leadership and stakeholder engagement.

In the book set for release in January 2021, Peterside shares lessons from experience on how to turn around government agencies to deliver optimal outcome for the benefit of the people. Using narratives, he explains how any leader can and leadership tools to chart new path for public sector agencies and achieve excellence in delivery of services that meet public expectations.

The book shares a lot of stories that inspired Peterside to apply unusual principles derived from indigenous knowledge to transform what was once a disparaged, mediocre and failed institution to a thriving one that commands local and international respect.

As Maxwell Ubah, Sloan Fellow, London Business School and CEO, Strategy House Limited, observes in a preview of the book, “Peterside shows that leading large-scale transformational changes in a public sector organisation operating in a complex industry like the maritime sector is possible.”

Indeed, Ubah identifies five leadership lessons from the book, thus: Listen first, then lead; Put people first; Focus on the critical few; Model the way, and Make results non-negotiable. One cannot but agree.

Strategic Turnaround combines two writing styles to get the reader to grasp deep management principles without pushing them to master jargons. The book employs the narrative style to get the readers to see themselves in NIMASA and take them to the inner workings of the author’s mind as he makes critical decisions. It also uses the expository writing style to explain difficult issues so the layman can have a good grasp of the issues. It is clear from the style of the book that the audience the author is addressing is anyone is interested in knowing how changes can be instituted in government without boring them high level theoretical issues.

It was quite exciting reading the section that captures areas where the author believed his could not accomplish set targets and so proffers solutions to barriers militating against reform of government or public sector institutions drawing from his experience.

All considered, Strategic Turnaround is an amazing read. It is a fresh perspective to the debate on whether to pursue the reform of government agencies or simply advocate constant renewal. What is not in contest, however, is that government institutions are failing and can hardly deliver on their respective mandates. Professionals and non-professionals alike – indeed, anyone interested in seeing well-functioning public sector institutions – will definitely be interested in reading the book. (BusinessDay)