Illustration by @neemascribbles

Can our Government run as a Business?

Do you ever wonder what life would be like if our government ran like a business? How different would service delivery be if instead of a President and a bunch of Ministers, we had a CEO of the nation and his middle managers? How would budgets be planned if the bottom line was impact and/or profit? But most of all, if we the citizens were treated as customers, to be pleased and begged for next transaction.

According to the Independent’s article on Let’s Run Uganda Like a Business, Shall We?, President Yoweri Museveni is believed to have spent more than $7 million on his 2016 presidential election campaign. Amama Mbabazi and Besigye spent $951,000 and $279,000 respectively. These individual expenditures came complimentary to the Electoral Commission’s own budget which continues to bloat every five years. One thing is certain, if democracy has a price; it’s one that is proving to be costly for countries such as Uganda. If we ran as a business, would we continue to fund certain non-profitable arms of the company while starving others?

Running the government is even more pertinent today given that the USA elected a “successful businessman” Donald J. Trump into office and has seemingly promised to run the state as a business. This leads to an even bigger question, “Should government be run like a business BY business people?”

Many scholars argue that the government is not a structure without the people and you might also agree that the government is indeed nothing without the power the will of the people who pay taxes that run the government. Yes! There is no such thing as government money. Governments have no money; they have only what they take from their citizens, either in taxes or by inflation. Or in some cases, run off of donor money and can thus easily ignore the will of the people.

So here we are. Fighting to retain the status quo. This has seen many African nations continue to struggle for a seat in the Third World Camp and proudly shrugging with the poverty badge on their shoulders. If the citizens are not the paying customers, then the company doesn’t really care about their wants or needs.

But we digress.
Let’s imagine that all citizens DID pay their taxes, and the primary goal of the government was to use this money wisely to satisfy their customers.

Businesses have a solid bottom line called PROFIT which can be readily measured. However, this is not the same with the government whose bottom line is service delivery to its people. When we choose to run government like a business, we in turn become obsessed with data and measuring the health of the company. Something that’s often ignored in sub-Saharan Africa. We can measure the outcomes of these citizens taxes and since every Ministry is categorized as a department in a company headed by a manager, he or she is liable to answering why his department is underperforming and can be fired at anytime.

If we woke up one morning and decided to have a CEO for this nation, we would be able to save so much of our headspace from certain policies being passed such as the Anti-Pornography bills or committees formed that do not contribute to the country’s growth in any way. We would instead have a more focused government with the sole goals of impact and profit, where if any bills, acts, agencies or committees doesn’t directly benefit the growth of a country, it will cease to exist. Imagine that.

Let’s also imagine that the more productive a Ministry, the more profits they make. The more competitive the market becomes. The more desire there is so provide better services to the people. Each sector has to be firmly able to provide the best output while also ensuring that they report all the progress to the CEO.

Making decisions quickly and adopting new forms of technology along with better operation has always been something that has relentlessly challenged the government in its day to day activities. Yet this is what today’s successful businesses have been able to adopt and grow exponentially. If the government were to run like a business, maybe then we would have decisions made faster, prototypes and innovations developed quicker and development attained rapidly.

What are the odds it may work out?

Some skeptics might say that not all activities aimed at social impact are profitable. Yet, they contribute to the welfare of the people and are necessary for the stability and security of a country. Others might say, CEOs do not have to deal with the massive challenges that come from governing a diverse range of individuals in a country and to make massive decisions such as going to war. And what about the rights of the minority and the marginalized? One article states, “Human beings should not be “monetized” as a source of corporate profits”. There are arguments that democracy is meant to fulfill the collective will of the people!

But let’s not kid ourselves. War is often fought for financial reasons. Democracy as we know it does not fulfill the collective will of the people. And if we’re smart enough to see that investing in health and education will lead to increased impact and potential down the road, then we can truly appreciate the value of the investment. By contributing to the healthcare of an elderly person or a disabled person, we’re freeing up the potential for their family members to lead more fulfilling lives. We all stand to gain by helping one another. And this leads to profit and impact.

When we function as a business, we are more accountable. We have the right incentives in place to provide better services. We can adopt better technologies and strategies to fulfill our bottom line. In an increasingly competitive market, can African countries really afford to develop at such sluggish speeds?

And what will we have to say to the next generation of 1 billion young Africans waiting to meet us in 2050?

Written by Pius Enywaru, Communication Officer for Pollicy

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Re-designing Government for Citizens

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Re-designing Government for Citizens

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