- Public policy
Public policy may be defined as a proposed course of action of a person, group or government within a given environment providing obstacles and opportunities which the policy was proposed to utilize and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective as a purpose. According to James Anderson, public policy is a purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern (Anderson, 1979). Examples of such public policies are: Industrial Policy of Nigeria (1988) Agricultural Policy of Nigeria (1988), Indigenization Policy (1972), Commercialization and Privatization Policy (1988), Health for All Policy, Universal Basic Education etc. Thus public policy is the policy developed or formulated by government bodies or officials for the interest of all the people. It is the government bodies and officials who have the authority in any political system to make policies. Examples of these bodies are elders, paramount chiefs or traditional chiefs, executives, legislators, judges, administrators, councilors or Monarchs. All these people perform one role or the other on behalf of government, and in such processes, and capacities they make and implement public policy.
However, other bodies, actors, or individuals can, and do indeed influence public policy formulation e.g. political parties, the mass media, interest groups and individual citizens.
- Implications for the concept of public policy
Public policy is directed towards a purpose, it is a goal – oriented action. It is not a random or chance behavior. Public policy does not just happen.
Public policy consists of courses or patterns of action by governmental officials. It is not their separate individual or discrete decisions. E.g. A policy will include not only the decision to make a law about environment, but also subsequent decision relating to the enforcement of the environmental law.
Public policy is what governments actually do in regulating trade, controlling inflation, drugs, and promoting health and public housing, etc. public policy is not what governments intend to do or say they are going to do.
Public policy may be positive or negative. For example, a government may decide to do something or may decide to do nothing about a particular matter. Public policy is based on law, therefore it is authoritative. Accordingly, it must be obeyed. Failure to obey the law on that policy will attract sanctions like imprisonment or fine.
So far as it is observed in practice, the commonest practitioners of bureaucratic method of administration, and the greatest formulators and implementers of public policies are members of the public service of any public organization.
Policy making has increasingly become a crucial aspect of the function of government. The formulation of public policies and the translation of these policies into specific programmes and projects may be seen as a series of disparate activities which makes up a never ending whole. Dunn (1981) therefore aptly observes that the whole complex of policy formulation and implementation is best taken as a process.
Let us now consider a list of the stages in policy process. In this regard, Jones (1984) identifies the following set of five activities: problem identification, policy formulation, legitimation, application or implementation, and policy evaluation.
Problem Identification: This stage involves demands (or pressure) from interest groups and political parties on the legislature for action to resolve a public problem (i.e. human needs, deprivation or dissatisfaction). Issues become part of the public agenda when there is a shared perception that a problem must be shelved or an issue resolved. Thus, at this stage the task of articulating and aggregating the interests of the people is accomplished through organized pressure groups which ensure that their demands are ultimately represented on the policy agenda of the government.
Policy formulation: this is a stage where government decides on what is to be done and how it is to be achieved. The formulation of policy proposal is usually the responsibility of the executive arm of government.
Legitimation/Authorization: This primarily involves legislative action, to accord the proposed policy authority and legitimacy. What happens to the policy proposal, whether or not it gets adopted, depends to a great deal on the preferences and values of the dominant group (or coalition) in the legislature. If the policy is authorized by the legislative body, it means that appropriate or requisite resource allocation is also made for its implementation.
Application or implementation: This state involves translation of goals and objectives of policy into concrete achievements through varied programmes. This is the stage at which the implementing agency grapples with reality; hence it is the most difficult stage in the policy process.
Evaluation: This is the final stage in the policy process. Three sets of activities are involved in the evaluation of policies viz: measuring outputs (performance measurement); comparing output performance against the desired results; and correcting any deviations or inadequacies (Adamolekun, 1983). It is necessary at this point to draw attention to the fact that evaluation exercise should not be limited to quantifiable costs and benefits. The unquantifiable and intangible aspects must be taken into account.
- Politics and policy
There is a considerable relationship between politics and policy. The concern of politics is with what David Easton (1965) refers to as the authoritative allocation of values Easton’s definition of politics is very instructive because it points to the critical elements in the linkage between politics and public policy.
First, is the issue of values; values are the things that people desire and pursue with a fair amount of intensity. Values are not only many, but they vary with individuals. What is at issue here is the scarcity of resources relative to the many and varied values of individuals.
Allocation therefore, becomes an imperative function of politics because of the obvious lag between societal resources and the many and conflicting claims that people make. It bears emphasizing that the allocation function is reserved exclusively for what is called an authority, the reason being that were allocation to be left free for all, society will, in all probability, return to the anarchy of the state of nature.
It is sufficient to note that it is authority which legitimizes the political process by which values are allocated. Significantly, authorities properly so –called are responsible for resolving the conflict of interests which necessarily arises out of the competing demands which people make. There is a paradoxical aspect to politics which is evident from this discussion, namely, that the political process is at once a conflict generating and a conflict resolution process. As authorities seek to allocate values, they make judgmental decisions which are favorable to some and unfavorable to others. The cumulative decisions which authorities make are what we generally refer to as public policies. This is another way of saying public policy is the output of the political process of value allocation.
The linkage between politics and public policy should by now be fairly obvious. Public policy is what authorities do when they are seized with the political process of sharing societal resources among competing values.
- The Public Service
The public service represents the employees of government. They are those responsible for the functioning of government through the implementation of government policies. Such policies include welfare services rendered to the citizens.
The public service is therefore made up of workers in government ministries, parastatals and agencies. Workers in the Ministry of Education, Central Bank of Nigeria, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, NITEL, Nigerian Railway, etc. are all members of the public service. Within the public service, we have the civil service, which constitute the inner core, or the heart of the public service.
From the period of Nigerian independence in 1960 to 1967, there were five public services (the Federal Public Service, the Public Service of Eastern Region, Northern Region, Mid – W estern Region and Western Region).
At the end of Nigerian civil war in 1970 a Public Service Review Commission (The Udoji Commission) was set up to among other things harmonize the structure and organization of the public service of Nigeria (Public Service Review Commission Main Report, 1974). In 1974 the Udoji Commission came out with a recommendation for results oriented and unified structure of public service for the whole country. This implies that recruitment, appointment, promotion, remuneration, retirement, discipline, dismissal became governed by the same conditions all over the country.
In 1988, there was another review, the Philips Civil Service Review Panel (The Nigerian Federal Civil Service in the Mid 80s and Beyond) which according to the government was aimed at streamlining the public service along the lines of the presidential system of government, with the purpose of making the public service responsive to the Structural Adjustment Program (Federal Civil Service Review Panel, n d). One of the recommendations of the review was that heads of ministries be called Directors Generals instead of Permanent Secretaries. The review also recommended specialization in the ministry where the officer found himself/herself. The appointment of the Director Generals became political and the Director Generals were required to retire with the president who appoints them.
Another review of the civil service was undertaken by the Allison Ayida Panel of Civil Service Reform which submitted its report in July, 1995. The Panel examined the 1988 reform and suggested far – reaching changes. Based on the panel’s recommendation, the Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, directed that the post of Director – General should revert back to the status of Permanent Secretary and accounting officer of the Ministry (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1997).
- The importance of Public Service
The relevance or importance and centrality of the public service to public administration cannot be over – emphasized.
It is the public administration that ensures the continuity of government
Public service acts as custodian and protector of the public interest and public treasury against violation by the ruling class
The public service particularly the civil service is supposed to be politically neutral and
It is also supposed to faithfully serve any political master in office
The public service enjoys security of tenure of office and anonymity in the performance of their duties.