The LEPL Public Service Development Agency (Agency) has drafted Policy Document and Action Plan on public service development, delivery, quality assurance and evaluation, which are planned to be submitted for approval to the Government in December 2020.
In February 2020, the Agency submitted through e-mail the drafted documents to civil society representatives, including the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information, and requested comments. IDFI submitted its views on the policy document and action plan to the Agency. Two of the six recommendations submitted by IDFI concerned the content of the documents: the need to set a specific objective and measures related to the enforcement mechanism and the issue of cooperation with municipalities. The rest of the IDFI comments served to ensure the pertinence of the goals, objectives and indicators. In October 2020, the Agency returned to IDFI the responses (paper of the notes) to the comments received, according to which neither of the two substantive comments submitted was accepted, and the comments submitted regarding the correct formulation of the objectives and indicators were agreed and taken into account by the Agency.
IDFI welcomes the significant initiative towards the implementation of the Public Administration Reform commitment in terms of establishing a unified policy on the creation, delivery, quality assurance and evaluation of public services. The implementation of these documents in practice will actually improve the quality of public services in the country. IDFI welcomes the fact that the Agency has shared IDFI’s recommendations regarding the formulation of goals, objectives and indicators. At the same time, IDFI believes that the process of document preparation was flawed. In addition, in order to actually achieve the goals set out in the documents, it is important to take into account the recommendations of IDFI that were not taken into account by the Public Service Development Agency.
1. Public services is one of the directions of public administration and its successful reform has a significant impact on the quality of daily life of each citizen. Consequently, wider public consultations should have taken place in the preparation process of public service policy documents. One-time e-mail consultations with civil society representatives selected by the Agency cannot be considered as a means to an end, which is called public involvement in the policy-making process.
According to the policy planning rule approved by the Decree #629 of the Government of Georgia, public involvement is recommended at each stage of the policy cycle, however, it is mandatory at least for the final draft of the developed policy document. According to the same document, public consultations can be conducted in both physical and electronic form, but in both cases it is important to identify all possible individuals and legal entities interested in the field and inform them through all appropriate means. Additionally, it is important to make a public declaration using an electronic resource.
Notwithstanding the rule established by the Government, (a) no public declaration for consultations can be found on the website of the Public Service Development Agency; (b) public consultation has not taken place at all stages of policy planning cycle as recommended by the government, but only at the final stage as requested by the government; (c) it is unlikely that all possible interested individuals and legal entities were informed in all appropriate ways, as e-mail and no other large-scale information dissemination measures were used (meetings and discussions in electronic format, publication of a document for wider public consultation, etc.). IDFI does not have information on how many and to which organizations the documents were sent for comments.
Accordingly, IDFI considers that the documents should be made publicly available for wider public consultation before they are approved.
1. The paper of notes submitted to the IDFI by the Agency does not substantiate (as requested by the above-mentioned Government decree) why the two most important considerations out of several recommendations submitted by the IDFI were not considered.
2.1. The policy document emphasizes that binding law is not / cannot be enforced in the field of public services by the relevant institutions, however, neither the policy document nor the action plan mentions the creation / strengthening of an enforcement mechanism in this regard. Accordingly, IDFI's first remark was to remedy this shortcoming and to make the necessary entry in the policy documents regarding the enforcement mechanism. The agency's response to this remark is vague. In particular, the agency points out that the strategy document mentions as a challenge the lack of enforcement of the legal norms on the creation and delivery of public services, and one of its objectives is to develop a strong and clear legislative framework. In addition, according to the agency's response, the strategy document will be approved by a government decree, which will also clearly state the responsibilities and obligations of the service providers. It is still unclear to IDFI, when the agency agrees to the existence of the challenge and states this in the strategy and the paper of notes, why it does not define a specific objective in terms of strengthening the enforcement mechanism. The development of a strong legislative framework indicated by the agency does not automatically imply the strengthening of the enforcement mechanism, nor is it indicated by the outcome indicators and activities.
For the effective implementation of the measures, it is essential that the objectives set out in the policy documents are fully consistent with the challenges identified in the same documents and that specific measures are prescribed in response to the specific challenges. Accordingly, in the strategy and action plan, it is necessary to define the strengthening of the enforcement mechanism in the direction of public services as a separate objective.
2.2. The policy documents developed by the agency do not mention the municipalities, which play a significant role in providing services to the local population. IDFI's comment was on the mentioning of the municipal service monitoring approach in the documents - how and by whom municipal services will be monitored. According to the agency, the approaches presented in the strategy and in the guidelines developed within the strategy are recommended to be taken into account by local governments as well; when developing the concepts, the characteristics of local government services were taken into account. The Agency's response to the monitoring of municipal services is vague. The policy document does not mention municipalities at all, including the recommendation that they take into account the approaches of the document, or any type of cooperation with municipalities, inter-relation of municipality and Agency standards, etc. It is true that the Public Service Agency does not have the authority to develop an action plan that will be binding on municipalities, but in order to successfully implement public service related changes in practice, it is important to ask municipalities to be involved in the process and possibly to voluntarily commit to the action plan (Anti-Corruption Action Plan as an example).
As the municipal bodies are significant public service providers, in order to achieve a common approach and high quality in this area, it is necessary to actively cooperate with them, involve them in the development of strategic documents and offer them to be identified as institutions responsible for implementing the action plan.
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