Who can improve Social Service Provision, The state, The private sector or NGOs

By Sharon Weir and Payal Mulchandani

It is argued that the supposed monopoly of the State in social service delivery like health or education has gradually broken down. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) have increased in strength and importance, for services to be delivered well, appropriately and in direct response to the needs of local people.

Neoliberalism, since the 1980s, has propagated ‘rolling back’ of the state and relies heavily on markets through privatisation and public private relationships in order to increase efficiency and delivery of public goods services.

Accountability, good governance and good management practices in the key to effective service provision. Public Goods like Education and Health – Service provision can be improved and it is essential for the State to play a key role in this exercise since public goods provision left to markets will be non egalitarian and would only benefit those who can afford them, which contradicts the basic idea of public goods like health and education to be beneficial to all and non rival and non exclusionary. The market would have few incentives to provide public goods. Government intervention is required to check market failures and to promote equality.

Service Provision is constantly failing to improve outcomes since services are often inaccessible, very expensive, even when available they are low in technical quality and unable to cater to the needs of a diverse clientele. The public sector is criticised for being deeply politicised and corrupt. There are not enough incentives associated with social service delivery and most times the funds and infrastructure required are absent.

The reasons for an ever growing increase and emphasis on public – private partnerships is due to the insufficient budgetary resources of states, public dissatisfaction with quality and coverage of public service provision and slow and ineffective delivery and outcomes. The advantages of bringing in the private sector for service provision are increased competition and efficiency in service provision, expansion in coverage of services, reduction in delivery costs, increased possibility of new ideas, commercial discipline and financial diligence, mobilising private and foreign investment capital for infrastructure expansion or improvement and to avoid the bureaucratic or corruption problem. PPPs enable the State to extend services without increasing the number of public employees and without making large investments in facilities and equipment. There are considerable considerations and that need to be done in order to derive the results expected of PPPs like adequate legal reforms, regulations and checks. Unnecessary restriction should be removed and the State’s role should be redefined from a direct provider to a regulator.

The main drawback and criticism for privatisation is that if a government has been corrupt or if policy making and implementation have been devilled by the pursuit of private agendas by interest groups, the process of privatisation is unlikely to escape the impact of these sources of government failure. (Vickers and Yarrow, 1991) Opening up the Health service provision markets for private investment, for liberals, promises to increase the efficiency of health services globally, for others the prospect suggests a further marginalisation of the poor, a reduction in access to health provision and the appropriation of public funds by powerful TNCs. (Price, 1999) For decades, cooperative organisations, trade unions, women’s and youth clubs, and religious groups in Asia have all been involved in some aspect of public service provision. NGOs and religious organisations provide health, education and training programs that supplement those offered by governments.

NGOs are important in improving the delivery of basic services because of their relative flexibility, experience with dealing with the poor, cost effectiveness and freedom from politicisation. There are issues with NGOS with regards to accountability and transparency and sometimes leads to increases in dependence and reduces the states sovereignty.

The most vital aspects for services to work is to increase the accountability of providers, improve the management of services and the personnel involved in provision of services and facilitate more voice and participation of recipients. The effectiveness of service delivery depends on the extent to which those who deliver are held accountable for their performance.

The public sector, the private sector and the third sector of NGOs and philanthropic institutions and individuals should be engaged in service provision according to their comparative advantages.

The public sector should continue to regulate and monitor service provision and focus on participation, equality and disbursement of powers in order to increase the effectiveness of the services delivered and play an integral role in facilitating, supporting and implementing Social Service Provision activities. The private sector should utilise its sound management systems, good access to technology and funds and their profit making and non politicised systems. NGOs and local organisations and governments should draw on their advantages of proximity to grassroots and their knowledge of problems and inefficiencies in service delivery.

Privatisation might lead to service provision being restricted to only those who have the ability to pay and many times, private service provisions are subject to the same problems of bureaucratisation and elite capture of the public sector.

NGOs also are influenced by transnational corporations and their conditionalities and beliefs and hence rather than being a ‘bottom up measure’, suffers from ‘top down’ policy issues. Private Service provision can definitely overcome the limitations of the public sector in terms of better management, efficiency, technical studies, understanding the local demands and catering to a larger population.

Without strong central oversight and support, the delivery of services will suffer. There is no escaping the fact that serious reforms are needed in the public sector that would facilitate and enhance the effectiveness of private service provisions.



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