PP21: The quality of public services: An intrinsic factor in Ghanaian evaluations of government performance

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Policy papers
Daniel Armah-Attoh

The provision of public goods and services is an important aspect of socioeconomic development. Access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation, health care, schooling, and transportation enhances citizens’ well-being. Access to roads and telecommunications systems lowers transaction costs, leading to improvements in trade and economic activities (Xu, 2013). In spite of the importance of public services to individuals and nations, the World Bank’s World Development Report (2004) found large variations in the quality and quantity of public goods and services across developing countries and within countries.

In most African countries, including Ghana, providing public services is a huge challenge for the state, which is traditionally seen as solely responsible for the production and distribution of these services. In practice, given scarce resources and management challenges, the state alone often cannot provide these services at levels that match rapid population growth, development, and urbanization.

 In Ghana, attempts at adopting a public-private partnership approach for the delivery of some public services has met with apprehension by citizens who fear the consequences of profit-seeking private-sector entities producing or distributing these essential public goods. With the government left to play the primary provider role, citizens continue to have difficulties accessing vital public services because of a lack of service facilities or inadequate service quantity or quality.

Quality has been an important focus of management models used by service providers in developed countries since the 1980s. Notable among these are the total quality management (TQM) and new public management (NPM) approaches (Mwita, 2000). These consumer-oriented models approach public service quality from the perspectives of the technical professional, the manager, and the client (Ovretveit, 1992; Curry & Herbert, 1998; Kadir, Abdullah, & Agus, 2000). Similarly, Joss & Kogan (1995) distinguish among technical, systemic, and generic (or interpersonal) aspects of quality, while Grönroos (1982) distinguishes technical from functional quality, the latter having to do with the way services are offered and received.

Underlying these approaches is the idea that an essential part of public service quality is clients' evaluation of the level of service received, which is often founded on perceptions formed during service encounters (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1988; Bitner, Booms, & Tetreault, 1990; Johnston, 1995).

Recent Afrobarometer survey data from Ghana shows widespread public dissatisfaction with public services. The survey did not ask specifically about service quality, but analysis of the data points to the importance of service quality in citizens’ negative evaluations of government service delivery performance. This paper examines the hypothesis that the quality of public services is an intrinsic factor – and therefore an important indicator to monitor – in Ghanaians’ assessment of government service-delivery performance.