A very civil service - Issue 9 - Magazine | Monocle

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Do bureaucrats do it better? Put the question to ordinary citizens in many parts of the world and the answer is a resounding no. From transport to the treasury, dissatisfaction with public services runs high, especially in those countries stricken by corruption or one-time communist regimes now plagued by Kafka-esque bureaucracies.

Yet developing nations don’t have a monopoly on incompetence when it comes to running government agencies. The G7 countries have their share of bungling civil servants, whether they are mismanaging public railways (the US) or misplacing millions of pension records (Japan). Then there’s the glacial pace of Italy’s public sector employees known as fannulloni (“do-nothings”) who, when they’re not taking long weekends at the taxpayers’ expense, are warming seats at cosy desk jobs. Monocle thinks it’s time cabinet ministers faced reality and admitted that trying to do it all in-house, while noble and perhaps good for the national ego, doesn’t necessarily yield the best results. We believe governments should take a cue from the business world and outsource services when home-grown methods fail to live up to expectations.

Handing over such tasks to the private sector is nothing new; the Ancient Greeks and Romans both outsourced functions that would be unthinkable to pry from civil servants’ fingers today.

“The Greeks outsourced defence and the Romans did it with taxes,” explains Robin Lane Fox, lecturer at New College, Oxford, and author of The Classical World. “The Romans even did it with taxes in the provinces and let local agents do their bidding. When they found their own cavalrymen were getting too heavy they brought in the Spanish to ride for them instead.”

Countries in dire straits with a state-run airline or airport operator – fertile ground for technocrats to run amok – should call Lufthansa. And seeing how major investment banks regularly deal with raising bonds for governments, we think they could go a step further. If you’re Georgia, why not farm out your finance ministry to Switzerland’s bankers?

With conscription consigned to the dustbin, we think defence ministries are ripe candidates for outsourcing. Small states have limited means to organise and train recruits. Better to hire the Finnish Army’s Jaeger marines to monitor the border for unfriendlies.

Outsourcing’s advantage lies in the fact that private hires offer more transparency and accountability, two concepts entrenched bureaucracies are not famous for. It lets lawmakers dedicate more time to debating the hot-button issues of the day such as immigration, healthcare and pension reform. And should anything go amiss, it’s easier to fire the contractor.

Employing outsiders often implies getting the private sector involved, but there are public agencies making the headlines as examples to follow. Take Finland. Its education ministry is a big proponent of innovation, and the country is a leader in R&D spending. The lean and mean Finns have a responsive bureaucracy – 13 ministries, or half of what Italy operates with – showing that “good enough for government work” isn’t necessarily something to be laughed at.

Below we’ve looked at how we would organise a modern nation that’s keen on accountability and efficiency. At the top of the pyramid there are still elected officials in parliament, but the cabinet oversees ministries that are slimmed down to a very small management team that would function no differently than a company board or steering committee. We’ve also shaken up the traditional structure by creating new ministries and redefining the roles of old ones. To shake things up even more, we put the ministries out to tender to have them run by a mix of friendly foreign governments better suited for the role, universities and respected companies.

Keeping us safe

Ministry of Defence
Responsible for national interests at home and abroad. Ministry has a small permanent force that runs bought-in resources.
Operated by: Sweden (navy), Germany (army), Australia (air force) and NYK Line (joint force logistics)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Runs external policies and global relationship development. Embassies now consumer-facing, retail-style spaces.
Operated by: Swedish Foreign Ministry (management), Mitsui Fudosan (global property portfolio)

Ministry of Security Affairs
Management of federal and local police forces as well as domestic and international intelligence services.
Operated by: Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Gurkha units

Ministry of the Interior
Oversight of all policies and affairs within the national boundaries. Particular focus on regional development and demographics, along with immigration and emigration issues.
Operated by: out for tender

Ministry of Justice
Focused on keeping as many people as honest as possible while not playing nanny either.
Operated by: Harvard Law School

Protecting our culture

Ministry of Health, Sport and Social Affairs
A ministry that works tirelessly developing national strategy for keeping citizens and their communities on top form.
Operated by: Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Ministry of Education
Could also be called the Ministry of Competitiveness as its sole focus is to create and maintain environments that turn out smart and healthy citizens.
Operated by: government of Singapore

Ministry of Culture and Craft
Responsible for the preservation and promotion of cultural forces from visual arts to handicrafts, as well as national archives and museums. Also keeps eye on cultural trends.
Operated by: MoMA and Mori Arts Centre

Ministry of Communications and Media
Focuses on all media legislation, standards and practices, licensing and intellectual property.
Operated by: Ericsson and MIT

On the money

Ministry of Finance
The department for giving, taking and managing the books.
Operated by: Royal Bank of Scotland

Ministry for Trade and Development
In many ways this ministry plays the main role in shaping the nation’s image. If you like our country, you’ll invest. If you don’t, you’ll spend your money elsewhere. Run by seasoned marketing people.
Operated by: Publicis

Ministry of Transport
Oversight for getting people between A and B swiftly and safely.
Also the ministry that manages all major transport infrastructure initiatives and forecasts for future growth across all transport networks.
Operated by: Deutsche Bahn

Making life better

Ministry for the Environment
Focuses on developing programmes that protect wildlife, promoting new energy sources and effectively managing existing ones.
Operated by: Vattenfall

Ministry of Design and Technology
Linked with the Ministry of Life Improvement, this department ensures solid design is at the foundation of all government initiatives. Oversees technological development.
Operated by: ETH Zürich and Mitsubishi

Ministry of Life Improvement
A much-needed ministry that’s responsible for the built environment and promoting initiatives to improve living standards for all.
Operated by: City of Copenhagen

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