When government impose new policies, it creates outcomes that often differ from the original intent. In some cases, these outcomes are so severe they often hurt the very groups the measures were intended to help and thus render the policy a failure. The law of unintended consequences has taken on an increasing importance during the era of ever-expanding government.
This piece examines the potentially unintended consequence of implementing a government vehicle policy and suggests the approach towards achieving a zero-fleet policy. Discussed briefly are some of the potential unintended consequences of implementing the policy:
Transport barriers to work
Currently, government employs a significant percentage of the labour force and increasingly there is a growing body of evidence underlining that a peak level of car mobility is unfolding. Therefore, without a proper public transport system, many government workers could potentially be left stranded and thus struggle to commute to and from work given that most employees presently benefit from the existing vehicle fleet. And on par with congestion, people would spend an increasing amount of time commuting between their residence and workplace. This could potentially exacerbate the existing punctuality problem within the civil service.
Laying off drivers
With the reduction of the vehicle fleet, the policy would render many drivers redundant. Considering the current political tension and security frailty in the country, this could potentially lead to an increasing social discontent and loss of support for the government.
A demotivated workforce
With the above-mentioned aftermath, a demotivated workforce is likely to emerge because of the withdrawal of such incentive which is already coupled with a low salary scheme.
Defining the boundaries
Considering the policy would be implemented across all ministries and departments. How would government define essential users? Would there be exclusions for essential users who are always on call? What is the fate of those who are required to work overtime and outside working hours? A clear implementation strategy needs to be spelt out to adequately ease the implementation of the policy.
Conclusion and recommendations
1. An ‘All-Inclusive Consultation’ process with key stakeholders is crucial in the successful implementation of the policy. At the forefront of the policy, the Ministry of Transport in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, Personnel Management Office, Department of Labour and drivers should be actively engaged in the discussions. This approach is line with the triple bottom line model towards attaining sustainable development as suggested by Elkington. Whilst developing and engaging the various chains of authority it is equally important to devise strategies to remove the obstacles to the policy. Obstacles can be removed by clearly communicating the policy to the key stakeholders such as Office of the President (OP). Engaging OP as part of the implementation strategy is equally important, as sometimes the obstacle may be external structures outside the system. Those linked with OP may oppose change especially if the change threatens their position and current benefits. In other to eliminate this barrier, it is extremely important to enlist the support of OP as it is the most powerful office in the country.
2. A Systems Thinking Approach to address the unintended consequences A system thinking approach would address the issues of uncertainties and low understanding by using accumulation and feedback process which would place concrete emphasis on the relationships and interactions between the various stakeholders and consequence of the policy. As linear and mechanistic thinking is becoming increasingly ineffective to address modern problems, the systems thinking approach would also help structure policies in interrelated ways that defy linear causation in such that monetary saving targets would be financially appealing to a “rational beneficiary”.
Furthermore, the government would need to augment the current wage structure and increase salary to compensate for the zero-vehicle policy. The current allowance of 500 Gambian Dalasis for employees who live as far as Gunjur and Brikama are simply inadequate. To improve the public service performance and efficiency incentives matter.
With congestion becoming a problem and an ever-increasing passenger demand, an efficient and improved public transport network is needed in place to ensure the effective implementation of the policy. The government can provide ministries and department with staff buses to help them commute to and from work.
Finally, it is not enough for government to endorse a policy that has a nice title and promises to do something good. People need to think through the full consequences of the policy because often it will lead to a cure worse than the disease.
The author is a senior civil servant