Small Island Developing States (SIDS) experience capacity constraints relating to their small size, remoteness and dispersion (in the case of island archipelagos), which impinge on the quality of the public sector (Horscroft, 2014; Mycoo & Donovan, 2017). This rapid literature review summarises the evidence on public sector reform and capacity building initiatives in SIDS. Overall, the evidence indicates that the success of public sector reforms and capacity building programmes in SIDS is modest. However, some useful lessons emerge from the implementation of E-government in Seychelles, pooled service delivery in the Pacific and regional collaboration in the Caribbean and Pacific.
This rapid literature review finds that there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of public sector reforms or capacity building initiatives undertaken in SIDS. The available evidence focuses on Pacific island states and there is very little literature on public sector reform or capacity building on SIDS in other regions. Most of the evidence was obtained from a case study analysis of public sector reform and capacity building in the academic literature. The Commonwealth Secretariat produced case studies on Samoa and Seychelles. The policy literature was reviewed but tended to focus on articulating the capacity constraints faced by SIDS, rather than evaluating initiatives that address these constraints or recommending strategies to enhance the capacity of SIDS.
The lessons learned with regard to public sector reform are summarised below:
- The public sector in SIDS was initially considered to be bloated and inefficient by the World Bank (Horscroft, 2014). However, literature that is more recent acknowledges that small states invest considerable financial and human resources relative to their GDP in order to deliver public services to small populations (Everest-Phillips & Henry, 2018). Moreover, the public sector is the main employer in many SIDS and compensates for low capacity within the private sector (Hassall, 2018).
- New public management reforms, which focused on rightsizing the public sector, were introduced in the 1990s. There is little evidence on the success of these reforms, although Hassall (2018) suggests that they were generally resisted. Hence, the public sector remains relatively large in many SIDS.
- The public sector in SIDS is not independent and is compromised by political interference, patronage politics and ethnic affiliations. These tendencies coupled with other socio-cultural characteristics are not suitable for establishing the Weberian model of the public service which emphasises individual merit and neutrality (Everest-Phillips & Henry, 2018);
- Devolution had limited success in the Cook Islands. Consequently, many public sector functions were recentralised (Glassie, 2018).
- The electronic government (E-government) initiative in Seychelles was very successful in overcoming the challenges pertaining to scale and remoteness. Seychelles is recognised for having the most successful E-government in Africa (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016). The key success factors included strong political will, executive leadership from the office of the Vice President, effective communication between government and the public, a partnership between the domestic government, development partner and service provider, high levels of literacy and political stability.
- Performance management has been partially successful in Vanuatu (Lapi, 2018). In the Solomon Islands, the performance management approach clashes with sociocultural norms and there is little will to implement the system within the public sector (Glassie, 2018). Performance management type reforms were introduced in Tuvalu, but there is no evidence on their effectiveness (Oppong, 2016).
- Anticorruption reforms were undermined by capacity constraints in the Solomon Islands and failed in Vanuatu (Everest-Phillips & Henry, 2018; Glassie, 2018).
- Reforms aimed at improving horizontal and vertical coordination in Papua New Guinea achieved limited success (Devesti, 2018). These reforms were hindered by an unwillingness among the central coordination agencies to collaborate with each other, patronage relations within the public service, and resistance from some government departments to work with the coordination agencies. Similar reforms were introduced in the Solomon Islands where it is anticipated that robust political support and the establishment of a central ministries coordinating committee bodes well for successful implementation (Glassie, 2018).
- In Samoa the implementation of public sector reforms was hindered by low levels of institutional capacity, Nevertheless, the reforms resulted in growth rates of 3-4% (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016).
This rapid review identified two capacity-building initiatives that have been implemented in SIDS: regional collaboration and pooled service delivery. In addition, there are other capacity-building
initiatives which focus on responding to climate change.
The key lessons learned from these initiatives are summarised below:
- Regional collaboration has been effective in the Caribbean and the Pacific with respect to providing higher education, preparing joint trade policy positions, knowledge sharing and climate change adaptation (Robinson & Gilfillan, 2017);
- Regional organisations play an important role in coordinating policies relating to climate change adaptation and disaster risk management (Chittoo, 2011);
- In the Pacific pooled service delivery has been effective for non-commercial services, especially when these are not adequately provided by national governments or the private sector (Dornan & Newton Cain, 2013);
- Pooling has been effective in the following sectors: higher education, fisheries, trade negotiations, trade and tourism promotion and public sector auditing (Dornan & Newton Cain, 2013);
- Pooling has not been effective for bulk procurement or commercial services (Dornan & Newton Cain, 2013);
- Some pooling initiatives are dependent on donor funding (Dornan & Newton Cain, 2013);
- The main obstacles that curtail the effectiveness of pooled service delivery and regional collaboration are conflicts of interests among member states, inadequate consultation and fear of loss of sovereignty (Dornan & Newton Cain, 2013);
- The Commonwealth Secretariat and the OECD support capacity-building relating to climate change. More funding should be provided for building resilience; and
- There is a positive association between effective governance and lower death tolls from natural disasters (Sjöstedt & Povitkina, 2017).
The literature did not make specific reference to issues relating to gender or disability