Table of Contents

  • A strong and achieving public service is a necessary condition for a competitively successful nation. The Management and Training Services Division (MTSD) of the Commonwealth Secretariat assists member governments to improve the performance of the public service through action-oriented advisory services, policy analysis and training. This assistance is supported by funds from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC).

  • The concept ‘customer’ is at the core of recent approaches to the management of the public sector. The idea that citizens are also customers who must be served well runs through all contemporary public sector reforms and measures at ‘reinventing government’. The decline in the resources available to the state, coupled with widespread concern about the performance of public administration, has not only opened up the inherent limitations of traditional ways of organising and producing public services but also given pressure to greater public demand for efficient, accountable and user-friendly management.

  • The last few years have seen rapid changes worldwide with interest focused on new management approaches given added momentum by growing expectations by the public for more information, quality and high standards of services. There has been a drive in nearly all countries to more willingly transfer management approaches traditionally associated with the private sector to the public sector. New technologies have opened up new possibilities for carrying out more novel operations and for communicating more widely.

  • A democratic government has the obligation to protect the interests of the weaker and more vulnerable sections of society, providing them, where necessary, with subsidised or free basic services and health care, and maintaining public amenities in the larger interest of the quality of life of the entire society. Socially deprived groups are probably the greatest users of public services and yet the least informed on consumer rights. These groups comprise children, women, the handicapped, elderly persons, the unemployed and those in the rural areas.

  • The service charter is also known by other names such as the citizen's charter, client charter, users' charter, etc. No less than 60 countries worldwide have adopted the idea, including all the developed Commonwealth countries and several developing members, notably South Africa, Ghana, Malaysia, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago. By whatever name it is called, the over-riding aim of the service charter is to shift attention to the customer in the context of a well-defined relationship with the service producer and provider.

  • The introduction of a customer- and people-orientated administration and the adoption of citizen's charters represent a paradigm shift in the way administration has hitherto functioned. Improving the public service process through charters entails, in reality, much more than the document in which the charter concepts are expressed. The former British Prime Minister John Major criticised a newspaper article for making the common mistake of equating the charter with the charter documents themselves.

  • The following case study is based on the United Kingdom service charter experience, known officially as the Citizen's Charter. The challenge of improving public services led the then British Prime Minister John Major to establish the Citizen's Charter programme in 1991. His aim was ‘to shift the balance of change in society more radically than ever before into the hands of ordinary people’.

  • The discussions so far have focused essentially on measures that primarily target the public sector. In this chapter and subsequent ones, we look at those consumer protection measures that have traditionally been targeted at private and business sector production processes. As we have noted, these are no less important in today's public sector environment, and in any event the state has an important responsibility to ensure that all aspects of production and service delivery are effectively regulated in the interest of the ordinary individual.

  • The following case study is based on the experience of Canada. Canada is a confederation with important powers at the provincial level. Health care, for example, (a top priority among consumer leaders in Canada) comes within the jurisdiction of each province.

  • The expansion of the market for consumables, together with the ‘luring’ advertisement techniques used by manufacturers, marketing organisations and traders makes it increasingly difficult for the consumer always to make the correct choice. It is a known fact that in conditions where a consumer cannot detect the difference in quality, the market fails to reward superior offerings. This is a prevailing situation in much of the new global market place.