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If Japan Can, No Reason Ethiopia Can't

January 3 , 2021
By Halima Abate (MD) ( Halima Abate (MD) is a public health professional with over a decade of experience. She can be reached at )

Many government institutions do not function the way they should in the delivery of goods and services. The assumption for long has been that government is a slow and lumbering institution with an objective and foundation different from that of the private sector, which is expected to function like a well-oiled machine.

The concept of quality of services delivery is a broader scope, and difficulty is often experienced when attempting to articulate the role, aim, characteristic and measurement that should be present when fulfilling public service delivery. The responsiveness of service providers to citizens’ concerns can answer this challenge to a certain degree. When citizens voice their concerns to politicians or policymakers, various reform activities can be adjusted and then implemented by service providers.

This could be done by outlining the relevant legal and regulatory framework and practices needed to support and enhance the quality, safety and environmental soundness of goods, services and processes. It also includes having a well-thought-out allocation of functions, stronger incentives and training for service providers and rapidly addressing coordination problems.

Laying the groundwork for quality improvement is not an easy task, but there is no shortage of suggestions. For instance, W. Edwards Deming used the Pareto Principle to help quality managers on the few vital issues that affected quality. The Principle introduced the 80/20 rule and was applied to help managers focus on a few vital issues that significantly affected quality (the 20pc) instead of the “useful many” (the 80pc). These are one of many that helped to revolutionise the field of quality improvement. His ideas were famously portrayed on an NBC show called "If Japan Can ... Why Can't We?" in reference to Japan's effective development of its manufacturing base in the latter half of the 20th century.

But implementing such operations' management (which maximise the production of goods and services) and quality management (which assures the satisfaction of beneficiaries) needs to be supported by a national quality policy and strategy. It should answer questions such as how institutions can improve productivity and reduce cost production and response times to meet customers’ expectations. This would come through a collaborative effort of citizens, service providers and policymakers.

Considering Ethiopia’s effort on the path to economic development, the current administration’s pledge to realise “quality” economic growth is appreciable. Hence, pronouncing a "quality policy" within the public sector - which runs the gamut from health and law enforcement to infrastructure development - to identify and define roles and responsibilities is essential to synchronising efforts.

To do this, we need to assess social capital. Standardisation may be useful in some contexts, but responsive services tailored to different users' needs require flexible solutions with user involvement and empowered staff. This is why any national quality strategy should be coordinated with agencies from different sectors included in the development process.

Forums on the development of such a programme can serve as effective platforms for the discussion of policies, programmes, services and research. Strategies and policies here should then be aligned with sectoral plans to ensure the centrality of quality delivery in every avenue of government planning. This creates ownership of the process by the public and implementing bodies. Creating a path forward for the strengthening of national policy development alongside strategy implementation is crucial.

A national "quality policy" requires national political will, decentralisation and community participation. A parallel process that eventually voids this should be avoided. Critical ingredients here are sustainability, knowledge sharing, transparency and accountability, where institutions are empowered to lead and guide country-led national policy development and implementation. Learning from what has not worked well should also be included, both on advocacy for quality prioritisation at the national level and national quality strategy implementation.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 03,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1079]

Halima Abate (MD) is a public health professional with over a decade of experience. She can be reached at

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