Performance contracting and moral blindness: A study of autonomy and moral responsibility in Kenyan public enterprises

Robert Ochoki Nyamori, Gordon Boyce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper examines how contractual and normative technologies – specifically, Results-Based Management Systems (RBMS) – affect the autonomy and moral responsibility of public sector administrators in practice. Primary data were obtained from two public enterprises using semi-structured interviews, while secondary data were collected from interviewees, government institutions, and online sources. The analysis employed a critical interpretivist methodology informed by the work of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, especially his concepts of autonomy, moral responsibility, adiaphorization, and moral blindness. We find that, while the broad objectives and goals of the case studies were defined at the national level, public administrators were able to set and negotiate their performance contract targets and were awarded somewhat greater autonomy to focus on results and innovative ways to achieve these results. This enhanced autonomy was accompanied by ostensibly more energised public officials who worked harder to improve the services provided. While performance contracting was associated with improvements in the defined performance contract dimensions, our analysis suggests that the boundaries of moral responsibility are fraying, with many administrators working to achieve assigned targets without questioning their purpose for the public sector. The public administrator is coming to define his/her moral responsibility to the citizen as that between a provider and customer, which diminishes the idea of citizenship. The study contributes to an understanding of the limits of contractual-type mechanisms in a public sector context and calls for deeper reflection on the efficacy of NPM technologies in addressing public sector problems in an emerging economy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102501
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • Accountability
  • Adiaphorization
  • Autonomy
  • Bauman
  • Kenya
  • Moral blindness
  • Moral responsibility
  • Neoliberalism
  • Performance contracting
  • Results based management systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Finance
  • Information Systems and Management

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