Rethink civil servants hiring


Service counters at the Department of Civil Registration. FILE PHOTO | NMG

As I penned this article, final elections results were yet to be announced. The good thing about regular polls is that they present us with an opportunity to change direction of policy.

If you ask me, I will say that one of the areas that badly needs major change is the civil service. I am talking about the case for an effective State apparatus.

A new president must consider a major shake-up of the top echelons of public employees. Continuity and institutional memory is important.

Over the years, our civil service has degenerated into a patrimonial administration where the president and his key coalition partners fill the expanding ranks of the State apparatus with political appointees while selecting top administrators on the basis of personal loyalty.

Indeed, the out- going Jubilee government took the logic of patronage appointments to its elastic limits by dividing the Cabinet and distributing posts neatly between elites from the ethnic blocs that provided the bedrock of the coalition’s support.

There are no transparent procedures for recruitment and promotion of public servants. Never before in the history of the public sector has the country witnessed a massive entry into the civil service of patronage appointments as has happened in the last decade.

I refer especially to cadres known as ministerial advisers, presidential advisers and advisers of principal secretaries. A good number of them were accommodated in the new category of job group U. But a majority were hired on special contracts and so called ‘salary to self’ agreements that come complete with confidential clauses on special terms.

If I were the one advising the new president, I would start by publishing names of high earners in the public service. We must expose this labour aristocracy within their ranks. The reason there is no relationship between merit, performance and reward in public service is because we have too many institutions with functional overlaps in the space of recruitment or appointments to civil service.

In the days of yore, we had only two major institutions in this space, namely, the constitutionally mandated Public Service Commission and the Directorate of Personnel Management that used to be based at the Office of the President.

Today, the responsibility of recruitment into public service and promotion is shared between too many constitutional bodies with overlapping functions, including the Parliamentary Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, and the Public Service Commission. Several other independent commissions recruit and set terms for their own employees.

It seems to me that despite the fact that the SRC is a constitutional body, we are still yet to arrive at a national consensus on its mandate. It did not surprise that parliament at one time passed a resolution seeking to nullify its decisions on MPs salaries.

We have also seen several cases where the High Court has ruled that the SRC cannot interfere with collective bargaining agreements between public service staff and their employers.

What is my point? It is that even the best laid economic plans will come to nought if we don’t overhaul civil service bureaucracy and restore it into an effective and non-partisan civil body composed of citizens with integrity, expertise, skills - team players with credentials for managing change.

The country needs more than an efficient economic manager. It needs a lead to hold it together and replenish it self-confidence- a healer to treat economic wounds inflicted by bad governance- and a pilot to navigate the country to new economic heights.