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Raising the federal civil service from despair (2)

Appointment of non-civil servants into Permanent Secretary positions On the appointment of non-civil servants into permanent secretary positions, while the constitution does not spell out…

Appointment of non-civil servants into Permanent Secretary positions

On the appointment of non-civil servants into permanent secretary positions, while the constitution does not spell out where to source a permanent secretary from, it is certainly not the intention of the framers of the constitution that such an appointment would be made outside the career civil servants. The over-riding quality characteristic desired of a permanent secretary is institutional memory. The fact that permanent secretaries do not have to leave office at the expiration of the tenure of the administration they are serving, except on account of defined age and years of service as prescribed in their condition of service, is the basis of the prefix “permanent” in their nomenclature as permanent secretary, which is the short version of permanent under-secretary. This is as opposed to Secretary (i.e. Minister) who occupies elective/political positions and must vacate office at the expiration of the tenure of the Government that appoints them.

Unlike what operates for career civil servants, the extant civil service condition of age of retirement, pegged at 60 years, has not been made applicable to the non-civil servant appointees currently on post at the federal level. Questions have been variously asked about the basis of their appointment into the civil service as permanent secretary: Is it a result of some rare skills that are not found in the system or their exceptional administrative experience? It would be desirable for the system to find out the assessment of the Directorate level officers working under these non-civil servant permanent secretaries in the last 4 years, with a view to determining their effectiveness in the post and consequently the desirability of their continued retention to the disadvantage of outstanding career civil servant directors from their States of origin, who under normal circumstances would have merited such appointments.

Suspension of the Tenure Policy

If there is one action of this administration that has aggrieved career public servants across all Ministries, extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies (MDAs), it is the suspension or discontinuation of the Tenure Policy. The 8-year tenure for career public servants on the terminal grade levels of Director and Permanent Secretary is one policy that, while it lasted from 2009 till 2016, was able to ventilate the service, allow officers to earn their deserved promotion as at when due, restore their morale and improve their effectiveness on the job. In the process, the entire public service was able to witness improved productivity. With the suspension of the policy, public servants across all MDAs are groaning and, arising from their loss of morale, public service productivity is now suffering. Worse for the system is the disproportionate salary burden, within the Emoluments vote-head of the Recurrent budget, of this group of top heavy officers whose individual salary is enough to hire 5-6 fresh graduates.

Suspension of the tenure policy does no good for the system. The claim that it is to retain experienced officers is a ruse, as there is no exercise to determine which officer merits to be retained on account of proven competence. Indeed, majority of those benefitting from the suspension are the lower quality officers who were irregularly catapulted to the director grade level. In many MDAs, the suspension has induced racketeering of adjusted biodata certified with sworn affidavits to enable retirement-bound officers perpetuate their stay in the service to the detriment of young, bright, moldable and technologically-friendly fresh graduates waiting on the outside.

The Bungled Handling of Purported Reinstatement of Maina

The bungled handling of the purported reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina in 2018 is one issue that did not portray both the Federal Civil Service Commission and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation in good light. It is refreshing that the FCSC has now been reconstituted, with Dr. Tukur Bello Ingawa – a man of impeccable integrity as chairman. More importantly, with the news that Maina has now been arrested, it is expected that his trial will go some distance in instilling the right attitude in public officers put in charge of public funds.

The Extension of Service for Selected Retiring Permanent Secretaries

The recent circular from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) announcing an extension of service to seven Permanent Secretaries who are already due for retirement stated, among others, as follows:

“The decision to extend the tenure of these permanent secretaries is premised on the need to ensure that the new Ministers are properly guided, briefed about their sectors and to ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the delivery on the Presidential Mandate which they jointly signed; The Permanent Secretaries will also help the Ministers to manage the process for the preparation of the 2020 Budget in line with the commitment of Government to return to the January-December budget circle and help develop various policies and programmes aimed at lifting 100 million Nigerian out of poverty in the next 10 years. The action is in exercise of the powers conferred under section 171(2)”.

The reasons adduced in the circular for the extension of service of the permanent secretaries are germane. It is also true that the President is empowered by section 171(1)&(2) of the constitution to make appointments to the position of permanent secretary. Indeed, that power of the President cited above is without any restriction whatsoever as to where the appointment should be made from.  However, what the circular quoted above conveys is not an appointment but “an extension of tenure of service”. It therefore falls within the purview of the conditions of service of those officers.

The Tenure Policy is the appropriate channel through which that extension should have been made. Although the information within the public service is that the Tenure policy has been suspended, the Gazette under which the policy was published has not been repealed through another gazette. Therefore, as long as it subsists as part of the public service rules, it remains a legal document which is superior to any administrative instruction in an official file directing its suspension. Outside the Tenure Policy, the best way to have conveyed the action of the President was to have said ”the President has approved the re-appointment of seven permanent secretaries for one year, effective from the date of their respective retirements”.

From the pension angle, there is also no problem with the extension because, by the Pension Reform Act 2014, the continued contributions of officers after 60 years of age or 35 years’ service are not unlawful for contributors that are authorised to remain in service, as in this case.

However, the real challenge with this extension of service is not just on moral and ethical grounds but principally on how to justify it under HR management guidelines bearing in mind the career progression and succession planning principles which have been instituted to give equal opportunities to all officers. There are also concerns about the opaque nature of the assessment that brought out only those officers among the entire lot.

On moral and ethical grounds, the questions that are being asked in respect of the Permanent Secretary beneficiaries, having attained their positions because their predecessors from their States of origin vacated office at the retirement age or years of service prescribed in the public service rules, is how they would feel whenever they see the potential beneficiary Directors from their States who have been denied the same opportunity that they have enjoyed. Some have even gone as far as projecting that it could alter political appointment calculations in their States and, in the process, engender inter-community feud and inter-personal resentment !

From the point of view of HR management

The reasons adduced for this extension of service have only exposed the weakness of the office of the head of the civil service of the federation with regard to succession management. This is because, with the records in its custody, the office is fully conscious of the exit dates of all serving permanent secretaries and the requirement of notice of retirement but it refused to activate on time the expected processes for appointing replacements, for those with less than 6 months to retire, and taking them through the induction training that would have fully prepared them for their new deployment. Indeed, the granting of an extension of service to a group of retiring permanent secretaries which would deny officers next in line the opportunity of their potential appointment into same positions is an injustice, as it amounts to punishing those Directors for the ineptitude of the office that supervises and manages their career.

My overall assessment is that this extension of service granted certain permanent secretaries will do more harm to the system than good, as it is bound to make officers in the direct line of succession to lose faith in the system with an attendant loss of morale and, of course, public service productivity.

My recommendation is that the directive of the President, conveyed in the SGF circular announcing this extension of service, for the OHCSF “to commence the process for the selection of new perm secs to replace all retiring perm secs” should include the replacement for the seven permanent secretaries benefiting from the extension. Successful officers from that exercise should also be sworn in with their colleagues from other states and made to understudy the senior perm secs. The notion that concurrent appointment of replacements, while the extension of service beneficiary permanent secretaries are still in office, will shoot up the total number of perm secs in the service, should not constitute a source of worry as there is no law prescribing a ceiling for the number of perm secs on post at any given time. However, as soon as these replacements are appointed, it would be more appropriate to re-designate the extension of service beneficiary permanent secretaries as Senior Special Assistant to the President (SSA-P) and be made to work within the respective Ministries/offices to support their replacements for the period of their extended tenure.

Hope is Rising on the Horizon for the Civil Service

The last one year has witnessed the emergence of Dr. Tukur Bello Ingawa, OON, on the saddle as Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission. Dr. Ingawa’s educational, public service experience and personal integrity tower above those of his predecessors in office in the past two decades. He was a university lecturer, permanent secretary, Secretary to Government and Commissioner in Kaduna and Katsina States respectively. At the federal level, he was Director, Establishment matters in the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, among others, Secretary of the ICPC and Permanent Secretary Works, and Police Affairs. Given the pervading corruption perception of the FCSC in the past, public knowledge of Dr. Ingawa’s previous tenure as Secretary of the ICPC has turned out an asset as it keeps on their toes, not just civil servants awaiting promotion or undergoing disciplinary reviews but, the entire Commission from career officers to the commissioners, in the belief that they are being secretly monitored for any corrupt act. Already, his appointment is yielding the expected results. For the first time in a long while, the results of the promotion exercises for directorate level officers released last month was without the usual allegations of “money for marks”, favoritism or patronage that used to trail previous exercises. This service-wide acceptance of the results is gradually restoring confidence in the Commission. Therefore, hope is rising in the mainstream civil service that the FCSC is on the right track with regard to its core mandate of appointment, promotion and discipline. Can the Ingawa-led FCSC shed the toga of conservatism and be bold enough to embark on those critical transformational initiatives that will put the civil service on the clear path of sustained growth in the quality of its directorate level officers? Time will tell.

Strengthening and Entrenching the Rising Hope through Due Diligence in Anti-Corruption

With the renewed hope being offered by the reconstituted Federal Civil Service Commission, the challenge now would be how to inject that hope into the other areas of the service and make it cascade down the entire spectrum of the public service. What is needed is a complement in a Head of the Civil Service who, though may not match the stature of Dr. Ingawa in terms of educational background and public service experience, would be assured of the support of the pool of experience available within the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS) but must, of absolute necessity, not be found wanting on personal integrity. That would be the first step in any effort aimed at strengthening and entrenching the sparkle of hope that this new chairman of the FCSC is kindling for the civil service. Toward this end, there should be Anti-Corruption Due diligence in the appointment of Permanent Secretaries and Head of the Civil Service. The arraignment of Mrs. Oyo-Ita after nearly 4 years in office on allegations of infractions she committed, not just in her subsisting position as head of the civil service but in her penultimate position as permanent secretary, has called to question the thoroughness of the due diligence on corruption carried out on officers being put up for appointment into top offices.

The continued poor public perception of career public servants on corruption demands that there should be thorough screening of top public servants from the Assistant Director grade level upwards. To carry out a simple corruption due diligence on any career public servant is not a difficult task. As I wrote in my book Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria (RGGN) vol.1 – The Civil Service Pathway page 64-65 “ Nothing is secret in the public service… we know one another…We are all (literally) naked before our colleagues”. In other words, career public servants themselves know the rogues, the indolent, the contractors, the politicians and the crocked among them because of their institutional memory of the system. Institutional memory is like a tracer or x-ray scanner on the career paths of colleagues and does become a powerful weapon as an instant reminder of the character of any officer among colleagues. It was based on this thesis that, as chairman of the Osun State Public Service Transformation Team in 2012,  I was able to assist the Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola – now Minister of Interior, to choose a Head of the Civil Service from 26 Perm Secs through the design and adoption of 20 quality traits of leadership, integrity and incorruptibility. In the exercise, every perm sec was instructed to take himself/herself out of the equation and score the remaining 25 candidates on those 20 traits. Key among the traits were:

Integrity of Personal Records (e.g. in official records relating to date of birth, first appointment, claims of qualifications and academic titles); Service-wide/public perception about the officer’s ability to withstand corrupt inducement; Service-wide/public perception about the officer’s wealth (whether the officer’s wealth can be explained by his/her official earnings); Service-wide/public perception about the officer in terms of ownership of privately-owned properties and businesses such as estates, buildings, hotels, supermarkets, schools and farmlands, etc; and Service-wide/public perception about the officer in terms of ownership and utilization of personally-owned or cronies-owned companies to execute government contract(s).

Names of three officers with the highest scores were forwarded to the Governor and he too kept faith by appointing the candidate with the highest score.

 

Goke Adegoroye, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR)

 

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