By Prof. Tunji Olaopa
All across the globe, the public service has been undergoing tremendous institutional reforms that are meant to bring it up to speed in terms of the modernising of its regulations, processes, infrastructure and operations. This is to the extent that it might be brought up to date in its attempt at achieving a democratic service delivery to the citizens.
The modernising of the public service takes on an added significance within the African continent and especially with states like Nigeria still struggling to make development and governance enabling for the transformation of the lives of the citizens. In most of these states, the public service still operates the Weberian bureaucratic system and culture that are less than optimal in terms of performance and productivity. But much more than this, modernizing the public service concerns the totality of the effort to restore and enhance its reputation as a vocation.
Thus, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and especially the changing character of work across the globe, the public service is being served the opportunity to rescue itself and its agelong significance as the human face of the state to make a meaningful impact in its effective and efficient intervention in the welfare and wellbeing of the people of a state.
Making the public service more vocational and more efficient immediately implicates the capacity of the civil service commissions, the gatekeeper of public service public-spiritedness and professionalism, to be more efficient in its gatekeeping responsibility. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) regulates recruitment and appointment on the basis of a meritocratic principle that ensures that both the government and the public service have the best of candidates with the capacity to function efficiently. As an agency instituted by legislative approval, the CSC is given the constitutional authority to regulate the conditions of employment and service for the civil servants. In Nigeria, the significance and role of the Civil Service Commission become fundamental not only as a gatekeeper of civil service values, ethos and professionalism, but more significantly as a strategic framework that harnesses and reinforces the existing professional and administrative capacities, competencies, and high-end expertise of the Office of the Head of Service (OHCS), establishment, manpower development institutes (MDIs) and pension offices to implement the institutional reform dynamics that is at the very heart of the government change agenda. And this implies that the CSC is also a candidate for reform itself. In other words, to be able to implement the institutional reform that would transform the public service, the CSC must allow itself to be transformed by the reform dynamics.
One significant means for getting reform right is to facilitate best practices learning and sharing across the globe that speak to the modernizing of the CSC in constitutional, structural and institutional terms, and adopting and adapting them for Nigeria’s peculiar administrative context. And these best practices are not all too strange because they have been crafted within the commonality of the Commonwealth administrative practice and its template of the British colonial administrative legacy. How have other countries who are struggling with development and the modern impulse attended to the urgent need to transform the public service optimal efficiency through the reform of the CSC?
The first insight derives from the reform experience of the United Kingdom and the independence of her CSC from the influence of the UK government. To be able to achieve its responsibility as the go-between between the government and the public service, the CSC ought to be undergirded by the values of transparency, integrity, objectivity and impartiality. And these would be compromised when the regulatory activities of the CSC are oversighted by the government itself or is managed with less than a professionalised CSC secretariat. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act of 2010 established the UKCSC on a statutory basis to be independent of both the government and the civil service. On the contrary, the experience of the CSCs in Nigeria puts to question the significance of such independence in manner that seems contrary to the provision of Section 158(1) of the Nigerian Constitution.
To be able to perform its gatekeeping responsibilities seamlessly, the Federal CSC specifically, needs to define an institutional relationship with other public institutions, especially the National Assembly, the Ministries, the OHCSF, and the state CSC. These relationships are fundamental solely for the sake of institutional accountability. In other words, the proper regulation of the civil service also depends on how the FCSC is able to relate with cognate institutions and structures involved in making the civil service work efficiently and better. The Iraqi and Australian CSC prepare annual reports for their Parliaments to scrutinize, debate and outline resolutions for the implementation of the recommendations of the FCSC. And even though it reports to the Parliament, the Iraqi CSC, like the UK’s, is financially and administratively independent. Unlike the Iraqi and Australian FCSC, the Nigerian FCSC is still hampered by constitutional constraints that lock its operation in some administrative rigidities without proper modelling of FCSC-OHCSF-MDAs strategic human resource policy and governance shared responsibilities and commitment in enabling the overall performance of a developmental state
Within the framework of her Civil Service Reform Programme (1987-1993), the Ghanaian Public Service Commission introduced a Performance Evaluation System (PES) in 1992, and a Performance Agreement System (PAS) in 1997. The PES and the PAS became necessary within the deficiency of the earlier annual reports and financial audits that were fraught with credibility abuses that undermined genuine assessments. By 2012, and still within its continuing efforts to learn from its administrative lapses and errors and keep rolling with the curves of efficiency, the Ghanaian Public Service Commission, in collaboration with stakeholders and the Australian Public Service Commission, developed a Performance Management Policy for the Public Services of Ghana. This policy seeks to provide a more integrative and objective instrument that deploys rewards and sanctions for achieving performance management and monitoring. This Ghanaian innovation speaks about the crucial relationship between the CSC and other nodal points of the human resources management policy architecture, governance and dynamics in the civil service.
While the FCSC has a Human Resources Management Department, divided into two divisions—Appointment, Promotion and Discipline (APD) and Staff Welfare and Training, the Commission’s core mandate is still locked within the old personnel management tradition. The Ghana Public Service Commission example for instance speaks to the need for a proactive policy intelligence on the part of the FCSC which is not restricted to a mere advisory role in the recruitment, training, transfer and discipline of the civil servants. This implies that a creative policy like the performance management policy will encompass a comprehensive guidelines, statements and manuals (rather than piecemeal circulars and memos) that address and standardise rules and regulations concerning entitlement, discipline, leave, training, performance, etc.
The IPPIS is a unique human resource dynamic backend, that happily plays into the FCSC’s aspiration for transparency and integrity in the public service. However, beyond the programmatic framework of the system, the IPPIS needs to be drawn into a wider human resource audit that encompasses the entire public service into workload, competences and gaps assessments.
The Federal Civil Service Commission of Nigeria has come a long way in its objective of gatekeeping the vocational integrity of the public service in Nigeria. However, it still has a long way to go in terms of adapting to global and regional best practices that will position it better in salvaging the lost glory of the public service in Nigeria.
Olaopa is with the National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.