The revelations being made at the Commissions of Inquiry; the recovery of huge sums of money by the ACC; the administrative and managerial excesses, lapses and gross professional incompetence revealed by the Special Technical Audit; the dismal annual Audit Department Reports on how MDAs willfully misuse funds clearly show that President Bio cannot go far in the New Direction without the active cooperation and participation of a dynamic, committed, patriotic minded national civil service.
The civil service is the backbone of the State. It can support or undermine a country’s entire system of governance. Donors recognize this important fact and have tried to promote civil service reform in the countries they are providing aid to. However these attempts have all too often been limited in success.
There are eight principles key to effective civil service reform that builds on the five principles of the Paris Declaration: local country ownership; donor alignment to local objectives; harmonization of donor processes; focus on results, and mutual accountability between donors and aid recipients. These principles are:
1. Appreciate the long term nature of reform.
2. Focus on the timing and sequencing of reform activities.
3. Ground reform in analysis.
4. Ensure national ownership of the development process.
5. Involve a broad range of stakeholders.
6. Co-ordinate with other donors.
7. Decide whether systematic or incremental reforms are appropriate.
8. Determine clearly what the most common barriers to effective civil service reform are and how they can be overcome
Barriers to successful civil service reform include:
1. Political will – Political will is the greatest single challenge to civil service reform. If political leaders are not invested in reform then donors are unlikely to make any major headway. Political will is so important to civil service reform because the civil service is fundamental to the political system to the extent that change cannot take place without the agreement of the most powerful players. They are essential both in terms of ensuring reforms continue over the long term and as a source of accountability. Furthermore civil service reform can be politically costly upfront and as such politicians are unlikely to persist with it unless truly committed.
2. Patronage – Political patronage often leads to vested interests that see the civil service as a source of personal gain through pay, promotions, and employment status. Such interests are likely to see any reforms to the civil service as a threat to these benefits. Similarly, many within the civil service benefit from being able to dole out public money, jobs, and other contracts and are unlikely to willingly give up such powers.
3. Weak institutions – Systems with weak institutions will often lack the drive necessary to push reforms through. Weak institutions are often associated with a lack of civil society, and thus external pressure for reform may be absent. Furthermore if the rule of law is weak in the country as a whole, it may well be weak within the public service. This can mean that policies are not properly elaborated and that employees are not aware of their rights and responsibilities. Reform processes in systems of weak governance start from a lower point and have more to accomplish.
4. Sustainable reform – Civil service reform can be costly in terms of time and money, and many countries undergoing reform could not afford to undertake it without donor support. However donor support cannot be indefinite and donors therefore need to ensure that the reforms can continue once their funding is focused elsewhere.
5. Lack of an analytical framework – The data and evidence necessary to conduct an analysis of civil service reform is not always easy to come by. Conducting research, such as a census, to determine this necessary information can be a costly and time-consuming process. Consequently it is often difficult to find a baseline against which to measure progress. Furthermore many analysts argue that it is impossible to measure progress in civil service reform due to the many factors that affect developments.
6. Donors – The final challenges are created by donors themselves. Short budget cycles, staff rotation, and priority shifts can lead to a lack of stability. Furthermore donors often do not coordinate with each other as well as they could.