Sunday, December 15, 2013

Re-inventing the Civil Service

civ·il serv·ice
the permanent professional branches of a government's administration, excluding military and judicial branches and elected politicians.
Numerous articles have been written on how Nigeria's civil service is a significant contributor to the Country’s poor state and how it has aided the entrenchment of corruption in our society. To understand the implication of this charge, the role of the civil service should be understood.
What is the Civil Service?
Some definitions of the civil service include:
E.N Gladden: Civil Service is a professional body of neutral experts dedicated to serve the nation irrespective of their own gain and without reference to party- political views

F.A Ogg: It is the great body of men and women that translates law into action from one end of the country to the other and brings the national government into its daily contacts with the rank and file of the country 
The textbook characteristics of the Civil Service include: professionalism, neutrality, anonymity, impartiality, service and accountability.
 Reality versus Theory
Nigeria's civil service does not exhibit above characteristics neither do the definitions apply to it.  Although,characteristics such as neutrality and impartiality are impossible, countries such as Australia and New Zealand have been able to develop systems that recognize the human factor but still make it work whilst patronage and deference to the government in power is the status quo for our civil service.
Professionalism and service are lacking in Nigeria’s civil service. Recall your last experience with a civil servant (trying to get your driver's license, process your passport, sign off on a letter, get a certificate of occupancy etc.). The blasé attitude to work is obvious. The civil service is responsible for formulating and implementing policies. A nation cannot progress if civil servants responsible for policy are unable to conceive practical and original policies and are unprofessional. For instance, a civil servant in the Ministry of works believes that solution to the disrepair of federal roads is to introduce a tolling policy though allocations for road maintenance is provided in annual budgets.  Also consider the 2013 budget where 200 million Naira each was allocated for generators in countries with constant electricity like the UK and UAE. If that was the only error, it would be a clear case of enrichment. The height of mental laziness was the same amounts were allocated to different countries with different currencies and tariffs. Read the story here and here

The principle of anonymity (civil servants are not held responsible for actions or inactions) promotes incompetence. This principle  makes it difficult to hold civil servants accountable because they are not elected and have tenure (job security) while the elected official bears the consequences (if any) for actions. An example is the unspent funds for the Health ministry that led to the resignation and prosecution of the health minister.  This attribute may also be responsible for embedding corruption in the country. Whilst both military and democratic governments have played their parts in establishing corruption, these governments were enabled by civil servants “who know and work” the system. The lack of accountability and no consequences for actions of civil servants has been a disservice to Nigerians. 
On the other hand, the structure and design of the civil service is demotivating. The work spaces do not encourage productivity, there are no performance metrics- this makes it possible for a civil servant to do nothing between 9-5 or abscond from work- and for the junior cadre, their take home pay can't take them home. Yet, a significant portion of State and Federal Budgets  is spent on overheads like salaries, maintenance and training

Why should we care and what can we do?
Nigeria’s development lies in the hands of civil servants as they are the delivery medium at schools, hospitals, ministry of works, ministry of housing etc. so we should care because the actions and inactions of civil servants affect citizens directly. For instance, a tolling policy means that anyone plying the Lagos- Ibadan route would include tolls in their budget; epileptic power supply has caused maintenance of generators the number one expense for families (probably before food).  

How do we solve a problem like the Nigerian Civil Service.
In conclusion

In addition to streamlining the roles of ministries, service charters for each ministry with clear consequences for service failures should be published. For instance, A state's hospital's service charter can be: attend to a patient within 30 minutes of arrival in non-life threatening cases. For the ministry of Commerce it can be: application for a business permit should be treated in 48 hours etc.  
Citizens should be sensitized on their rights and obligations in their relations with civil servants and examples should be made of offending staff. 
Procurement procedures should be transparent and there should be real Freedom of Information. The affordable cost of the Internet allows for transparency in procurement and freedom of information.
The Judiciary also has a part to play in revising laws so that punishment is commensurate with offences. Recall the Pension scam where the civil servant was fined N750, 000 and compare to the phone thief who was sentenced to death. Nigeria’s law code appears to prefer white-collar crimes to physical crimes
Finally, the Federal character principle should be abolished. Federal character does more harm than good by promoting a false sense of equality over merit. Employing or promoting someone from a certain region or local government because that position is slated for their local government breeds more unprofessionalism and no accountability.
If the nation wants to retain the equality the principle purportedly gives, it should be anywhere else but the civil service and security forces.
Further reading:

Definition of week
“We weres”- (we  were there before you and would be there after you have gone):  
A civil servant who  believes he is not accountable to anyone and therefore resists change and progress