A government moulds a country’s future by giving a fresh look to the affairs of the country in terms of the security of state, management of economy, protection of environment and more importantly in the protection and welfare of its citizens.
It is expected that government should put its customers (citizens) at the focal point of all key decisions – ranging from budgeting to service design and service delivery. Abraham Lincoln’s famous words “government of the people, for the people, by the people…” remind us of this.
For the successful achievement of its objectives, particularly in relation to the delivery of services, the government relies much on its executive arm made up of civil servants. These officers (some 55000 in number) service the ministries and departments. They belong to many positions, from lowest grade of cleaner to the topmost level of Secretary to Cabinet or Chief Justice. There is no real qualm in the delivery of service .The public officers have since independence been adapting to the changing needs of the citizens and providing the service accordingly. Nevertheless there is a gap between the service provided and that as perceived by the citizens. It appears that it is difficult to satisfactorily serve the 1.2 million people at all times. I had an old mason whose remark I quote: “tout le temps ena ene qui pou tire l’ail”, meaning there is always someone who finds something to complain about.
However, we all witnessed how the civil servants /public officers appointed as election officers conducted the recent municipal elections in an awesome way. (For that matter election officers deliver exceptionally at all elections.) It is of note that Election officers are appointed by the Public Service Commission from among public officers only. They operate at various levels: Clerks, Presiding officer, Senior Presiding Officer, Returning Officer. They are subject to rules and regulations of the PSC and in their appointment letters the following is noteworthy: “services may be terminated immediately at any stage during the election period and without any remuneration, in the event of incompetence , misconduct , insubordination, false declaration, or breach of any of the conditions attached to this offer of appointment…to be on duty during hours prescribed by the Returning Officer.”
The public officers as election officers worked by the book, reported to work and meetings on time, carried out their respective duties efficiently and effectively with the required impartiality, commitment, enterprise and courtesy. They treated their customers fairly, holding to high standards of professionalism, integrity, honesty and conduct. The citizens were satisfied with the service provided. There is no big secret behind this achievement. All these happen because the Electoral Commission gives thorough training, appropriate and clear instructions and demonstrations on the duties to be carried out. The Electoral Commission moulds its election officers to deliver effectively and this reminds us of the principle for effective performance as advocated by the renowned HR specialist Michael Armstrong: “When people know and understand what is expected of them, and have been able to take part in forming those expectations, they can and will perform to meet them.”
The public want services delivered that are of quality, on time, and in a courteous manner. For this to happen the officers should know exactly what needs to be done. Very often we hear complaints that the quality of service delivery is less than what is desirable or what was originally anticipated. The public finds that the public officers are slow at work, come late to office, are arrogant, careless, inconsiderate etc and at the same time praises the private sector employees as dynamic, productive and eager to please the customers. Even certain politicians – outgoing councillors – voiced their opinions on air about the inefficiency of the public officers.
I sincerely believe that all the public officers can deliver effectively. I have experienced this both as a former Election Officer and Senior Civil Servant. The challenge is to prepare your fellow workers, train them, motivate them, and let them do the job. The Electoral Commission’s approach can be safely replicated in any other organisational system. Every officer can be groomed to adapt to the changing needs of citizens to deliver on target in a timely, courteous and effective manner. This appears to be a simpler way to reshape the service delivery for greater efficiency and effectiveness. The need is to do things differently to get different results.
* Published in print edition on 3 July 2015