Problems of our Civil Service – A Comparative Study

MT 60 Yrs – 2nd Year No 52 – Friday 5th August 1955

When you see a good man, think of emulating him; when you see a bad man, examine your own heart. – Confucius

By Onlooker

It is said that Government is the ‘model’ employer, but with the conditions prevailing in our Civil Service, we are of opinion that our government does not deserve that credit. In our first article we brought forward some of the injustices existing in our Government Service. We can go to the length of quoting many other instances of discrimination and partiality, but we wish to devote this article to the discussion of some of the problems of our Civil Service in the light of the principles of Civil Administration in UK.

Whereas in the UK, the peculiar orientation of the education system, tradition and the economic stratification of society have caused the Civil Service to be highly competent and to possess in a high degree that ‘ideal’ of service, in our small island with a small administrative service, injustices, and discrimination have contributed to lower the standard of the service. It is no wonder then that government expenditure on our administrative services is increasing day by day while output in terms of services to the community, is not increasing to the same extent. In a private enterprise the test of efficiency is an economic one and is determined by the relationship between selling price and cost of production. As far as the servants of a private business are concerned, it is easy to assess their efficiency. But this is not the case in State enterprise. Efficiency in government service can, therefore, only be secured by a careful choice of state servants. But how can we expect efficiency when the choice itself is governed by wrong principles? Where fair play does not exist, it means frustration, deterioration of ‘morale’ and sheer waste of talent.

The British Civil Servants bring loyalty, ability and – on the whole – open-mindedness to the Service. Their course of education, besides fitting them to be public servants, is also a process of initiation into the social structure of the society. In Mauritius, the best brains have got a dislike for government service as they are aware of its defects. Those who serve, and who for the most part belong to one community, take their tone from the social circles from which they are recruited and to which they tend to gravitate. If a research were made into the structure of our Civil Service, it would reveal many instances of square pegs in round holes and of sinecure posts created in order to find room for protégés and relatives.

In face of all these defects, palliatives like the establishment of the Public Service Commission, with only advisory powers, will tend to bring more discontent. In the UK the principles of recruitment to the various grades together with the respective qualities and qualifications are definitely laid down so that anybody wishing to join the Service is at least aware where he stands and what the future holds in store for him. Here apart from the General Clerical Service, which is the worst paid service and where promotion takes a life-long time, and for posts in the technical and professional grades, it is difficult to know what are the qualifications and qualities required. These change according to whims and caprices of heads of departments. It often happens that qualifications asked for are possessed only by the person whom it is intended to protect. The Public Service Commission or any other Selections Board will have no alternative but to choose the person in question.

The practices in UK is that only those who have taken high honours at the universities are eligible for entrance into the administrative grade, whereas here appointments to senior posts depend more on other factors than on qualifications.

The development of the Whitley Councils can go a long way to redress the grievances of our Civil Servants. But, here, as in other cases, it depends on how far government is prepared to accept the suggestions of these Councils. Can we expect them to develop on the same lines as in the UK where their functions include:

1.      “Provision of the best means for utilizing the ideas and experience of the staff.

2.      Securing the staff a greater share of responsibility for the determination and observance of the conditions under which they work, and the determination of the general provisions governing recruitment, hours, tenure and remuneration;

3.      Encouragement of further education of civil servants and their training in higher administration and organization;

4.      The improvement of office machinery and organisation and the provision of opportunities for the full consideration of suggestions by the staff on this subject; and

5.      Proposed legislation so far as it has a bearing upon the position of civil servants in relation to their employment.”

It is early to say that the Public Service Commission in Mauritius has been a failure, though a good number of Civil Servants are disappointed, seeing the way in which it has started working. If only the Commission could be given the necessary powers and asked to work on the same lines as in other countries, it would bring a change. Why should the Commission be a failure in Mauritius when in other countries similar institutions are working well? In UK, too, the Civil Service Commissioners are appointed by the Crown but there is not administration control over them. The partisan dictation by government, as it is being done here by the Establishment Section of the Secretariat, is also absent. The duties of the Civil Service Commission are clearly laid down and in summary include the following:

1.      “To approve the qualifications of all persons proposed to be appointed, whether permanently or temporarily to any situation or employment in any of Her Majesty’s Civil establishments.

2.      To make regulations prescribing the manner in which persons are to be admitted to the civil service establishments and the conditions in which the Commissioners may issue certificates of qualification.”

Our Civil Service is passing through a very critical stage of its history. A complete change of all the regulations governing our Civil Service administration has become essential and so long as this is not done, the service is bound to suffer as a result of discontent among the staff. Perhaps the following article of the Declaration of Rights of 1791 will serve as a guiding principle to the authorities concerned.

“All citizens, being equal before it (the law) are equally admissible to all public dignities, situations and offices, according to their capacity, and without any other distinction than that of their virtues and their talents.”

* Published in print edition on 4 December 2015

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