BY N. UNYAGE
Should the PRB continue to exist? Could Government not appoint a team of consultants every five years to look into the salaries and conditions of service of Civil Servants? I am sure a lot of money would be saved which could be better utilised!
The PRB report came out on 12 October and as usual it has not met the expectations of Civil Servants. Upon the request of Unions the Government has agreed that a team of independent and knowledgeable people look into the errors, anomalies and omissions. This request from the Union was a legitimate one, as previously in 2008 when the PRB submitted its report it was again asked to look into the anomalies, errors and omissions. Having a different team is a major step towards ensuring fairness and impartiality! Thank God that this more enlightened decision has been taken.
The team is composed of two former senior Civil Servants and one person from the Private sector as well as a Principal Assistant Secretary (PAS) as secretary. Although we fully trust the competence of this team, one cannot help questioning whether it is in order to have a (PAS) as secretary. As the Commissioners are mandated to look into representations from the Administrative Cadre, would there not be a conflict of interest ? Moreover, it is noted that the team is composed solely of men. There are no women although the political leaders have been claiming high that women will be represented in all spheres of our economy and systems!
Let us now have a look at the report.
It emphasizes that “it is the responsibility of the Supervising officer of the Ministry/ Department to ensure that optimum use is made of the existing human resources of his organisation, that the manpower requirements match the prevailing workload and the human resources of the organisation are fully utilised at the level at which they are expected to operate”. Yet it is an open secret that since the appointment of Permanent Secretaries in April this year, some of the newly appointed ones have neither been transferred nor their duties redefined to the extent that a few are said to be still performing the duties of PAS while earning the salary of a PS!
It is also stated that “an organisation should be so designed to build change readiness by fostering ideas that are critically important for future growth and making the task of directing change part of the core responsibilities of top management”. It is common knowledge that in the public service change is not easily embraced by some in the top management itself, as many of the officers of the administrative cadre have managed ministries and remained in their comfort zones for more than ten years (unless it was in their own interest to shift elsewhere), although they are supposed to move around and acquire a broad expertise in the various ministries. Such postings are not necessarily based on their qualifications, experience, and meritocracy – which would ensure that the human resources of the organisation are fully utilised at the level at which they are expected to operate.
The report recommends that “heads of organisations should ensure that suggestions and complaints are processed in an attempt to enhance service delivery and that regular surveys be carried out to track the degree of dissatisfaction from stakeholders on timeliness in the provision of services, competency of staff in delivery, fairness during process and courteousness” . In the wake of improved service delivery and to be in line with ICT, senior and middle level civil servants as well as officers of parastatal bodies are provided with cellular phones as well as allowed calls which are paid out of public funds. However, many officers do not give their phone numbers and if ever one calls them on their cellular phone to complain or ask for their assistance in a matter which falls under their responsibility, they are annoyed or simply do not answer the phone. Will this recommendation be ever put into practice?
Performance Management System
For the Performance Management System (PMS), “it has been recommended that mid-cycle reviews focus on individual career aspirations of officers and discussion on possible learning and development”. Does it mean that poor performance or non-achievement of goals should not be addressed during the mid-term review? Mid-term review of PMS, as we were given to understand, was meant to find out if goals have been achieved, if officers are on the right track and re-adjust targets, if necessary, and to give the officer an opportunity to improve performance if it was poor during the previous six months, and to stimulate with learning and development. This recommendation, then, does not hold substance.
The report further recommends that “distinct performance appraisal forms be devised for CEO AND Heads of organisation in the public sector”. One cannot agree more, as these people are the role models of organisations. Not having performance appraisal and sanctions for them gives the impression that they are above the law, when many a time the poor performance of the ministry/department is the result of poor leadership and non-performance of the CEOs themselves.
The survey of PRB has demonstrated that “only 16% of top management has been involved in PMS.” Consequently, having an appraisal for top management will ensure, to some extent, their involvement. It is also recommended that a “one-off payment every two years equivalent to twelve times the value of the last increment to Chief Performance Officer in an organisation which has successfully implemented PMS and has sustained it for a period of two years”. Is it not the duty of a manager/supervisor to manage performance of his/her section/organisation? Why then must one specific person be given a one-off payment? Payment to one person will demotivate the whole team. It should be noted that non-implementation of PMS can be attributed to a myriad of factors such as lack of training in PMS, no resources, lack of commitment of top management amongst many others. Fom the recommendation, it seems that Ministry will be having a consultant by way of the Chief Performance Officer to implement the PMS. The fact that PMS has not been fully implemented and only 37% of organisations in the whole civil service are using it according to a survey by PRB indicates that Performance Related Pay (PRP) should not be introduced at this stage. What will happen in case of poor performance and if the factors for same are beyond the control of the officer, will he/she then be penalised for not achieving results? Some officers are given all the facilities and opportunities to work while others are not provided such. Therefore, the PRP will not be fair as appraisers are not well trained in PMS to be able to make the difference. This contention is confirmed by the PRB survey which indicates that only 16% of organisations reported being able to use performance measures in improving service delivery, learning and development.
As soon as the report comes out, officers are requested to sign an option form. Signing the options forms implies that all those who have accepted the report including top management should abide by the recommendations/conditions of PRB, but year in year out some good/feasible recommendations of the PRB are not implemented. For example, it is recommended that a minimum of 45 hours’ training be given annually to officers, yet the survey of PRB has revealed that 60% of organisations have not done so, and 50% have not used their training budget. A training database has also been suggested for the Civil Service. Commonsense dictates that training activities are kept in a database to have informed decision-making. PRB’s survey revealed that only 50% of organisations are doing this. Are these organisations deliberately not keeping the data so that the same people are given training or awarded scholarships abroad? Shouldn’t the heads of organisations be accountable and taken to task for non-implementation of the report?
To promote learning and upgrading of their skills and knowledge, officers are encouraged to pursue further studies at their own costs and are granted additional increments for possessing qualifications higher than those prescribed in their job descriptions. However, PRB has recommended since 2003 that once officers get traditional increments in one grade, they will not obtain additional increments in a higher grade even though their qualifications are higher than those prescribed. The rationale for such recommendations is beyond understanding as once the officer has acquired higher skills and knowledge, s/he will continue to use this knowledge in a higher position irrespective of whether the position requires a higher degree or not.
The retirement age has been extended to 65 years for all officers. As it applies to existing officers as well, many officers will be deprived of their legitimate rights of promotion as most positions are filled based on seniority and subject to vacancy arising. Hence, unless and until an officer retires, his junior will not be promoted, and more so if the latter is nearing their retirement age. The recommendation for extension of retirement age should apply to new recruits only.
The interest on car loans will be reduced from 7% to 4% as from January 2013 for cars purchased as from that date. Such benefits are part and parcel of an officer’s remuneration package so that same are not reckoned for tax purposes. Civil Servants cannot evade taxes as same are deducted directly from their salaries. The 7% interest on car loan dates as far back as the 1980s when interest on loans from banks was some 15-17%. To retain the best brains in the civil service such perks were given, yet we now find that interest on loans for cars has gone down to 7/8% on the market and only new buyers in 2013 will be eligible for reduction in the interest rate. Such a recommendation is unreasonable and should apply to all civil servants who have taken a car loan irrespective of the date purchased.
Errors and anomalies
As regards the salaries, these vary so much for the same position or appellation that one wonders about the rationale for such recommendations. Many positions have a personal salary for the existing job holder and future incumbents of this same position will have a lower salary. Why is this so? Isn’t one perplexed?
A multitude of criteria is taken into consideration for a salary review, the most important one being the qualifications. Does it mean then that the salaries prescribed for the existing job holders are due to their higher qualifications/experience and if this is so, have the qualifications been lowered for future job holders? At a time when we are aiming at having one graduate per family and many officers have double Masters/PhDs, should we then lower qualifications?
Officers have been given up to 31st December 2012 to make representations/suggestions regarding the errors and anomalies. The above are just a few obvious anomalies which have been pointed out; there must be many more in the whole report for the various grades. Therefore, this begs the following question: Should the PRB continue to exist? Could Government not appoint a team of consultants every five years to look into the salaries and conditions of service of Civil Servants? I am sure a lot of money would be saved which could be better utilised!
* Published in print edition on 28 December 2012