New Performance Management Tools in the Civil Service: Laudable aim, but…

By TP Saran

 

We have been hearing about reform of the Civil Service ever since a catchphrase became very popular nearly 20 years ago: ‘Adapt or perish.’ How many have perished we do not know, but certainly some have adapted. Meaning, they have bent enough to be able to secure positions of authority in the Civil Service. Nobody has been able to figure out what special competencies they had, given the extreme degree of transparency of government functioning.

Surely government did not have to wait for the launching of the publication “Understanding Performance Appraisal Forms & Performance Improvement Plans” and the official opening of a ‘Training Programme for Officers in Charge of Human Resources in Ministries/Departments’ on 19 March 2013 at Domaine Les Pailles to be ‘proactive’ or show foresight, not to say farsightedness? Hon S. Moutia, Minister of Civil Service and Administrative Reforms, said in his address:

‘Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS) will reduce pressure on HR sections by taking over many transactional operations. HR teams will then have more time for (amongst others):

Human resource planning as we may not afford to retain retiring officers on contracts just because of the absence of any proactive strategy with regard to succession planning.’

The presence of a single retired officer who does not deserve to be occupying a post flies in the face of the highfalutin clichés that we have heard ad nauseam over the past years, and that were repeated in the speech. We have listed a few here only to show the mismatch with what has been happening in practice:

· setting the stage for a new mindset in the history of the Civil Service of Mauritius;

· re-invent our ways of doing business;

· need to shift from the traditional transactional stance for a more strategic approach;

· boils down to the question of a new culture;

· focus on organizational performance;

· Paradigm shift.

No doubt doing away with the archaic Confidential Report is a step in the right direction, long overdue. But what about organizational change in the Civil Service! Organisational performance will not improve unless the obsolete pyramidal model which centralizes all decision-making at the top is changed. Why, some decisions are even imposed from elsewhere – the notorious transfers and no-transfers too, one example among so many others – without so much as a consideration for the consequences. Remember another catchphrase, ‘the devil is in the details’? This may appear to be a minor thing, but ask any officer in the Civil Service who has had to live with the consequences of such decisions and the true picture will emerge. Under such circumstances and in such an atmosphere, further vitiated by constant political interference, where is the incentive or motivation to perform?

True reform will start the day a performance or SOP manual gives clear indications to a Civil Servant about how to effectively counter any debatable or controversial instruction given verbally by a minister who refuses to hear the voice of reason or to consider alternatives. It is not only utopian, but totally a waste of time to even so much as mention ‘lateral thinking’ to any minister.

Anyway, what to do, the minister has to go along with this reform bug that has been biting for ages now. Probably in another 10 years another minister will make yet another speech and what we will hear will not be very different.

Meanwhile, those who have ‘adapted’ will continue to thrive. It might have been better for Mauritius if they had ‘perished’ rather. But this is Mauritius, and only the dodo becomes extinct – fossilized bureaucrats are alive and kicking. Good luck to the Minister and his wished for ‘paradigm shift’!


* Published in print edition on 30 March 2013

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