Sunday, December 02, 2007

Integrity, Efficiency, and Opportunity for a Civil Service Under New Democratic Leadership

Newly elected Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma (left) shakes hands with outgoing leader Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on Sept. 17 in Freetown.

In the service of the nation, an efficient civil service must attract the respect of Sierra Leoneans. The civil service had been respected under colonial rule and the years under Milton Margai. It was seen as an efficient and productive service. In the 60's for instance, the Ministry of Education provided lunch meals to kids in all primary schools. Sierra Leoneans have seen firsthand how many of the civil service's past policies have positively affected their lives.

The debacle of the 10 years of the democratically elected government of former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is that his leadership created a negligent and laidback environment for the civil service to continue squandering the respect, trust, and confidence of Sierra Leoneans and the international community. At the dawn of independence, Sierra Leone's civil service was one of the best in Africa. The work of the civil service was widely accepted and respected, as it worked to serve the people of Sierra Leone. That reputation of the civil service has quickly been eroded since the late 60's. The civil service became entirely corrupt and grossly inefficient. And it did not get better even when after the war ended in 2002, and the international community rallied behind Sierra Leone as never before, supporting efforts to build capacity and helping to address the problems of the civil service.

But Kabbah lost an opportunity by not paying attention to what the civil service was doing. Moreover, civil servants were diverting vital financial resources from the daunting tasks of providing sustainable energy sources and restoring and constructing roads, schools, and hospitals. At the same time, the civil service was run as if it were the private property of the people employed to run it. The country's culture of corruption has supported a distinctive and enduring pattern of relations between the civil service and society that contains the seeds of enduring problems in political and development policy. Within a general "conspiracy of make-believe," civil service authorities think they are the 'untouchables' with which parliamentary and presidential authorities feign compliance, while society at large continues its tradition of passive and apathetic submission to the caprices of public officials. Again, the discernible ease with which the civil servants coordinate their official responsibilities over their private obligations, negotiating guiltlessly a course between their own interests, the claims of spouses, children, and kin, and the public office, is simply amazing. Because they enjoy a regular salary and various benefits, and have direct access to the state's resources, their job security makes them primary sources of assistance for relatives seeking help, especially under the country's present deplorable economic conditions. Many civil servants have accepted this situation and always feel compelled to help relatives, even if doing so would entail deviant conduct and corrupt practice in violation of public service orders. This is exacerbated by the intensity of social control: non-compliance with kinship obligations carries the threat of serious sanctions, such as ostracism and witchcraft.

Sierra Leoneans have paid a heavy price for being too susceptible to the deviant and corrupt practices of civil servants nullifying the competence of the civil service once enjoyed in colonial times and the years immediately after independence—a civil service that was rooted in a preference for being honorable over exhibiting selfishness, for being progressive over showing lack of will to make a difference. At a moment in history when the country's most pressing problems require unprecedented civil service performance, Kabbah's lenient administration only contributed to the ruin of the nation.

Yet the civil service can be something more positive. Indeed, international aid agencies, including USAID, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Britain's Department for International Development, the European Union, and the United Nations Development Program, want the civil service to be honorable, efficient, and development-oriented. The people still look to the work of civil servants as key to national stability. The civil service administration is lacking, but it is still wanted. The government of newly elected President Ernest Bai Koroma can therefore do something about the lethargy and naked corruption in public service. The people have given him the mandate to do whatever it takes to have a functioning government machine supported by an efficient service with integrity. They want Koroma to inculcate the values, leadership, and strength that had inspired the civil service during colonial times and the few years immediately after independence. To reclaim their proper place in national development, civil servants must act in the interest of the country. And Koroma can make it his national development goal to have this moment of opportunity to restore integrity and efficiency in civil service administration. Now, as a president with a background in business development, Koroma can seize that opportunity by getting the civil service to work sustainably to be able to invest in building roads, schools, hospitals, and low-cost houses for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans. "[The civil service] administrative culture needs to be changed into a purpose-led managerial culture where the achievement of results becomes the dominant ethic, constrained as appropriate by legal and financial requirements" (UNDP).

To get the civil service in sync with good governance practices, the government must be better led and be capable of creating the enabling environment for people to work and earn decent wages and to feed themselves, as well have access to affordable housing, safe roads, and well-equipped schools and hospitals; as well, development policies must be smarter. Koroma has been given a moment of opportunity to consolidate democracy and to convince civil servants that there is no longer any room for lethargy and corruption. He can seize this opportunity by taking firm and decisive action against crimes of corruption within the civil service, weeding out such lethargic elements from the service and even ensuring long jail terms for those found guilty of crimes of corruption. Koroma must only work with a civil service that makes his five-year term very productive in building a nation of security and opportunity. The point is, people "expect quick gains from the government and the delivery of essential services and promoting macroeconomic stability. This alone makes it imperative for [the Koroma administration] to embark on sound macroeconomic policies, including a transparent and enabling business environment and an efficient financial sector based on the rule of law, to thrive. This requires effective macroeconomic management capacity, including legislative and regulatory abilities and debt management skills" (UNDP).

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Sierra Leone: Integrity, Efficiency, and Opportunity for a Civil Service Under New Democratic Leadership - Worldpress.org