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02.07.2004 Feature Article

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step

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Reforming the Ghana Civil Service Dr Alex Glover-Quartey, Head of the Civil Service, in an address during Civil Service Week in Ghana, solicited ideas to transform the image of the Civil Service. He is quoted as saying: 'if we do not tackle the problems of the Civil Service and find solutions to them, this country cannot move forward'. He went on to say 'I want to see a real change in the way people see the Civil Service' (Ghanaweb June 24 2004). I do agree that the Civil Service, like most institutions in the country, is beset with problems. Dr Glover-Quartey in the speech under reference did not elaborate on the problems of the Civil Service apart from pointing to the filth around the offices and punctuality and calling on Chief Directors and Heads of Departments to provide inputs for the improvement and proper salary adjustments in the Service within two weeks.

I will like to commend Dr Glover-Quartey, for his courage in admitting that the Service needs a complete make over, for his vision for the Service and for his commitment to do something about it. I am, however, disappointed that his first priority appears to be on salary adjustments. I am disappointed because I believe that unless some of the fundamental structural problems besetting the Service and the economy in general are tackled first, no amount of salary adjustments will improve the lot of the people.

Increases in salary have to be sustainable otherwise any gains made will be quickly eroded.

We need to achieve improvements in the national economy and the Service has an important role to play for it is one of the main instruments with which the government fulfills its obligations. In my opinion, one of its most important roles is to enhance the government's responsiveness and accountability by fostering good governance, including the rule of law, equity, transparency and industrial democracy. It also exists to provide an enabling environment for industry and other productive sectors of the economy to maximise resources for economic growth.

Since independence the Service has gone through numerous reforms but has largely stuck with the bureaucratic structure set up by the colonial masters. Many of the structures of the colonial era that need reform have resisted change. The efficiency of the service has deteriorated and the core values of integrity, propriety and appointment have largely disappeared. The Service is now characterised by low levels of pay, “brain drain”, shortage of high-level manpower, insufficient managerial autonomy, very low productivity,low morale and corruption.

The Civil Service has also not been able to play its proper role of enhancing good governance because of the politicisation of the bureaucracy. One manifestation of this has been the excessive use of political and/or ethnic criteria for recruitment and appointment of Civil Servants and members of the Boards of Government Business Enterprises and the use of Special Assistants. These appointments contain the potential to undermine the independence and credibility of the Civil Service.

Dr Glover-Quartey's vision of transforming the Service should not be limited to 'transforming the attitudes of its employees to perform their mandatory duties' (Ghanaweb June 24, 2004), but he should aim at a Service that is:

(a) respected for its integrity and professionalism;

(b) respected as much for its ability to deliver as for its policy skills;

(c) capable of developing long term strategies for the development of the country and able to deliver them cost effectively, efficiently and on time;

(d) valued by the public not only for the services it delivers but for its values of integrity, trust, impartiality and its readiness to serve all citizens;

(e) valued for its dedication to timely, quality service;

(f) based on the principle that that there should be free and open competition for government jobs/contracts and winning and keeping a government job/contracts should occur on the basis of what you know not who you know;

(g) based on the merit principles including prohibitions on favouritism, conflict of interest and high standards for ethics, efficiency and performance;

(h) able to ensure that all ghost workers are eliminated from payrolls;

(i) capable of providing civil servants with appropriate incentives, competitive levels of pay and conditions, skills, and motivation.

In addition, it is important that the Civil Service ethos is renewed, nourished, cultivated and strengthened to meet the society's aspirations for its Civil Service. It should include the standards to be reached in ethical behaviour, service delivery, policy development and implementation and industrial democracy and accountability. The situation where the absence of one person from the office means a particular routine task cannot be performed should be examined and rectified.

Strategies needed to address the problems outlined above may be divided into two: those within the control of Dr Glover-Quartey and those that need governmental action.

In relation to those within the control of Dr Glover-Quartey, the first is consultation. An effort should be made to ensure that the reforms are supported by Civil Servants themselves for the success of the reform program requires that Civil Servants are actively involved and support them. Lack of their support can lead to delays and even in some cases slow the process of reform and in this respect I am pleased to note that Heads of Departments have been involved. It is important however that these Heads also consult with their staff and that it is a collaborative effort that involves all staff irrespective of status. I will like to place emphasis on the consultation process for I am aware that in general Ghanaians do not enjoy the very considerable benefits of representative participation at work that is evident in workplaces in some of the developed world. Employee representation in Ghana appears to be the domain of unions. However, in this instance, in addition to union representation/consultation there is the need for direct consultation with staff if the massive task of reforming the Service is to take off on the right note. We need to reshape the Service from the rigid hierarchical bureaucracy it is now into a flexible staff-responsive Service that values the opinions of all staff. Indeed, I am waiting for the day when I will not be asked 'who do you think you are?' because I had the courage to question a process, decision or action.

Other measures within Dr Glover-Quartey's control include intensifying efforts to remove ghost names from payrolls to reduce the wages bills. In this respect we should consider putting in place social insurance/tax file numbers as exists in some advanced countries. We should also consider the rather painful decision of retrenching non-performing civil servants and set up performance measures for all staff. People due to retire should not be allowed to prolong their stay through the submission of statutory declarations lowering their age.

Dr Glover-Quartey must ensure that Civil servants are provided with timely and relevant training to enable them upgrade their skills or learn new policy development skills. The training activities need to be structured and intensified and perhaps every Department should have a training budget and be made to report on training in their Annual reports.

The Government also has a role to play if the reforms are to succeed. Real wages for Civil Servants and indeed for Ghanaians in general have continued to decline and it is important the Government finds ways of meeting this need. If Civil Service wages continue to be eroded, skilled staff members will leave and there will be low morale among those who remain with the result that there will be increase in absenteeism, moonlighting and corruption.

However, it must be noted that the amount of money available is linked to macroeconomic realities, such as the amount of tax revenue available to pay Civil Servants, and the balance between wage and non-wage government spending.

It is in this respect that I find it extremely disappointing that Government continues to increase its wage and non-wage bills through the creation of more ministries, unnecessary overseas trips with large entourages, investments in unproductive projects, duplication of services, e.g. administration of the Capital, and the contracting of questionable loans. The result is teachers and doctors often lack the materials they need to do their jobs and law enforcement officers do not have vehicles to attend to crime scenes.

Whoever wins government after the forthcoming election, needs to take the bold step of restructuring government ministries, with a view to reducing the number of ministers/ministries and agencies and cutting government spending. Further real efforts have to be made to fight corruption and not hide behind empty slogans.

Civil servants also have a role to play in the success of this reform. They must embrace it and work towards its success. They must also know that the amount of money available to government comes from tax revenue and payments made to government for goods and services so when they take bribes or divert government incomes to their personal use or delay approval for a potential income producing project, they are reducing the amount of money available in the economy to meet the wage bill and services and therefore their own welfare.

There is no doubt that achieving the goals set out in this article is not going to be easy but I think it is encouraging to see that someone is prepared to make a start for as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It is my hope that with goodwill among all and leadership by example by the President and his Ministers, MPs, Dr Glover-Quartey and his Heads of Departments and the CEOs of the various corporations and government business enterprises some changes can be effected that will put the country on the path to recovery.

Ebenezer Banful Canberra Australia Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebenezer Banful
Ebenezer Banful, © 2004

The author has 21 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: EbenezerBanful

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