Imperatives of professionalizing public service

Imperatives of professionalizing public service

Continued from last week…….

Prevalence of Political Patronage in Lesotho Public Service

Lesotho’s attainment of independence was achieved through negotiations between Basotho’s representatives, on the one hand, and British Government officials, on the other. Basotho’s representatives were divided between proponents of ‘congress’ and ‘nationalist’ political ideologies in Lesotho.
Ideological differences between proponents of ‘congress’, on the one hand, and proponents of ‘national’, on the other, were deep and characterised by an animosity that filtered down to followers of the two sides.

Given this political polarisation, it came not as a surprise that, political patronage became a policy of distribution of public service jobs for any political party that seized government powers.
Just as in any transition, there were inherent challenges experienced when the British bureaucrats gradually handed over government functions to the local personnel. Some of these challenges were related to the lack of requisite competencies among the local public officials. This challenge later affected the machinery of government and, thus, led to declining efficiency in public service.
Political patronage significantly influenced public administration operations as employment opportunities and procedures for senior public officials were overtly politicized. In many cases, individuals appointed on political grounds are recruited from outside the public service. Warhurst (1983: 184) contends that politicisation of public service is mostly manifested in the appointment of senior public officials whose commitment to a successful political party is known.

After the Lesotho’s general elections of May, 2012, there was no political party that won an outright majority in order to form government on its own. This period formally marked the dawn of coalition governments in Lesotho.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) split, which gave birth to Democratic Congress (DC), weakened LCD as it managed to retain only twenty six (26) parliamentary seats out of one hundred and twenty (120). This loss brought to an end fourteen years of LCD in power.
It is on this basis that the coalition government was formed between LCD, All Basotho Convention (ABC) and BNP.
Consequence of all this, for the public service, was that, the coalition government did not renew the contracts of Principal Secretaries and senior public officials who served in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions and who were not members of three political parties that formed government.

The same thing happened after February, 2015 general elections when the seven party coalition government, led by DC, seized power. The Prime Minister, Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili, made it clear in the government public gatherings that the position of a Principal Secretary is political. He indicated that in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts it was important to amicably terminate the contracts of Principal Secretaries who served in the previous regime.
As a result, the contracts of all Principal Secretaries, except three, from the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and Ministry of Energy, were terminated.

An attempt was made to recall the senior public officials deployed in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions. Two Lesotho high commissioners in the Republic of South Africa and India, ’Malejaka Letooane and Bothata Tsikoane, respectively, contested the termination of their contracts in the High Court of Lesotho, arguing that it was politically motivated. These two commissioners won the case and continued with their responsibilities.

Patronage works against bureaucrats who are deemed to support the opposition parties. As Warhurst (1983: 184) contended, more confusion and conflicts are perpetuated by appointment to the senior public office of persons from outside the ranks of the career of public service (1983: 184). As it is, the appointment of a principal secretary and other senior public officials who serve as accounting officers in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) is largely influenced by party politics affiliations.

The Constitution of Lesotho, Section 139 (1), clearly stipulates that the power to appoint a person to hold or act in the position of a Principal Secretary shall vest in the Prime Minister (PM), acting after consultation with the Public Service Commission (PSC).

This is also enshrined in the Lesotho Public Service Act of 2005, Section 11 (1), which makes reference to Section 139 (1) of the Constitution on the prerogative of the PM to appoint both the Government Secretary (GS) and the Principal Secretaries.
The idea is that, the PM consults with the PSC to establish the suitability of the candidate to hold the office of a Principal Secretary. In practice, however, the Prime Minister just informs the PSC about the candidates.

This implies that, candidates are not subjected to any competency assessment to establish their abilities to assume the task of being day-to-day managers of ministries’ operations. As opposed to the current practice, before the introduction of the 1993 Constitution, Permanent Secretaries were recruited from a pool of experienced public officials.
It has been the case, on numerous occasions, that, appointees to the Principal Secretary’s office have come from outside the ranks of the career of public service.
This has devastatingly retarded continuity in government projects and developmental agenda. Since the appointment of such officials is predominantly influenced by political affiliation, it fundamentally compromises key attributes such as fairness, merit and competency.

This skewed approach in appointing senior officials has virtually permeated the recruitment system within the public service in Lesotho. It has become a common phenomenon that the recruitment system within the public service is spoiled by political influence to a point where it has noticeably affected professionalism and the commitment of public servants.
As Camilleri and van Der Heijden (2007: 241) argue, factors that enhance organisational commitment and public service motivation include, among others, the perception on how well the public service is managed. Failure to effectively manage the key functions and systems of government will negatively affect the morale in the public service.

Weak Government Systems

Commitment to effective systems is a trademark of successful modern organisations. Good systems have the potential to sustain organisational operations even under challenging circumstances. This is because they are carefully designed in order to optimize organizational performance. Bertalanffy (in Palaima and Skarzˇauskiene, 2010: 332) gives a classical approach to a system.
He says that it is “a combination of two or more elements, when every element of the whole influences a behaviour of other elements and the behaviour of each element influences the behaviour of the whole.”

Just like any system in the public service, government systems have a capacity to influence, either positively or negatively, the performance of government. The systems in the public service should be aimed at improving service delivery as this has a positive bearing on economic growth, development and political stability of a country as a whole.
For systems to be functional in the public service, they also require unreserved commitment and willingness by the highest political and bureaucratic offices within the government.
This would sustain good governance whereby government continues to be an important conduit towards delivering prompt and responsive services to the citizens (Bajaj and Sharma, 1995:73). It is through commitment towards constant improvement of quality service delivery that citizens too are empowered and become active participants in governance and not just remain as spectators.
The public service in Lesotho has some dysfunctional systems, and reference can be made to performance management system (PMS) and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System.

The choice of these systems is informed by their perceived relationship towards improving performance of the entire public service. The rationale for adopting a PMS and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was that, it is important to first ensure that the public servants report to work on time and remain present in their workstations in order to effectively deliver on their duties.

Under an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System project of 2012, it is clearly indicated that the Ministry of Public service had four main priorities to implement between 2007 and 2012, which coincide with the life span of Lesotho’s seventh Parliament.
The fourth priority is specifically about instilling discipline and professionalism to ensure good ethical behaviour and improved efficiency and effectiveness within the Public Service.
It is from this priority that Electronic Access Control and Time Management System ensue. The justification for the system was the absence of a decision support tool to support management decisions.

The Electronic Access Control and Time Management System became operational in the Public Service in 2007. It was first installed at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex to service four Ministries namely Public Service, Prime Minister’s Office, Law and Constitutional Affairs, and Foreign Affairs.
The system was further installed at the Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management (LIPAM) and Ministry of Home Affairs, Public Safety and Parliamentary Affairs.
The system was also meant to curtail uncontrolled movement during working hours. The United States General Accounting Office (2000: 5) on maintaining effective control and employee time and attendance reporting demonstrates the importance of controlling employees’ time at work for accurate recording of hours worked, hours in pay status and hours absent.
A reliable system is important towards accurate computation of employees’ payment, leave and allowances.

Even though this system could be deemed ideal for promotion of good performance in an organisation, it requires effective management. The noticeable deficiency in the implementation of an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System in Lesotho was that, it was not linked to employees’ payment and allowances.
It can also be observed that the success of such a system largely depends on constant monitoring which would inform decision or any course of action on public servants who failed to comply. Public service in Lesotho did not realize the utility of the system because it was not effectively monitored.

Disciplinary cases for those who constantly arrived late at work and/or left before time were inconsistently conducted and as such attracted no sanctions.
Another problem that exacerbated the failure of this system was the poor maintenance policy that has left the one at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex dysfunctional. As it was proposed, the Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was supposed to rollout to government working stations but has encountered serious financial challenge and a negative attitude in the public service.

The inevitable effects of this system’s failure led to a myriad of challenges, which negatively impacted the implementation of the performance management system in the public service.
The performance management system in the public service in Lesotho gradually evolved under different phases. It started as a confidential report appraisal system in 1970 whereby a supervisor had a prerogative to appraise the performance of a supervisee without consulting him. Lewis Dzimbiri (2008: 46) highlights that the confidential appraisal system did not prioritise performance targets and as such had a limited potential to objectively improve performance in the public service.
With time, it became obvious that the approach failed to improve performance because it was overly biased. As a response to this problem, a performance management system with more emphasis on the joint appraisal system was implemented in 2003, while performance contracting for senior managers was introduced in 2004.
A concerted effort to fully operationalise a performance management system for enhanced efficiency in the public service has always been undermined by lack of political will, whereby the highest political offices failed to own the system.

In 2014, there was a concerted effort to make all Principal Secretaries sign a performance agreement but only seven out of twenty-five Principal Secretaries signed. Had there been enough political will, all principal secretaries would be compelled to sign performance agreements because they are political appointees.
There also existed unnecessary bureaucracy that hindered capacity building initiatives for strategic officers that would oversee a proper implementation of the performance management system in the entire public service.

The team that was responsible for performance management had to be dissolved, in 2015, as it was composed of members from different ministries and departments, namely Public Service, LIPAM, Development Planning, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since performance management is a vital accountability tool in governance, it ought to be owned by the leadership because accountability should always trickle downwards. Armstrong and Baron in Dzimbiri (2008: 47) give a comprehensive definition of performance management as “a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success to organizations by improving the performance of the people who work in them and by developing the capabilities of teams and individual contributors.”

On the basis of this definition, successful implementation of performance management system requires proper management of an organisation, individual employees, performance improvement, employee development, stakeholders’ satisfaction and communication as well as their involvement (Armstrong in Dzimbiri, 2008: 47).
This comprehensively integrated approach on performance management requires a vibrant coordination and inclusion of all key stakeholders. This would ensure that constituent parts of government (ministries, departments and agencies) move in unison towards a comprehensive enhancement of public service performance.

The intensifying political challenges in Lesotho call for comprehensive reforms informed by inclusive participation of all key stakeholders. Reforms should also focus on improving professionalism and the efficiency of the public service, for it is when the public service competently executes its mandate that efficiency in service delivery will be maintained even amid politically volatile conditions. Sherwood (1997: 211) makes reference to the declining level of professionalism in the public service as a result of many political appointees in the bureaucracy and unsupportive environment.

Political patronage has been a springboard of a declining professionalism in the public service in Lesotho. The dominance of political appointees in the strategic positions in the public service has not only tainted professional competence but it has also disturbed continuity of projects and programmes in the public service.
It is apparent that prevalence of political patronage in the public service in Lesotho will not only perpetuate disservice to the citizens but it will also continue to threaten the stability of the country because the beneficiaries prioritise, above everything, the interests of those who have appointed them.

Based on the discussed challenges of the public service in Lesotho, it is imperative for the Government of Lesotho to adopt feasible and effective systems that will promote public service efficiency. The systems should be owned and driven from the highest political and bureaucratic offices.  This approach would ensure optimal compliance with government systems as accountability tools. In order to realize the utility of government systems, the top public officials’ recruitment should be conducted fairly and be based on merits. Their continued tenure in office should be solely based on satisfactory performance.

Napo C. Khasoane

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