They must go

They must go

Signs that the much-anticipated wind of change has started to blow across our beautiful but much troubled land became evident when the Commissioner of Police was sent away on forced leave.
Next was the release of ‘Me Lebohang Ramohlanka from her position as Government Secretary followed shortly thereafter by the recall back to the barracks of the NSS director.
These high-profile movements (in the public domain) of personnel at top echelons of state institutions in the country suggest that change has finally arrived.
As the wind of change gains momentum, expect to see more of these sorts of changes because there is a well-established precedence for moving those at the helm of state institutions when a new administration takes over.

Recall how the previous regime also brought about sweeping changes immediately after assuming power. Some of the key changes they made include, replacing Permanent Secretaries not aligned with their politics (NB: individuals not replaced because they were non-performers), replacing the Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the LDF and making clear their intention to remove the then President of the Appeals Court.

Processes followed to appoint replacements (I have in mind Permanent Secretaries here) were not transparent and subject to public scrutiny. Replacements were appointed not after being subjected to transparent, competitive and rigorous selection processes.  Because of this, these appointments were rendered political and not merit based.
There is therefore no compelling reason why the new administration should retain in strategic positions in our state institutions individuals appointed by the previous regime in such a manner.
There is also no convincing basis upon which these individuals can claim to have been the best candidates when they were appointed to those positions.

As far as I am concerned, all such appointed senior staff should vacate those positions because appointments to positions in the civil service should be merit based and not political.
So, how should the new administration fill the vacated positions?
With lots of care.  Senior positions in the civil service should not be used as was done in the past to reward party loyalists and to dispense political patronage. Appointments must be made with non-partisanship, competence and merit being the primary considerations.

I do think though that up until Lesotho has deliberated and agreed (through the public reforms process) the guidelines and best approach to fill senior positions in the civil service, the new administration should be given the space to bring in people they trust and believe are best suited to execute their policies.
Civil servants who are completely loyal to the Government of the day is what is required.

But is this not a perpetuation of the cancerous tendencies of the previous regime? Maybe it is. I really do not know.
What I do know though is that at this critical juncture where the economy is on its knees and service delivery is urgently needed, we need to avoid at all costs the situation where service delivery is stalled because political heads (4×4 politicians) and administrative heads (political and not merit based appointees of the previous regime) don’t get along due to trust deficit between them.
However in the final analysis, if Lesotho is serious about permanently removing politically affiliated administrators and having professional, career civil servants, appointments to senior positions in government (for this discussion, I have confined myself to the level immediately below that of Minister-Permanent Secretary level) should be done using a hybrid arrangement where senior staff are appointed using administrative selection criteria i.e. merit and experience combined with political considerations.

Key changes I envisage when the reforms kick off include altering how politicians get involved in recruitment processes.
The involvement of politicians in making appointments would need to be more tightly managed i.e. subjecting to external oversight recruitment processes where politicians are involved.
For example, the following process could be followed when appointing a Permanent Secretary — the Minister presents to a special oversight body (body must be insulated from partisan interests) the name of the individual they want as their PS.

This body publicly interviews the individual to determine their suitability. If the individual is rejected by the selection panel, the Minister provides an alternative name.
However, if the panel approves the Minister’s proposed candidate, the individual is appointed on a limited fixed term contract renewable based on satisfactory performance.
The big change here is that the final decision to appoint Permanent Secretaries would no longer be the sole prerogative of just a single individual (or political faction or interest group) but the responsibility of a credible and non-partisan body constituted of multiple stakeholders from across the political and social divide.

This is more likely to lead to more competent and nonpartisan individuals being appointed than is currently the case.
Another big change is that because the selection process is made public and therefore transparent and competitive, a higher calibre of candidates would avail themselves (not just political party loyalists) because the process would be merit based and impervious to political influence.

This would reduce the risk of having incompetent and poorly qualified but well-connected individuals leading our institutions.
The point with my rambling is that the wind of change must continue to sweep through our troubled land.
All those in state institutions who are beneficiaries of the previous government’s largesse and not in those positions because of merit and competence which was determined through open, transparent and competitive selection processes must go.

When appointing replacements prior to the finalisation of public sector reforms however, the 4×4 Government must be careful to prioritise merit and skill over cadre deployment lest they are accused of not being different from the previous regime.

Poloko Khabele

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