When politics threatens public sector governance

When politics threatens public sector governance

IN every organisation, it is expected that the employer and employees will have a synergy that allows for the fulfilment of an organisation’s goals. However, what I see in Africa has been quite alarming. Recent political conflicts in most African countries are not only destroying nations but also making it hard for public agencies to cope with this situation.
The uncertainty of political situations pushes the Human Resource Management (HRM) of public agencies off the cliff. Politically polluted and deliberately polarised human resource management presents challenges to the HR managers in particular and citizens in general.

In fact, a politicised public service can become the biggest enemy for the country and its economy. The politicisation of the civil service speaks about the ageless tension between politics and administration.
The dominance of political loyalty over merit in the upper echelons of government is the foremost mechanism used by politicians to control and ensure effective implementation of their espoused policy agenda.

But the most important question is how can political authorities exert such control while bureaucracy claims to preserve its capacity, professional values, and performance standards? With persistent politicisation threatening public sector governance and management, there is a growing necessity to understand this phenomenon and its dire consequences.
It’s worth mentioning that I have come to understand through my work experience in the human resources office the negative impact of the politicisation of the public service and the causal mechanism and consequences for such a relationship. Therefore, my biggest concern is the deterioration of the most important and valuable dimensions of the public service organisations: HRM and its practices.

Political appointments tend to have different motivations than career officers and the main reason behind this is to maintain their political loyalty and ideological commitment that brought them to these positions. Consequently, a serious problem emerges when compromises influence appointees’ decision-making to such a degree that their objectivity and rationality are undermined.
As a result, implementation of policies are ignored or challenged. Paradoxically, this might even be prejudicial to those political authorities responsible for politicising, as they finally cannot achieve their agenda too.

The most cruel thing is when the uncontrolled predominance of political loyalty operates at the expense of HRM practices, particularly merit principles, which are precisely those that should drive practices in this area.  Surely, once a political appointee takes a position, it is a norm that other appointments will follow in numbers.
Indeed, patronage operates as a pyramidal system that grows vertically and horizontally, in which superiors appoint more subordinates to jobs via political loyalty over intellectuals.
Thus, most of the public agencies’ relevant jobs become destined for other political appointees, and this ensures an alteration of hiring practices, which sometimes affects even career positions under civil service policies and regulations.

One should remember that any country with compromised laws, rules and regulations lead to a weak and slack economy. The deterioration of merit principles by politicisation affects not only the recruitment and selection processes but also other HRM practices such as the performance management system, placement, promotions, training and development areas of human resources.
In this kind of administration, naturally, if there is any person who would like to advise or initiate something out of expertise, would be called an upper caste exploiter. Millions of reasons would be cited explaining why he or she cannot be allowed to occupy any strategic position or even drive him/her out of the system.

This is the mentality of Africans in strategic positions under a politicised administration. This is indeed, the struggle that is confronting Africa today. Can the economy and development prevail under such circumstances? The answer is no. I always wonder how a common man with an innovative idea is expected to excel in this kind of administration.
Surely, I am not the one to beat our continent, for even with all faults, I dearly love this continent let alone my country Lesotho, but it is indeed surprising that even in this day and age p,eople are spending their time and energy in pulling others down only in trying to be upwardly mobile themselves.

Under such circumstances, it is very difficult for HR managers to perform their duties entrusted to them efficiently and effectively.

l Matela Albert Machela is a student at Kerala University, India. He is studying for an MBA in HR.

By: Matela Albert Machela

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