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PSs must do or die

25 September 2015
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In a speech to PSs this week, the Prime Minister, the RIGHT HONOURABLE SAARA KUUGONGELWA-AMADHILA focused on one of her main roles in Government as the head of the civil service and administration of the nation.  She outlined a New Deal for a group of PSs representing most Government Ministries. 

The focus of the speech was primarily on the new performance evaluation requirements for PSs which will judge the Chief Admin Officers of each Ministry’s efficient use of available budgets, including using all funds allocated in a specific fiscal year, ending waste, mismanagement and curtailing S&T expenses and the wage bill.  The speech also highlighted the new requirement for PSs to set a higher priority for customer service and service delivery. 

There is no doubt that the Geingob Administration’s admirable emphasis on efficient and effective service delivery and customer care in the civil service will fall flat on its face if the chief administrative officers in Ministries are not on board with the program.  The PSs ability to move the inert masses of civil servants seated behind desks and counters within their ministries to implement programs efficiently in the fashion of the miracle at Home Affairs and Immigration, is crucial.

The performance evaluation axe is hovering over the heads of not only Ministers, SOE management teams and boards of directors who also have to sign performance agreements, but also on senior civil servants who not only have to officially declare their business and financial interests, but must meet performance criteria stipulated by OPM. 

We are in wait-and-see mode when absorbing well-presented speeches with pronouncements about much needed programs and procedures; as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Far too often in the past, great speeches, gather dust on the shelves as priorities shift, politics remain business-as-usual and bureaucrats remain content to collect their monthly direct-deposit paychecks and continue doing whatever they were or were not doing once the spotlight shifts away. 

Giving a speech to PSs is one thing, consistently following up to ensure implementation and meet out retribution is quite another. 

The high amounts spent on S&Ts and travel was mentioned in the speech.  This is not a new issue in Namibia.  For years, headlines have blared loudly and the people have screamed about the millions spent by officials on duty outside of Namibia.  Clearly a level of travel is required in order to maintain the priorities and obligations of the State.  But in times where money is in short supply, development assistance has decreased dramatically, water and electricity in Namibia are no longer guaranteed and business growth is under threat as a result, housing crisis promises remain unfulfilled, thousands of learners will again likely fail grade 10 and 12 exams and regional elections loom, spending tens of millions on travel for large delegations has to be reconsidered in terms of what makes sense. 

Travel for government delegations and officials not only means time out of office for decision-makers at various levels in the bureaucracy, (one director being out all week, usually stops all movement on any programs for that unit) but high expenses at a time when the US dollar exchange rate to ZAR is spiraling out of control.  Exchange rates at nearly 14 ZAR to 1 USD, mean that trips taken this year are nearly twice as expensive as trips taken last year when the ZAR was about 8 to 1 USD.

The PM addressed two key issues in her speech that seemed to indicate that feedback on proposed performance evaluation criteria for PSs has been received. 

There were concerns about how targets can be met when available resources are dwindling out of step with increasing performance expectations.  There were also concerns about outside influences on a Ministry’s performance that are not under the control of a PS, but which will affect their ability to meet performance targets. 

Events out of the control of a particular PS or Ministry like the exchange rate issue, looming water and electricity disaster, drought, fluctuating international borrowing interest rates or oil prices, will affect some PSs’ ability to reach their performance targets.  There were justifiable concerns on how the OPM’s plan accounts for this.  The speech did not give substantive answers to these concerns and responded with platitudes about working with stakeholders, consulting more closely with Ministers, optimizing the quality of interventions and verbally assuring that performance expectations will be aligned with budget allocations.  It is hoped that substantive dialogue between OPM and the PSs it supervises, is ongoing on these points as they are critical.

The PM stated that the performance management system and evaluations process is not punitive.  She couched the entire process in terms of helping PSs help themselves and provide sound monitoring and evaluation of efficiency in Government in order to help the people better.  That sounds nice.  But, the fact is that without the stick, the carrot has no flavor.  Bottomline:  PSs that consistently don’t hit their performance targets, even after warnings, mitigation, discussions and support from OPM, will be and should be fired, demoted or redeployed.

Having performance targets in place for which PSs are held directly accountable must happen lest our chief administrative officers of Ministries get stuck on being ‘permanent’ and forget they are accountable to the electorate, even if indirectly.

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