The Commonwealth Secretariat supporting good governance in Sierra Leone

Abdul R Thomas – Editor

17 May 2012

After a brutal civil war, which brought total destruction to Sierra Leone’s governance and civil society infrastructures, the collapse of the rule of Law and the emergence of mob justice, the long and hard road to rebuilding the country continues.

Hundreds of Millions of Dollars have been spent, the challenges are immense. But so far, there is so little to show for that effort: poverty is increasing; clean drinking water has become a luxury, while fewer than twenty-percent of households have electricity.

No civilised nation can function without an effective and efficient public sector or civil service, notwithstanding the ideological debate as to the role and size of the state sector in society.

In Sierra Leone, that debate is far from being necessary, as the provision of basic essentials of life, such as clean, safe drinking water and food, takes centre stage.

Although the public sector in Sierra Leone consumes the largest share of the national cake – Gross Domestic Product, yet few would deny that the country’s state sector is not only inefficient and unproductive, but has lost its ethos and sense of direction.

Since the end of the war in 2001, various initiatives have been implemented by the international community to help successive governments in the country, rebuild the public service, so that it can become fit for purpose.

It is true that the rebel war did not precipitate the demise of Sierra Leone’s public service, though it landed the final and fatal blow that killed it.

When the country gained its independence from British colonial rule fifty-one years ago, in 1961, there was a structured and properly run civil service, which became the envy of other countries in Sub-Sahara Africa and beyond.

But between the period 1973 and 1990, Sierra Leone’s public service had been reduced to a mere shadow of itself. Many of the buildings that once stood proud, housing the offices of civil servants in the capital Freetown, were transformed to village outposts.

Poor governance, autocratic leadership, nepotism, corruption and sheer short-sightedness of the APC government, had been used to systematically dismantle all that was good about Sierra Leone’s civil society and the rule of Law.

But is there light at the end of the tunnel?

After spending over $1 Billion in rebuilding the country’s social and civil infrastructures, the international community – especially the British Department for International Development and the Commonwealth Secretariat, have implemented practical and co-ordinated measures aimed at reforming and restructuring the country’s public service.

Early this year, the Commonwealth Secretariat published a report, which highlights its work in helping Sierra Leone rebuild good governance, in particular, reforming the country’s public service.

This is what it says:

Why Public Service Commissions matter

Public Service Commissions (PSCs) are often a crucial component in attempts to reform the public sector, especially in the developing world. This is because, in
principle at least, PSCs have a critical role to play in providing strategic direction in terms of human resources management and civil service policy and regulation, as well as in ensuring and maintaining the integrity of the public service.

One crucial function is to guarantee effective and transparent recruitment and promotion processes that will lead to competent staff selection and retention in the public service.

PSCs are also intended to provide overall guidance for staff discipline functions and policy for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on human resources management to ensure consistency throughout the public service.

However, in practice, PSCs may not always be able to perform their key functions effectively. They are often politicised because, among other things, human resources and the civil service are a key source of patronage and clientelism (O’Neil, 2007).

This is especially true of fragile states that are attempting to recover from conflict. As these states attempt to build more effective and responsive institutions, they also need to maintain a precarious balance between contending groups and forces seeking privileged access to state resources (OECD, 2011).

The case of Sierra Leone’s PSC is a powerful illustration of the challenging and political nature of public sector reform in fragile states.

In 2008, the PSC in Sierra Leone was a very weak institution, unable to carry out its key functions and responsibilities and unsure of its role in leading/supporting efforts to reform the public sector as articulated in the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP II).

A new chairman was appointed that same year, and he showed considerable commitment to the task of turning the PSC into a more effective and purposeful organisation.

Commonwealth support of the PSC in Sierra Leone

Under this new leadership, the PSC approached the Commonwealth Secretariat for support. The Commission requested assistance from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) in helping it to assume its constitutional mandate more effectively.

As highlighted in the technical proposal submitted to the Secretariat, the PSC
strategically approached the CFTC rather than another donor because of the added value that the Secretariat can bring to the table regarding its approach to development, notably its ability to act flexibly to address key gaps and to focus on areas that other donors may not be paying (enough) attention to:

‘The Commonwealth Secretariat…has been providing specialised support in discrete forms, focusing on the provision of expertise in specific areas, often filling capacity gaps, and in some cases providing support to institutions which are strategic to the delivery of public services, but traditionally [have been] orphaned in terms of donor support.’

After a series of discussions, by August 2009, the CFTC agreed to support the Management and Functional Review (MFR) of the Commission.

The purpose of the initiative was to help the PSC carry out an MFR as a means to become a more effective body with the capacity to deliver its mandate to oversee the appointments and promotions, as well as the control and discipline, of Sierra Leone’s public service.

The MFR, carried out between September 2009 and March 2010, was intended to:

• Assist the PSC to redefine its role in light of the ongoing challenges of public sector reforms in a post-conflict setting.

• Assess the legislative implications of the new functions of the PSC.

• Assess the capacity of the PSC to assume its new responsibilities under the proposed Multi-Donor Funded Public Sector Reform Programme, and make recommendations on the required institutional adjustments and capacity development needs of the PSC.

• Analyse the existing component structures and skills mix of current staff with a view to recommending revised structures, job profiles and appropriate allocations of staff.

• Analyse other aspects that impact on the need for structural reforms in the Commission with a view to increase its effectiveness.

Supporting Sierra Leone’s Public Service Commission

From a financial perspective, this intervention by the CFTC was relatively small. The cost of the consultancy, getting stakeholder inputs through a seminar, and printing and disseminating the study, was approximately £10,000 (in addition, of course, to staff inputs in terms of designing the terms of reference, reviewing and providing inputs for the different drafts of the final report).

However, as attested by reports from the PSC to the Secretariat’s Governance and Institutional Development Division (GIDD) in December 2010, and more recently during a GIDD visit to Sierra Leone in March 2011, the catalytic effect of the MFR has been much wider and more significant.

Among other things, the Review has led to the publication of a report that has been widely circulated and discussed among a wide range of relevant stakeholders, including donors and government representatives.

The report’s conclusions and recommendations have been endorsed as a viable basis to reform the PSC going forward.

The president of Sierra Leone, H.E. Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, has been solidly behind the report’s findings. He launched the MFR himself, thereby signalling that its implementation is a key national priority.

Today, the PSC is beginning to turn into an empowered institution with leadership and vision – a situation that seemed unimaginable a few years ago.

What has made CFTC support so meaningful and effective?

Part of the explanation has to do with the ability of the Secretariat to work closely with an organisation largely neglected by other donors, who fail to appreciate its strategic importance.

This intervention helps to highlight the Secretariat’s unique capacity to focus on areas and projects that other development partners may have considered too small or marginal but that remain nonetheless essential.

Now that the PSC has begun to show some of its potential and that the MFR has provided a roadmap for reform, other donors have become more interested, and international support has been more forthcoming.

For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has picked up the Review and it will contribute to move towards a second phase of support that will consist of consultancy services for strategic planning.

The CFTC will collaborate with the UNDP on capacity-building to continue to strengthen the development of the organisational structure of the PSC. Other donors looking to engage with the PSC include the EU.

This intervention is a testament to how a rather small but strategically significant intervention, of the kind the Secretariat is particularly well placed to carry out, can make a big difference.

The role of the Secretariat as catalyst is also worth highlighting here; as the chairman of the Commission put it, through its support, the ‘CFTC in its usual manner has sown an acorn that will grow to an oak tree’.

The CFTC will continue to be there to support the human capacity development of the PSC and to co-ordinate donor support as may be required in the years to come.

Editor’s note:

Sierra Leone has recently received over $50 Million funding from the World Bank in support of public sector reform and the delivery of decentralised public services in the country.

A lot of money has been spent and continues to be thrown at the problem of reforming and rebuilding Sierra Leone’s public sector, with very little positive results.

Government departments, ministries and agencies are still being managed as though they are the personal fiefdom of those in power.

Poor governance, corruption, nepotism, tribalism and the breakdown of the rule of Law are just as powerful today as they were thirty years ago. Very little has changed.

But the recent announcement by the government of its intention to reopen the country’s Civil Service Training College, has triggered one vital question:

Will the resumption of the College next week, signal a change for the better?

This question will be the focus of our next edition.

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