The decay of the Sierra Leone Civil Service – when did it all go so badly wrong?

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24 May 2012

connaught hospital

The deplorable performance of Sierra Leone’s public sector is unlikely to become one of the hot issues certain to get to the top of the political agenda as the polls draw closer, nor is it like to exercise the minds of the electorate on 17th November.

It isn’t that the people of Sierra Leone care less about the public sector and its impact on their daily lives, but more to do with the growing sense of public apathy and helplessness.

There is a deep feeling of public disconnectedness with the state institutions, which goes to the very heart of their perceived existence in the first place.

Public officials are largely regarded at best with suspicion and at worse with contempt.

In our last edition, it was asserted that; although the public sector in Sierra Leone consumes the largest share of the national cake – Gross Domestic Product, yet few would deny that is inefficient, unproductive, and has lost its ethos and sense of direction.

It was also mentioned that; 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.

But when and why did it all go so badly wrong?

What is certain is that; while it is true that the rebel war did not precipitate the demise of the country’s public service, it did land the final and fatal blow that killed it.

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma reports:

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma

Sierra Leone’s civil service is an integral part of the political administration, as was envisioned when initially set up by the British administration pre and post independence.

It constitutes one of the most enduring legacies of British colonial rule.

 

The service comes under the political authority of the head of government, which gives the holder of the office – on the advice of the public service commission and through the office of the Establishment Secretary – the power to appoint an officer to serve as its head.

Prior to the declaration of republic, the official Secretary to the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone headed the civil service.

The civil service has always been the country’s single largest employer, which exposes it to the culture of nepotism, patronage and clientelism.

Graduates from institutions of higher learning and other educational institutions, were once recruited through a system of competitive examinations for staffing of the civil and public service.

This systematic and transparent process, gave the assurance of a larger pool of dedicated and competent personnel, sufficiently trained to head key functions of the service.

The office of head of civil service includes a large team of administrators in executive management positions.

These senior officials, who were then known as Permanent Secretaries, supervised a hierarchy of graded personnel working in the various government Ministries, and had responsibility for implementing cabinet decisions.

Sierra Leone’s civil service as was structured prior to and post independence consisted of career civil servants working in the various ministries.

As employees of the state, they had traditional and statutory responsibilities that insulated them from being used in furtherance of securing political advantage for the party in power.

They were supposed to be the custodians of the civil service codes of conduct, who in a democratic governance –  as existed before the declaration of republic by Siaka Stevens, were summoned to parliament to stand before the Committee for Oversight to give account, especially in the area of public expenditure.

But not all public employees are considered civil servants. Cabinet Ministers and the military are definitely not considered part of the civil service.

In part two of this report, I will exclusively focus on the successes and failures of Sierra Leone’s civil service as witnessed –  during the Milton Margai, Albert Margai SLPP led governments, and Siaka Stevens led regime, to determine when the efficiency, productivity and morale of the service began to erode.

 

2 Comments

  1. Mr.M’cleod,I agree,with your comments which are in perfect order for which many thanks are due.

  2. Congratulations on your decision to take on this subject. I am not sure whether you followed the deliberations of the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation, if not please visit the website http://www.sierraleonetransformation.org.

    You will find that the reform of the civil service was singled out as key for the transformation process that should accompany growth.

    As you correctly point out there have been and continue to be many attempts to reform the civil service but the outcomes so far seem to be far less than desired.

    A proper understanding of the history and evolution of the civil service must form the foundations for any radical reform that will produce outcomes different from what we have seen in the past.

    Without prejudice to what you may reveal in your subsequent articles, I would urge you to go even further back in the history of the institution in order to get a better feel for its ethos and its usefulness in the present form, for the creation of a developmental state; where the process of RAPID transformation is part of the economic growth.

    I look forward to the rest of your analyses.
    HPM

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