Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 April 2018:
Newly elected president of Sierra Leone – Julius Maada Bio has read the proverbial Riot Act to public sector workers, including top civil servants in the country. He has told them to either join him in delivering his promise to the people to make Sierra Leone a better nation, or resign.
“You are called Permanent Secretaries, because your contract with the government is permanent. I am not permanent. My contract with the people is for five years and I want the people to renew my contract after five years. So, I have to deliver what I have promised, and I need you to work with me to make this possible”, president Bio told the country’s heads of government ministries.
Listen to president Bio speaking to Permanent Secretaries of government ministries below:
The deplorable performance of Sierra Leone’s public sector was not one of the hotly debated issues at the top of the 2018 elections’ agenda, nor did it exercise the minds of the electorate as they entered the polling booth. It isn’t that the people of Sierra Leone care less about the poor performance of the civil service and its impact on their daily lives, but more to do with the growing sense of public apathy and hopelessness.
There is deep feeling of public disconnectedness with the civil service in Sierra Leone, which goes to the very heart of their existence in the first place. Public officials are largely regarded at best with suspicion and at worse with contempt. Although the public sector in Sierra Leone consumes the largest share of the national cake – Gross Domestic Product, yet few would deny it is inefficient, unproductive, and has lost its ethos and sense of direction.
Today, the newly elected president, the Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, has issued a stern directive to all public sector workers, civil servants and the general public. But critics say he has not gone far enough, if the intention is to curb unprofessionalism, corruption, nepotism, laziness and incompetence in the public sector: This is what it says:
“1. All public sector workers and government ministers are required to be in their respective offices at 8:30am until 4:45pm. The President and Vice President will conduct routine and unannounced checks at Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure implementation. Failure to report for work on time will lead to disciplinary action and potential summary dismissal.
“2. A national cleaning day is declared and scheduled for the 1st Saturday of each month, from 7:00am – 12:00 Noon. The 1st national cleaning day scheduled by the Ministry of Health Affairs is Saturday, 5th May 2018.
“3. Sunday trading and commercial activities are re-introduced with effect from Sunday, 15th April 2018. The public is notified that all businesses, trading and commercial enterprises and activities are now permitted to operate on Sundays, but only between the periods of 12:00 noon – 5:00pm.
”4. All Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and other public sector institutions are now required to host all government-related workshops, seminars and conferences at MDAs / Public Sector Institution premises and not at hotels. The objective is to save cost and prevent wastage of scarce government resources.”
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 and professional.
But when and how did it all go so badly wrong?
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 were once recruited through a system of competitive examinations. This systematic and transparent process, gave the assurance of a larger pool of dedicated and competent personnel, sufficiently trained to head and work in the service.
The office of head of civil service includes a large team of administrators in executive management positions. These senior officials, known as Permanent Secretaries, supervise a hierarchy of graded personnel, working in the various government ministries, and have 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 are supposed to be the custodians and exemplars of the civil service code of conduct, who in a democratic governance, are expected to be summoned by parliament to stand before the Committee for Oversight to give account, especially for public expenditure.
The debate as to when and how it all went wrong for Sierra Leone’s once thriving and highly acclaimed public sector, cannot be pursued without reference to the country’s history, in particular its political development. Although the debate is usually highly polarized and tainted by partisan politics, there are two strands of argument.
There are those who argue that Sierra Leone had a vibrant and well-run public sector, until the APC government came to power in 1967, when it systematically and hurriedly dismantled almost every symbol and vestiture of British colonial rule.
But, on the other side of this rather contrite debate, is the argument that the public sector as it was established and run along the British colonial model, was itself unsustainable and would in any case have crumbled – with or without Siaka Stevens’ APC autocratic and corrupt governance.
For an economy that is largely dominated by the public sector, it is obvious that if poorly staffed and badly managed, the net results surely must be – low productivity, low morale, unprofessionalism, gross inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.
Although the APC government of president Koroma which governed Sierra Leone between 2007 and 2018, masqueraded its Agenda for Change and Agenda for Prosperity as the panacea for public sector reform, there was little evidence of the political will, leadership, human resource capacity and commitment needed to make tough decisions that could have transformed Sierra Leone’s public sector.
Government is responsible for providing and managing vital services such as electricity, water, education, healthcare, policing and security, and public transport. It also manages several state enterprises, such as airports, seaports, housing and tourism.
But none of these state institutions and enterprises can be said to be cost-effective or achieving value-for-money. Most are unfit for purpose, delivering poor services, inefficient, riddled with corruption and nepotism.
A nation’s civil service is like the locomotive engine that drives the train. If poorly maintained – it will come to a halt; if driven by an inexperienced driver – it will be derailed; and if it runs out of track – it will certainly crash. Sierra Leone was blessed in 1961 to have inherited a system of public policy making and implementation machinery, which was deeply rooted in the fundamental principles of excellence in public service delivery.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Sierra Leone’s public service was managed and run by highly educated and principled men and women, who were motivated less by personal survival, but almost exclusively driven by personal devotion to public duty, service to country and society. They were the architects and builders of the post-independence nation state of Sierra Leone.
Mohamed Kutubu Koroma (Photo) – a highly acclaimed political and social commentator, wrote in the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “I think it is imperative that recognition ought to be granted to the father of the nation’s civil service, in the person of the legendary – Mr. Hugh Clarke, whose indefatigable service and professionalism helped produced the best and brightest citizens that served the nation well.
“Mr. Clarke and the few others in the persons of Albert Jerome Momoh, George Sulaiman Panda, Murieta Olu Williams – just to mention a few, were able to uphold and maintain the highest standards of professionalism, dedication, devotion, and commitment to the delivery of the country’s public service to the general satisfaction of all and sundry.
“Along the way emerged the next generation of highly dedicated and accomplished civil servants in the persons of Henry Lyn Shyllon, George Lawrence Valentine Williams, Jerry Jones, Mohamed Mahdi, Suffianu Rahman, and Abayomi Tejan.
“But there were also other notable career civil servants, whose pedigree and professionalism must be the envy of anyone working in, or aspiring to enter the country’s public sector today. They include; Peter Leonard Tucker, H.E. Maurice-Jones, Donald Conga George, S.B. Nicol-Cole, Salako Johnson, Samuel Lansana Bangura, Juma Sei, Llewellyn Alexander Coker, Eustace Macfoy, Sheiki Bangura, Farmer Joka Bangura, Charles Wyse, Victor Sumner.
“And who would forget; Lenora Deigh, Strasser King, Victor Nylender, Victor George Pratt, Eustace King, Ade Hyde, Mohamed Lamin Sidique, Talabi Lucan, Lettie Stuart, Francis Karemo, George Coldridge-Taylor, and O.P.A. Macauley. They were civil servants who gave gravitas to Sierra Leone’s public sector – once acclaimed the best in Sub-Sahara Africa. Their expertise in public policy conceptualization, strategic decision-making, articulation and implementation, was second to none.”
So how did Sierra Leone come to lose its excellent civil service? What went so horribly wrong?
The fundamental question is how did a nation that once boasted of top civil servants of the highest calibre and professionalism, suddenly fell off the performance league, only to become known as one of the worst places on earth to live, work, rest and play?
The answer is very simple: When politics, tribalism, nepotism and corruption conspire with falling standards in public life, what you have left is a recipe for the systematic destruction of all that is good in society, including the rule of Law and due process.
And when this happens, the public sector – the civil service, becomes the first institution in society to lose its core values and principles upon which it was founded. Society itself begins to fall apart, as mediocrity and shoddiness become the new gold standard by which everything else is measured.
It was not too long after the imposition of the state of republic and one-party rule in 1973 by the APC government, when president Siaka Stevens (Photo) embarked on a deliberate policy of compromising and eroding the professionalism of the country’s civil servants.
When he ludicrously decreed that the top cadre of the country’s public sector must come from the membership of the APC party’s central committee, he succeeded in forcing a dagger into the heart of the civil service.
Post-holders of the office of Secretary to the Head of State, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, and the Establishment Secretary, all became members of the ruling APC party, marking the beginning of the end of Sierra Leone’s professionally run and apolitical civil service.
But there are many who believe that, this decision by the APC government, by itself may not have been detrimental to the effective implementation of cabinet decisions if the new policy had been modelled on the US system of governance. This is where an incoming administration brings its own team of senior civil servants into government and departs after the administration leaves office.
The Sierra Leone model was based on the British system, whereby top civil servants remain in office even after the departure of the ruling party. The APC failed to create a political culture that promoted or encouraged public accountability, probity, transparency, freedom of speech, and civil liberty, as it hung on to power by all means necessary, with the citizens having no opportunity to effect a change in administration.
A key outcome of this cruel process of bastardisation of the civil service was that it produced an army of sycophants, who excelled in praise singing, betrayals and professional misconduct – very often bordering on illegality and the victimization of those suspected of not being loyal to the ruling APC party.
There are numerous examples of how the politicization and bastardisation of the country’s civil service, resulted in destroying the very ethos and values of such an important institution. (Photo: APC senior hierarchy).
Meritocracy in the public sector had long been slaughtered by the ruling APC, and there was no turning back. But they are now out of power. They have been voted out of office by the people whom they refused to serve, and whose pittance they squandered for over ten years.
The question that must be asked now is what can be done by president Julius Maada Bio, for the civil service of Sierra Leone to regain its former splendour of professionalism, driven by a strong code of professional conduct?
In answering this question, Mohamed Kutubu Koroma said: “In Nigeria and Ghana, the legislature has ensured that the office of Secretary to the Head of State does not have control of the civil service. I strongly believe that the Secretary to the president of Sierra Leone should function in just the same way as the Chief of Staff to the president of the United States of America.
“This should then leave the running of the civil service to the professional career civil servants, and with the Public Service Commission in charge of processing all recruitment and appointment of candidates into the civil service. The office of Establishment Secretary must be seen as a non-political centre of gravity for the smooth functioning of the civil service, such that civil servants must not have to worry about the security of their employment, as long as their actions and performance are within the public service code of conduct and contract of employment.
“Also, the civil service must be staffed by qualified and competent officers, who should not have to rely on any form of political patronage to get into the service, let alone for the security of their employment. As it currently stands, there are far too many incompetent senior officers in the service, who have secured their jobs through political connections. This sordid state of affairs is naturally responsible for the current demise of the public sector,” said Mohamed Kutubu Koroma.
So, will the newly elected president – the Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio succeed where others before him have all failed in transforming Sierra Leone’s public service?
There must be the political will, commitment and strong leadership to reform and restructure the civil service. But above all, a new performance-based culture is required, if Sierra Leone’s civil service and public sector in general are to be held in high esteem by the tax paying public, who are at the mercy of their poor and unprofessional service delivery.