What can we learn from president Bio’s cabinet reshuffle?

Alhaji U. N’jai: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 May 2019:

It seems like all is not going well; the New Direction is moving but without a strategic foresight to deliver tangible results in election promises. If it is going well with the team, you don’t change the players within first quarter of the game starting.

Poor vetting by the government and legislators

Considerable mismatch exists between those appointed to fulfil specific roles and their technical/leadership abilities to deliver significant results.

This can only happen from poor vetting of appointees by government and legislators in parliament.

The executive arm is simply at times too powerful to bulldoze appointment through parliament at the expense of government and national productivity.

In essence, successive governments shoot themselves in the foot by having a commingle of mediocre appointments, without the requisite pedigree to deliver results for the country.

Early cabinet reshuffle epidemic and impacts

As in previous governments, the Bio-led New Direction has also now embarked on an early reshuffle one year on. There are obvious advantages in making critical changes to the team so early on, rather than late in the game.

After all, it’s still a year in and you have time to catch up. Nonetheless, every subtle administrative change comes with big impacts on governance. For every minor change, you impact institutional memory; basically, people don’t have enough time to build on their vision and experience in the department.

Then there are the management style changes, with every minister having their own style/approach; and the work force has to keep learning, unlearning and re-learning how to work each time a new minister comes in.

In making these changes, you also impact projects, partnerships and relationships that have been built and on track. In a country like Sierra Leone, where documentation and record keeping is poor, it will simply mean starting all over again and this has impacts on progress.

For a new Direction government that has promised a lot, under-delivery can hurt badly – two years into active elections campaign.

Government is still stuck with party loyalists to deliver on the promises to the nation.

Of course, you would expect any government around the world to stick with those who supported them in election campaigns. This, however, comes with consequences to national development when the crop of people around the leader lack the requisite transformational thinking to deliver meaningful results.

Hence, there is the danger of being trapped in an unending musical chairs – reshuffling players to negative result.

What’s the way forward?

President Bio could take a bold transformational approach – look outside his base and strategically appoint individuals he may disagree with, but with the professional acumen to deliver positive results.

Legislators in parliament must also properly vet those offered appointment, to make sure they have both the technical and leadership skills to deliver results and run their institution.

The Powerful Demigod Minister

We are still stuck with the mentality of “the Minister as the God in the MDA”. All decisions rest on the wisdom of the Minister.

Rather than the collective thoughts and imagination of all, Mr/Mrs Minister’s decision is single most important and overrides all others.

The nexus of interactions between the political head and technocrats should be as organic as possible, so as to allow for adequate alignment on critical decisions.

The civil service needs to be restructured to a productive technical workforce. Leaders appointed to public offices are as good as the technocrats around them. For instance, a Permanent Secretary appointed to the Ministry of Health should as a prerequisite, have a Public Health training or have considerable experience in health-related policy matters.

The system of rotating administrators from one MDA to another, means little institutional memory is maintained. Speaking of institutional memory, we simply don’t have a body of highly competent technocrats in specific fields that form a nucleus around the minister and aid in critical decision making.

Mere cabinet reshuffle with nearly same players, may not be silver bullet for the economy. The ‘gron don dry’ has become the singular unifying talk among Sierra Leoneans today.  The end result of a cabinet reshuffle should be addressing key challenges you as a government are facing.

For now, apart from bringing in Dr. Francis Kaikai from the UN, much of the changes are cosmetic reshuffling of the deck of cards.

There is still the issue of mismatch in skill sets of those appointed and the offices they are appointed to lead. We still see a government stuck on loyalty, influences, and payback rather than doing the right thing.

And that right thing may mean sacrificing party loyalty for national interest and properly vetting those appointed to make sure they are fit for purpose.

This May save you Mr President another reshuffling, and will ensure action items on your plate are accomplished.

3 Comments

  1. President Bio’s one-year-old government, in my considered opinion, is not necessarily about a “New Direction”, per se, but rather, a “New Dawn” in terms of politicking and governance policy in Sierra Leone.

    The phrase, “New Direction”, was a jigsaw designed to regurgitate a perceived sleeping populace, similar to a wake up call for the country during electioneering as to why there should be a change of government; hitherto, the way things were been done in Sierra Leone.

    This perception, in my estimation, was conceived when (in his view-Bio’s) a non-performing government can be elected twice, while the country was in the throes of visible abject poverty, open-season nepotism, blatant corruption, and yet a large ostentatious display of wealth by the privileged political and business elite.

    Imagine big mansions, big cars, expensive attire, large concubines, overseas travels, children in schools in Europe and US and the list goes on. As a result, parliamentarians, ministers, upper echelon of civil servants and the like became the bane (a cause of great distress or annoyance) of the suffering masses.

    The structure of President Julius Maada Bio’s cabinet is the first indication that things are going to be done a little differently this time around. HIS second. At the outset, it seem, everything he did in appointing the cabinet was to implement the same old, tried, tired and failed scenarios. But with one glaring exception, for which he was criticized. That of the ”Chief Minister”.

    The one major difference was the creation of rather a new/old position, that of Chief Minister. This is not new, however. The younger generation of Sierra Leoneans may not know this, but the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, prior to Independence was referred to as the “First Minister” or Chief minister. Sir Milton Margai, (1895-1964), who took office July 9th, 1954 and left office on August 14th, 1958, in office 4 years and 36 days. He was the first and only minister to assume this title. He was 69 years old when he passed away.

    By going around the norm and creating this all important position a second time around was to send a clear message to all Sierra Leoneans that the old is out and the new is in and also shows a man determined to change Sierra Leone by putting his name, prestige and political strength (the “Bully Pulpit” –in the US) to work for Sierra Leone.

    The Chief minister, in microcosm, is like an overseer and monitor of all other government ministries. The title has a similar construct and role as a Prime Minister. As we have a semblance of parliamentary system as that of Westminster of Great Britain within our colonial dispensation, where our head of state is advised by ministers who usually head executive government departments (ministries).

    The Chief minister is then understood to be the “first among equals”. He is supposed to scrutinize other departments for compliance and conformity with the national agenda of the president. He also ensures adherence to so-call performance contracts signed by ministers at the beginning of their term and time in office.

    The ministers are generally responsible for their individual ministries, assisted by the permanent secretary and professional heads. Yet any proposal within the ministry that has national implications must go through the chief minister for appropriate approval and implementation. I can say from the look of things, President Bio made the right call.

    .

  2. Well written, eloquent, and thoughtful. I enjoyed reading this well articulated piece. Good job Alhaji N’jai! Maybe president Bio will get insights from reading your article. About time they appoint people based on expertise. Or at lease surround the ministers with experts that know what they are talking about.

    Sierra Leone is where it is today because of how business had been and is being done. You can not keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Time to have a vision for the country at large. Break that down to how each ministry is going to play its role to work towards the main vision. Results have to be measureable and time based. Then you can reshuffle low performers, or more like eliminate them.

    It is also, not a bad idea to start learning from countries like Malaysia and Singapore. They gained their independent governing about the same time as Sierra Leone. Look how far they have come. What are they doing that is working for them? Until the thinking process improves, nothing is going to change.

    First – visionary leadership, exemplary character. The people have to see good conduct from their leadership. Hopefully, this will challenge them to start abandoning their corrupt ways. Thank you again. Keep writing intelligent pieces.

  3. The range of performance measurement and accountability in the government of Sierra Leone appears positively associated with greater use of performance data for various purposes. However, we find nearly little evidence that the perceived enjoys recent mandated performance measurement initiatives in the Sierra Leone government increase with important measurement and accountability.

    Performance measurement issues are receiving increasing attention as the government of Sierra Leonean attempt to implement new measurement systems that better support government objectives. While many of these initiatives are in the private sector, recent efforts to improve governmental performance have also placed considerable emphasis on performance measurement as a system to increase accountability and improve decision-making.

    Performance measurement and accountability get unmistakably associated with the use of performance information for various purposes, consistent with claims that improved performance information and incentives for achieving results can support the political decision-making.

    However, we find relatively little evidence that the perceived enjoys recent mandated performance measurement initiatives in the Sierra Leone government increase with higher measurement and accountability. The latter results support institutional theories that claim systems implemented to satisfy external requirements are less likely to influence internal behavior than are those implemented to satisfy the government’s own needs.

    Existing small-sample field studies in the public sector should report similar results. These studies suggest that information system problems in government organizations compounded by the need to use data collected by other organizations (e.g. other federal organizations, state and local agencies, and non-government recipients of federal funds) and difficulties determining the accuracy and quality of this data.

    The government of Sierra Leone has concluded that the intergovernmental structure of many programs results in serious measurement problems when the information systems used by these different agencies vary or are not in existence in terms of data definitions, technology, ease of accessibility, and amount of data kept.

    If these information system limitations prevent managers from receiving timely and reliable data, the performance measurement system’s use for accountability and decision-making purposes is likely limited for the lack of empirical data.

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