THE public service has always been viewed as an engine for powering economic development and the African continent will continue to rely on it for sustainable growth.
It is the largest employer comprising a skilled workforce tasked to implement Government policies and programmes.
As a result of this, the institution needed well coordinated structures that would raise standards among the civil servants.
This is why the Association of African Public Services Commissions (AAPSComs) was established on April 9, 2008, to collaborate,
share experiences and best practices, among African public service commissions.
Since its inception, the association has successfully held four General Assemblies in various countries on the continent.
From April 7, 2015 to April 9, 2015, AAPSComms held its fourth General Assembly in Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone.
The three-day conference, which attracted 116 delegates and 18 public service commissions from Africa, was held under the theme ‘Harnessing the Energy and Commitment of African Public Service Commissions to promote and build the African governance architecture’.
Some of the sub-themes discussed during the General Assembly were the African Union agenda 2063, building public service merit and professionalism for good governance and democracy in Africa.
Other topics discussed were, deepening good governance and democracy through promoting professional ethical public administration across Africa.
Zambia’s Republican Vice President Inonge Wina, who officially opened the gathering, said the Public Service in the country was undergoing reforms to reposition the Service Commission from transactional to more strategic and oversight roles.
This was to ensure that the values and principles that enhance good corporate governance are upheld.
According to Ms Wina, there was an ever-increasing demand by the public for the Public Service Commissions to enhance transparency, accountability, prudent use of public resources as well as merit-based recruitments and promotion.
She said with such demands, the Public Service Commissions could not afford a business as usual altitude but gravitate towards a more responsible role that would build public confidence in the manner the commissions conducted their business.
Ms Wina said the Zambian Government was currently undertaking the human resource management reforms for the public service which was aimed at creating a public service human resource management system that was anchored on principles and valued that promote efficient, effective, and quality delivery of service for national development.
“The Public Service Commission in Zambia in collaboration with other sector Service Commissions, plays a fundamental role in promoting and maintaining good corporate governance and public administration in the public service.
“This General Assembly could not have come at a better time than this, when we are about to embark on the implementation of the human resource management reforms as enshrined in the African Union charter,” Ms Wina said.
Accordingly, the Zambian Government had been able to attract and retain more qualified human resources to the public service making it more effective and efficient in service delivery.
“In line with this year’s theme for the General Assembly, my Government implemented the job evaluation and regarding exercise in 2013 aimed at ensuring improved conditions of service in the public service.
“This resulted in better conditions of service and high pay scales that are market competitive both in the public and private sectors,” Ms Wina said.
As a result of the measures taken to improve the conditions of service in the public service, there had been a drastic reduction in the brain drain, especially in the Zambian Health sector where there was a critical crisis in human resource.
AAPSComs president Richard Sizani said there was need for a public service which focused on addressing people’s aspirations and not self-gratification.
Mr Sizani, who is also Public Service Commission of South Africa deputy chairperson, said there was need for civil servants in Africa to put people’s needs first.
He said countries like China and Malaysia had some of the best performing civil servants because they were patriotic and prioritised people’s needs.
Mr Sizani said there was need to have a professional public service that was skilled, diverse and responded to the needs of the people.
“We need a patriotic public service that loves Africa and loves the local people as well as a public service which is of service to their countries.
“Sometimes countries have good policies but they don’t have civil servants who are supposed to implement them as some workers tend to become partisan,” he said.
Mr Sizani said workers in the public service must be loyal to the Government of the day and implement all Government policies and programmes regardless of which political party they belonged to.
“Let’s not always be negative as public servants. The public service is the answer to the future of Africa.
“We need African civil servants who are committed to Africa and can implement African solutions,” Mr Sizani said.
He also said there was need to have a skilled public service that was able to plan for roads, hospitals and other infrastructure.
“Every person who joins the public service should be inducted on compulsory basis to inculcate the values of public service to new entrants.
“There should be consequences for failure to follow the rules, systems and values of the public service,” Mr Sizani said.
He also said there was need to educate the political leaders on public service values so that they respect the system.
“Unfortunately in Africa, the public service and the military have tended to be partisan.
These are some of the challenges which we need to address collectively as public service commissions,” Mr Sizani said.
AAPSComs vice president for the Western African region Joan Ayo, said the issue of discipline was of great concern in the public service.
Ms Ayo, who is Federal Civil Service Commission of Nigeria chairperson, said the civil service mostly emphasized the issue of promotions or recruitment and avoided the aspect of discipline or sanctions to erring workers.
“In most cases, it is difficult to discipline officials in the public service because of political interference.
“During the just ended General Assembly, members noted that in as much as they want to put sanctions on erring workers in the public service, they are hindered by some politicians and the question is how do we go about to discipline erring workers?” she said Ms Ayo said there was need to enhance the neutrality of the Public Service Commissions in Africa without political interference.
“Some countries use their constitution to defend their action. This may not apply to all countries and we have different ways of solving the problem.
“In other countries, commissioners are changed with the arrival of new Governments. Under normal circumstances, regardless of the government in power, the Commission is supposed to go on,” she said.
Ms Ayo said civil servants should not take place in active politics or they should resign if they decided to take part in active politics.
She said Impartiality, accountability, integrity, transparency and professionals were core values of the public service.
“A civil servant is supposed to be neutral and should advise and implement policies for the political class in power.
“Society also needs to cooperate with the civil servants. There is no society which can work effectively without civil service,” she said.
Ms Ayo noted that the civil service was a machinery that implemented Government policies and yet it was blamed at times by politicians.
“In most cases, it is civil services that receive the blame from politicians while the political class takes credit for the work done by civil service.
“Africa has highly qualified officers in the public service who know what it takes to run the Government but unfortunately some have to succumb to political pressures,” Ms Ayo said.
AAPSComs secretary Richard Levin said there was need to rebuild trust and confidence in the public service.
Professor Levin, who is Public Service Commission of South Africa Director General, also said it was important for the public service to take into consideration geographical realities and get the necessary balances when making recruitments.
“The issue of recruitment must take into account of demographic and geographic realities of specific countries.
“There is also need to link professionalism and merit. Unfortunately, access to public services is sometimes a challenge,” Prof Levin said.
He noted that some people in rural areas had no access to public service and hence it was important to expand access through the usage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
“Some people travel long distances to access clinics and it takes long for them to get medical results.
“It is a challenge to ensure public services are easily made available to all citizens and so we should come up with systems and approaches which will be convenient for citizens and not for public servants,” Prof Levin said.
Zambia’s Secretary to Cabinet Rowland Msiska noted that the conference had brought together renowned experts in the fields of public administration and management as well as political science.
“This is the time to sit down, reflect and see whether the governance architecture we have created for ourselves is the appropriate one to take us to the 21st century ,” he said.
AAPSComs vice president for the Southern African Region Kawaye Kamanga said public service commissions were important for ensuring good governance practices.
Dr Kamanga, who is Public Service Commission of Zambia chairperson, said the economic growth recorded in Malaysia and Singapore could be attributed to an impartial and committed civil service whose appointments were based on merit.
It is only hoped that the various challenges cited will be addressed to improve service delivery in the public service.