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New policy on civil servant hiring to ruin competence and continuity

Tuesday October 15 2019

By JOHN SHIKOMERE
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The Public Service Commission (PSC) will no longer employ entry-level civil servants on permanent and pensionable terms and has placed its workers on short contracts.

The PSC has not officially communicated these changes to its employees beyond the media, nor has it engaged the Union of Kenya Civil Servants (UKCS), the sole body legally mandated to organise and represent government employees in all matters relating to their terms and conditions of employment.

The policy is retrogressive: it goes against the traditions that underpin a permanent service system in a democracy anywhere.

A permanent civil service provides continuity and develops expertise and institutional memory for effective policymaking.

But the three-year contract does not provide room for the young employees to develop in-depth knowledge and expertise public affairs.

A highly-motivated new employee requires time and energy to learn the ropes from experienced staff to work productively with minimum supervision.

POLICY ADVISERS

But they will, instead, be spending time and energy scouting for a new job since there is no guarantee that the contract will be renewed. His loyalty will be impaired.

Traditionally, civil servants serve the government of the day. A permanent and impartial civil service is more likely to assess the long-term social payoffs any policy, whereas the political executive may have a tendency to look for short-term political gain.

The chief foundations of all governments are not just good laws but honest and competent administration.

As policy advisers to the political establishment, civil servants — from the policy adviser to the rank and file — have two things politicians don’t have: knowledge and expertise and the long-range view of things and protection of their jobs.

A permanent civil service helps to ensure uniformity in public administration and also acts as unifying force particularly in vast and culturally diverse nations.

SUCCESSION

Such an ideal cannot be attained when tenure in the service is temporary and in permanent instability. The PSC wants to undermine this characteristic of the civil service.

The prolonged freeze in employment of entry-level employees has affected succession management.

We have an ageing staff with vast experience and knowledge exiting the service with invaluable institutional knowledge that cannot be easily shared.

The Pendleton Civil Service Act 1883, enacted in the wake of US President James Garfield’s assassination by a frustrated jobseeker, established the tradition and mechanism of permanent federal employment based on merit rather than political party affiliation (the spoils system).

Are we saying that Kenya is at its best with a mercenary civil service, like the Italian statesman Nicolai Machiavelli’s Mercenary Armies, “disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies”?