The recently disbanded Public Sector Reforms Commission has said there is need for restructuring within the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to accommodate Public Sector Reform Management Unit (PSRMU), the commission’s exit report has stated.
Two years after the launch of the reforms, the commission, whose mandate expired last month, called for the establishment of an independent committee to be chaired at the highest level of political leadership.
In echoing the recommendations of the report, an analyst has highlighted that the perceived lack of ownership by the civil servants, the agents of change themselves, signalled that reform implementation would face challenges.
The commission’s exit report, to be presented to President Peter Mutharika soon, subtly contradicts Mutharika’s actions—in December 2017—to take the reforms away from Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s office to the OPC.
The commission observes that the OPC has an enormous task of steering the entire public service and “strongly” suggests that a separate independent committee be formed to take over the oversight and monitoring functions of the reforms, which was being undertaken by the commission.
“It is further recommended that this committee should be chaired at the highest level of political leadership. The PSRMU team should be reorganised and become a department by bringing in new staff members, preferably from different disciplines for complementarity,” reads the report.
The commission also calls for increased political support from different stakeholders.
The exit report, which The Nation has seen, cites over 12 challenges that make the implementation of reforms hard and makes 14 recommendations to government to ensure they succeed.
Some of the key challenges were that at the outset, the commission noted that some public servants had reservations and resisted the reform process.
“For example, for some ministry departments and agencies (MDAs), it took up to three meetings to agree on realistic reform areas focused on efficiency and effectiveness. In any change management process, resistance to change is expected due to uncertainties of the reforms and fear of the unknown,” reads the 359 paged report.
While chalking the success stories in several organisations, the report further observes that weak political and administrative systems were some of the challenges that resulted in slow policy implementation, cases of indiscipline, less commitment to achieve set results and financial misappropriation which has affected service delivery and integrity in the public service.
“The benchmarking study tours and literature review undertaken by the commission showed that reforms work better where the society holds public servants accountable. It was apparent that Malawians had withdrawn from holding public servants accountable to their actions.
“Implementation of public sector reforms requires substantial financial resources. During the implementation period, inadequate financial resources hindered progress and achievement of tangible results in some of the sectors involved,” reads the report.
The commission further observes that the implementation of public sector reforms was initially slowed down by challenges of mandates of other arms of government.
“Outdated rules and regulations in the Public Service hindered the implementation of public sector reforms due to unnecessary overlaps and conflicts of provisions in laws, policies, rules and regulations.
“For example, the Malawi Housing Act (1964) positioned MHC as a social service institution whose house rentals did not reflect market trends. As a result of that, the corporation was operating in losses and could not expand asset base to meet the increasing demand for houses. Maintenance of existing housing portfolio was also problematic,” observed the commission.
During the implementation period, it was apparent that placement and retention of qualified and technically competent personnel in the public service and the capacity gaps at the different levels of management required to be urgently addressed.
The commission recommends that—in the short and long-term—government embarks on establishment of One Stop Public Service Delivery Centres (OSPSDC) in order to bring services closer to the people, starting with Lilongwe and Mangochi.
“The public service is at the moment going through several challenges in terms of ethics and integrity. To ensure that they are institutionalised, it is recommended that the establishment of the Malawi School of Government Reform be pursued and actualised. OPC should champion this reform.
“Effective and efficient Public Service Management ought to be guided by relevant and appropriate policy and legal instruments. Currently, both the Public Service Management Policy to guide in the management of the public service and the Public Service Act (Cap. 1:03), which provides for the administration and management of the public service, are in draft format awaiting finalisation.
Public administration associate professor at Chancellor College Mustafa Hussein said although there was progress in the public sector reforms, the recent change by removing the reforms from the office of the Vice-President signified a negative policy direction.
“The change provided grounds for failure because the momentum was lost,” Hussein said, adding that the reforms left out various experts from private sector and academia.
“I don’t think there were wide consultations. The ownership of the process by the civil servants was very important because they are the agents of change and beneficiaries of the reforms. Without consulting them they felt there were no incentives as well as they were being undermined,” he said.
Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) general secretary Madalitso Njolomole said yesterday the reforms were mainly affected by poor resources allocations to the MDAs which made them fail to meet the targets.
Njolomole also faulted government that it failed to walk the talk as it keeps on employing people outside the civil service against the spirit of the reforms.
“Vacancy rate is still high in government and some key positions are yet to be filled with relevant people. They talked of reducing the number of PSs but what they did was to change their titles to chief directors,” he said.
Njolomole further took to task government for failing to live by its promise of establishing learning institutions for civil servants.
The operations of the Public Sector Reforms Commission reverted to the OPC after its mandate expired in June 2016.