Do more to secure public sector gains

With about a third of the top Civil Service positions in new hands, the stage is set for a new phase of reform in the public sector.

Hopefully, the balancing of political and regional considerations were not the only criteria in Monday’s appointments and some thought went into issues such as succession planning and the protection of institutional memory.

Ahead of the announcement of the changes, there was some pressure on President Kibaki to send home a number of individuals, including Head of Public Service, Ambassador Francis Muthaura. The continued reliance on old hands, retained on contract well after they attained retirement age, has been a bone of contention — though largely for political reasons.

We believe it points to possible weaknesses in succession planning and should be addressed as part of ongoing reforms within the public sector. The fact that many of the strongest candidates suggested to replace Muthaura are in the private sector speaks volumes. Hopefully, some of the younger PSs who have been rotated to other ministries, or others, are being groomed for possible promotion to head the Public Service.

Despite the hue and cry for new faces, the decision to retain two thirds of the top civil servants bodes well for the safeguarding of institutional memory. There are good arguments for not changing horses midstream when this might affect successful initiatives like the Government divestiture programme, public administration initiatives, communications reform and the streamlining of public procurement.

That said, building up broadly representative talent within the service — the so-called ‘face of Kenya’ — will help ensure smoother successions and reduce the impact of political disruptions. Also, new appointees are more likely to come up with fresh approaches to the problem of a growing wage bill, one area in which there has been little success reported.

Public servants distinguished themselves in the last five years through implementing policies on modernisation, liberalisation, smarter contracting, investment in infrastructure and so on. The introduction of a performance contracts scheme, for instance, earned Kenya one of the United Nations’ Public Service Excellence awards in June last year. The scheme was part of a larger shift away from process-oriented bureaucracy to result-driven service delivery.

PSs play a key role in the success of Government programmes. In driving forward the results-based management practices that saw Government achieve modest success between 2003 and 2007, we expect the 56 men and women at the helm of the civil service to outdo past performance, and spark new reform and renewal.

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