Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Value of Merit & Non-Partisan Appointments in the Public Service

Public services around the world are a common place for processes of appointing public officers to certain/specified positions in the public service. This appointment is often the responsibility of the persons or agencies assigned such authority and power by laws, most of the time it’s the President of the country and/or the Public Service Commissions. The authority to appoint by the above is premised on the understanding that both of them will be guided by very clear and objective procedures and requirements that should only act to maintain and protect the integrity of the public service.

It is usually provided for these appointing authorities to make sound judgement backed by professional advice, although in certain cases the decision to appoint may be purely the prerogative of the appointing authority. Whichever way or route is selected by a given country, these appointments are key in ensuring that the public service not only maintains its integrity but also that it serves a nation with utmost commitment and the highest degree of expertise. Anything to the contrary may explain a number of public service dysfunctional traits amongst which are decay of institutional vibrancy and relevance; unproductive and unethical practices as well as malfeasance.

On the basis of the above, appointing authorities have a responsibility to maintain core values of a public service that reveres institutional values and sustenance of such over personal preferences for the national good. The known common values of most public services around the world, including ours are appointment on merit and non-partisanship for appointments to and within the public service. These are assumed to protect the professionalism of these cadre of trained personnel who possess skills and competencies that can afford the public service to serve diligently and with integrity. Embedded in these core values are principles that must regularly provide guidance to appointing authorities as to who to appoint.

These are principles of fairness, transparency, access and representativeness. It is expected that when these are genuinely practiced, they bring rationality to the appointment procedure and processes. This rationality ensures that in making these appointments, the authorities are mindful, considerate and committed to ensuring that they establish a link between organizational mandates, human resources requirements of public institutions and appointing individuals who not only meet the job requirements, but persons who fit the current and future needs of the respective public institutions.

The principle of fairness requires appointing authorities to make objective decisions that are free from political influence and personal favouritism or preferences when appointing individuals to key positions in the public service. The institutional policies and practices of these processes must reflect a deliberate and commitment treating qualifying candidates with just and fairness by the appointing authority and all potential persons have equal right to assessment. Second principle of transparency speaks to the need to have information about appointment strategies, decisions and practices communicated openly and timely to all interested or qualifying persons. This will maintain a level of integrity and respect to the process. Relatedly, the appointing procedures and processes must ensure equal access for persons of the necessary skills and competencies irrespective of bias through any known or unknown stigmas within the national set up. The integrity of the public service must possess a national identity as it is providing services to the entire nation.

Adherence to the above core values and principles by appointing authorities will protect the public service from undue influences from partisan and self-centred based appointments. These when allowed to be institutionalised in public service appointment systems, tend to create a swelling ground for “spoil systems” to take root in the public service. Anytime there is appointments not based on merit nor non-partisanship, public institutions tend to lose their expert/professional control of their purpose and in the process individuals responsible for appointments tend to engrave their dominance as personality cults whose personal interests or partisan considerations devalue any levels of public service integrity. This results in appointments that often bring people who are not necessarily the best qualified and sometimes places public servants in positions that are not in tangent with the skills and competencies they possess.

The above practices will in the long run create a very docile and unproductive public service where personal preferences and self-interests become the basis for decision making. It is when such is the norm and common practices in the public service that public servants become vulnerable to malfeasance, corrupt practices and general unethical conduct. These are known scourges that degenerates the value and essence of merit based and non-partisan public services and these will in the long term negatively affect levels of productivity, accountability and general public trust in the governance structures of a country. It is of utmost importance that appointing authorities at all times endeavour to make the right decisions when appointing persons into and within the public services , for these appointments have a direct bearing not only on level of performance within the public service but ultimately these matters to the integrity of both the civil service and government of the day.

Any considerations that compromises the above will be very costly because apart from a general decline and erosion of ethical conduct and rational based decisions, the challenge to mitigate and ultimately undo all the networks of malfeasance and unethical practices are known to be exercises and practices that are very costly and disruptive to the normal running of governance structures and systems of a country. This is so because disentangle institutionalised malpractices, requires resources and sometimes it may require purging of all persons that may have been appointed corruptly and depoliticising the public service. These are processes that will put a strain on any country’s national purse. In some countries the need to purge, while necessary and inevitable, has led to civil strife and loss of lives as individuals often protect their entrenched interests often a known result of the “spoils system”. This is not the route this country would wish to follow nor experience these possible tragedies resulting from actions of appointing authorities who could have easily guaranteed and protected the integrity of the public service by the appointments they make. Hopefully we shall not proceed in that route.


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