Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Virtues of an Impartial Public Service

There continues to be reports of intentions by our leadership to politicize the public service through appointments of party faithfuls to key position in the country’s parastatal bodies or public corporations. As a result of this intended move, there is reportedly an intention to purge mainly Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of parastatal organs and replace them with what reports call “party faithfuls”. These reports suggests that the removal of the CEO of the Motor Accident Fund was part of this purge and the reported impending non-contract renewal of the CEO of the Human Resources Development Council is rumoured to be also in line with the envisaged purging of those CEOs of parastatals either known to be sympathisers of opposition politics or simply not known for visible activism in the ruling party endeavours.

Over a year ago I did run a piece on public service neutrality and how that has overtime become an important consideration in the practice of public administration in modern democratic dispensations. In that piece I stated that “One of the major issues within the practice of public administration and democratic governance debates centres around the patterns and virtues of the traditionally accepted conception of what should be the proper role of the public servant, especially under a party system of government” and key to that piece was the indispensable role of public services in ensuring that there is peace, order and good governance in a country’s public administration practices. This is turn expected to enhance and entrench the reality and perception of an impartial public service as a virtue for the integrity of the government’s processes of service delivery. 

Firstly, let’s note that non-partisanship and impartial public services still do recognize the right of officials to engage in political activities, while maintaining the principle of political impartiality in the public service. This requires public officials whose judgements and decision making competencies would not be blurred by their political inclinations but will understand and accept that even when policies are against their preferred views and preferences, non-partisanship remains an essential value of the public service and it is their duty not only to practice it but to selflessly guard and protect. The basis for this is that an impartial public service allows citizens, regardless of their political views, to expect fair, objective treatment from the public servants as they receive various services including the public corporations. Secondly, a non-partisan public service is generally considered a measure of stability in electoral democracies where the expectation is that elections can bring on new political parties into power.

On the basis of the above, permanent public services ensures that in times of transitions, there is orderly and peaceful political successions while also maintaining stable operations and uninterrupted service delivery. A critical virtue of non-partisan based public servants is that beyond their merit based recruitment and expert guided conduct, the basis for their decision making exploits and advise to politicians is normally a well-considered best evidence based knowledge that permeates considerations for self-motives and partisan based thinking which is common amongst political appointees. Let it be noted also that citizens holding different views/outlooks from the mainstream ruling party thinking do have equal rights to serve their country in positions across the public service structures, including the highest possible in both the civil service and parastatal organizations. The only expectation is that they uphold their [professionalism and commit to been impartial in their operational mandates, especially to recognise and accept that the core of any public service is to always uphold the public interest. It is the public interest that guides their decision making to the extent that their own preferences matter less as well as partisan based interests of political inclinations.

   It is in view of the above that I posit that if it is true that this reported purging is indeed in motion or even planned, it might not be a wise move for our public service practices in the long run. There might be short term goals that currently, appear to justify the intentions but balancing short term and long term implications of administrative decisions is in itself a cherished virtue for the protection of valued democratic practices. I need not go into history to demonstrate how countries that pursued the appointment of party faithfuls to key public service positions have had to revert back to the merit based appointments at very high costs. Undoing an entrenched partisan based decision making system and culture in the public service is a very costly exercise that may not only be measured in monetary value but even in loss of lives. In the history of public administration practices the “spoilt system” is known to have been one the worst system modern American governments have had to deal with to correct the ills associated with partisan based appointments to public service positions.

In brief, the party faithfuls even when they possess the requisite qualifications and competences, often are inclined to protect firstly, the party preferences and secondly, their own careers at the expense of the citizens. This is problematic where party interest is often assumed to be the public interest even when indications may suggest otherwise. Incumbency and the legitimate use of power and authority often is used to justify the short changing of that which non-partisanship is intended to uphold, fairness, orderliness and objective treatment of citizens irrespective of their party inclinations and preferences. Public services are the core of good governance and democratic practices and the extent to which they exemplify neutrality and impartiality to the general public is of vital importance in entrenching the public’s reality and perceptions of an impartial government. The practice of all known principles of good governance are a mirror of the neutrality and impartiality of any country’s public service, political governments only remain responsible and accountable to these practices.

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