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Somalia: Properly staffing the public administration
By Osman Yusuf
Wednesday - February 2, 2022

This is a brief account of past administrations’ staffing policies along with some comments on and ideas for the current administration. On independence and unification, the Somali authorities viewed public administration as an institution requiring knowledge and competence by those to be appointed to run it and the transfer from the old colonial system to the new integrated South-North management with some adjustments was entirely staffed by motivated Somali nationals and recruitment was largely based on merit and career rather than political connections. But, for the purpose of balancing the budget and aligning revenue with expenditure the government in early 60s, had to reduce the integrated payroll of the civil servants to get rid of redundancy by handing each of the fired employees a red envelope (busta rossa), a formal notice of employment termination. The taker-over from the colonial system was smooth and successful and the government implemented programs of training to strengthen the professionalism of the civil service at home and abroad giving special consideration to the foreign service.

The military led revolution while retaining most of the administrative workforce of the previous government, embarked upon a new policy to infuse what they called ‘new blood’ in the system by abruptly replacing part of the senior staff with relatively less experienced revolutionary mind-set elements but in general hiring continued based on career, competitive exams and on political and ideological orientation. The purge of senior government officials that the authority had undertaken was intended to eliminate from the administration only those considered out of line with their policy and thought to be actively hostile to the new direction of conducting the affairs of the country. As enthusiasm subsided in the following years apathy among the civil servants grew on ideological grounds while the government sought to upgrade the competence and skills of the staff to make them more professional and dynamic.

With the total collapse of the revolutionary regime, a huge exodus of nationals to foreign countries resulted in an unprecedented brain-drain that the new political leaders faced a desperate situation and met an enormous difficulty to run the country as trained and skilled junior and senior civil servants were hardly available. In terms of rebuilding the administrative structure and recruitment for the civil service, successive governments have been mindful of the sensitivity of the people on hiring or appointment to open positions at the clerical and executive levels and given the adverse circumstances the country was undergoing they were unable to strictly apply the guidelines for employing public workers. Consequently, they had to proceed to recruit in some areas of the administration people without proper education or experience in the hope that by having them to learn on-the-job training with external helping hand, they would be fit for the job while the government’s policy is to improve the quality of the staff.

It's common practice to secure the permanent nature of the civil servants and keep them unaffected by the vagaries of the political power so that qualified and competent cadre are protected from likely abrupt changes at the discretion of the political leaders especially when they are badly needed for the country in contrast to an advanced democracy where it is normal that most senior civil servants are replaced by equally skilled and competent staff based on the political orientation of the winning party in a competitive environment hiring their own cadre for the implementation of their programs and policies. Nevertheless, some of the existing lower rank civil servants are usually retained in order to preserve the continuity of the public service and new positions are filled under a rigorous procedure for appointing the best fit to perform the services required. Keeping the public administration free from political interference is a daunting task in the country where the government is the principal employer and yet unable to fulfill its promise to meet peoples’ expectations for full employment and effective service delivery.

The administrative apparatus is the machinery that runs the day-to-day or routine service for the public, domestic and foreign to be executed satisfactorily so that service performance will enhance the ease with which business is done, the latter being a major factor in attracting external investment and businesses. Therefore, public administration should be populated by skilled, competent and honest personnel at all levels starting from the permanent secretary or director general down to the clerk assuring them that they can hold on to their positions regardless of the changes at the political level unless they voluntarily resign, leave or commit abuse of office. The chief officer must lead and work with and earn the respect and trust of the existing staff of the department, supervise and evaluate their performance. It should be underlined that in the absence of clear terms of reference for an effective and efficient management, violating the administrative guidelines by appointing incompetent administrators, the result will be poor governance which will bring about complaints and anger by the public and disruptions of service delivery. One might think that the current government has recently put in place a more efficient public administration but in terms of recruitment nothing significant has changed or introduce innovation and make the old-fashioned bureaucracy and its weak hierarchy less of a burden or eliminated. There is no ‘one fit for all’ model of governing the public sector and improvements or reforms can always be made on existing structures to streamline and modernize the system making it less costly and easier to handle.

 Human resources management should be tackled with great care because of all the resources that any country possesses humans are the most valued resource or asset and its productivity is of utmost importance for good governance but also for growth and development and this fact calls for an impartial recruitment of the prospective civil servants on the basis of their knowledge and competence for the particular work they will be assigned to. Therefore, establishing a rigorous vetting process for public employment without considering clan share or similar arrangements is the best way to ensure an efficient administration that is satisfactory to the general populace. Under present circumstances, establishing regular training programs or introductory/refreshment courses especially for university graduates should be given proper thought as seminars on ad-hoc basis are insufficient to yield satisfactory results. In doing so, progress can be made to improve the capacity of the new recruits and upgrade that of the existing staff while redeploying former experienced employees where necessary.

 Senior civil servants are professionals who help advice on government policies and as such should be recognized for their expertise, acknowledging their status as permanent in nature and non-political. Not paying attention to the quality and qualifications of government employees at all levels with clearly defined responsibilities weighs heavily on their performance and is tantamount to gross negligence and a set-back on the effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration. Making recruitments or appointments without strictly following the established administrative directives will only compound the situation of the general and support services leading to widespread popular dissatisfaction. Hiring people purely on merit or experience acquired on job training makes sense but it should be pointed out that while skills and knowledge may or may not be desirable at the political level, such requirements must fully be applied to those aspiring to hold higher executive and administrative positions involving implementing policies and coordinating programs and projects. There is a need to continue to focus on improving human resources management in the public administration to achieve the best performance and innovation making it more responsive to the demands of the people and to ensure good governance so that government institutions can effectively deliver services and manage public resources efficiently in a transparent and accountable manner.

Osman Yusuf
[email protected]                


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