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Our civil service must innovate to survive, says Yemi-Esan



Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan speaks with AYOYINKA JEGEDE in Uyo during a strategy workshop for Permanent Secretaries of Federal Government agencies, on strategies being adopted to reposition the service for greater efficiency, amongst other issues.

What are your plans for civil servants in terms of welfare, appointments, dismissal, training as well as ongoing reforms in the system? 
We had a strategic plan that ran between 2017 and 2020. But right now, we have developed a successor plan to that strategic plan, which will run from 2021 to 2025. This new plan has six major initiatives. They are capability building, performance management, staff welfare, innovations and digitalization.

What we want to do is to make sure that the Civil Service is rebranded. We are working towards the emergence of a new Civil Service because over the years, especially in recent years, the impression everybody has about the civil service is not very good. One hears all sorts of things such as civil servants are lazy, civil servants are not competent, civil servants are not diligent, civil servants are corrupt. This is why we need to change the narratives and that is why the new strategic plan is called ‘The New Civil Service’. If we can do moderately well on the six new objectives, I am sure that the civil service will be transformed into the civil service of our dreams.


How does the ongoing reform reflect on workers’ welfare?
On welfare, we have developed a new reward and consequence management programme where civil servants that perform well will be rewarded both monetarily and non-monetarily.  This will be based on the performance of civil servants. Also, those that are not performing too well will have opportunities for training but if after the training they still are not performing up to expectation, then there will be consequences. We are ready to train and retrain civil servants for better performance. This is the principle of the new management we are working on. In this system, as a civil servant, you have certain targets and goals individually that you are supposed to meet. 
We have gone around MDAs, teaching them how to set objectives and this means that from the objectives of the MDAs you as an individual (a civil servant) must be able to derive your objectives from the objectives of that Ministry you work with. It is those objectives that you will be appraised on, how well are you doing your job? You set targets based on your objectives with your supervisors and at regular intervals. Quarterly, they will be appraised based on what they have done, their targets and why certain objectives are not met. What are the things individuals need to attain that performance? That is the new civil service that we are looking at and by the time everything has been provided for them, they will not have any reason not to perform well. 

It is alleged that civil servants are the enablers of corruption and they aid political office holders to carry out corrupt acts. What is your reaction to this?
That is one of the negative narratives out there, which is not true. The core Civil Service as I speak of today is roughly about 70,000. I agree that there are bad eggs, but they are very few. I have interacted with a lot of civil servants and I can tell you that the passion with which these civil servants performed positively is unbelievable. Though there are bad eggs that give everybody a bad name, civil servants are not corrupt, neither are they the ones that are teaching politicians how to be corrupt.


What is your reaction to the roles godfatherism plays in the Service, in terms of employment, promotion and placement?
I don’t know about that. Just as the civil service is being transformed, you must understand that the recruitment process is not handled by the Head of Civil Service. It is the Federal Civil Service Commission that does recruitment, not the office of the Head of Civil Service. However, we are working with the commission to ensure that the recruitment process is merit-based because if we want a new Civil Service, we cannot afford to have new entrants that are not based on merit. 

The Civil Service of today is not all about commerce, we want people that will perform and improve the system, not people that will draw the system back. Lazy people with a lackadaisical attitude should not come to the Civil Service of our dreams. The Civil Service Commission is also reinventing all their processes to ensure that new entrants are people that are hardworking and are ready to become hardworking even if they are not hardworking at that point. Otherwise, the performance test will bring them up as non-performers and they will be shown the way out.   

In what ways are civil servants contributing to societal growth? 
That is their main function. Civil servants’ main function is to make sure that the society is better. What we are teaching civil servants is that we must become citizens-centred. We are in service to be civil servants. A servant is somebody that looks after the good of somebody else. We have a very elaborate culture-change programme in place where we teach civil servants. This retreat of Permanent Secretaries is one of the culture-change strategies that we are using. The first session of the retreat talks about transformational Permanent Secretaries.


Why this workshop at this time? 
Permanent secretaries should become more transformative in their various positions in leading change and delivering outcomes and impact. The facilitators supported the permanent secretaries to take a common position in developing a strategic framework to lead a professional and high-performing workforce through capacity building, emotional intelligence, process efficiency, robust policy support and digitalisation. This retreat, among other objectives, seeks to recalibrate our ability to think strategically, recognise operational potentials and communicate organisational visions leveraging on a top-down methodology. The importance of our gathering can be further appreciated considering the rapid introduction of mechanisms and structures to attain global best practices in the Civil Service, such as the service-wide deployment of Standard Operating Procedures and the application for ISO certification, among others.

We must understand that personnel will earnestly look up to us for necessary direction and drive as we transit to the new systems and we must be adequately prepared to meet their expectations. It is important to harp on two critical enablers of the success of reform programmes, which are culture change and change management. Given our dynamic operating environment, highly interdependent and more globalized world, culture change and change management must be taken as conscious strategies to achieve sustainable high productivity, organisational loyalty and ownership of reforms.
As chief accounting and operating officers of our various establishments, our foremost responsibility is the attainment of good governance because this fundamentally affects the well-being of citizens and the socio-economic development and stability of the country. 

We must not also fail to understand that to survive and thrive, particularly in a disruptive era, institutions must not only continuously innovate to be able to accomplish strategic objectives but must re-engineer with the right leadership to stay distinctively relevant. These, perhaps, are factors responsible for the seemingly overlapping institutional functions that necessitate mergers. This retreat provides the needed insights into our evolving roles as strategic and innovative leaders.


In this article:
Folasade Yemi-Esan
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