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Raising federal civil service from current despair – Part 2

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On the appointment of non-civil servants into permanent secretary positions, while the constitution does not spell out where to source a permanent secretary from, it is certainly not the intention of the framers of the constitution that such an appointment would be made outside the career civil servants. The over-riding quality characteristic desired of a permanent secretary is institutional memory. The fact that permanent secretaries do not have to leave office at the expiration of the tenure of the administration they are serving, except on account of defined age and years of service as prescribed in their condition of service, is the basis of the prefix “permanent” in their nomenclature as permanent secretary, which is the short version of permanent under-secretary. This is as opposed to Secretary (i.e. Minister) who occupies elective/political positions and must vacate office at the expiration of the tenure of the Government that appoints them.

Unlike what operates for career civil servants, the extant civil service condition of age of retirement, pegged at 60 years, has not been made applicable to the non-civil servant appointees currently on post at the federal level. Questions have been variously asked about the basis of their appointment into the civil service as permanent secretary: Is it a result of some rare skills that are not found in the system or their exceptional administrative experience? It would be desirable for the system to find out the assessment of the Directorate level officers working under these non-civil servant permanent secretaries in the last 4 years, with a view to determining their effectiveness in the post and consequently the desirability of their continued retention to the disadvantage of outstanding career civil servant directors from their States of origin, who under normal circumstances would have merited such appointments.

Suspension of the tenure policy
If there is one action of this administration that has aggrieved career public servants across all Ministries, extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies (MDAs), it is the suspension or discontinuation of the Tenure Policy. The 8-year tenure for career public servants on the terminal grade levels of Director and Permanent Secretary is one policy that, while it lasted from 2009 till 2016, was able to ventilate the service, allow officers to earn their deserved promotion as at when due, restore their morale and improve their effectiveness on the job. In the process, the entire public service was able to witness improved productivity. With the suspension of the policy, public servants across all MDAs are groaning and, arising from their loss of morale, public service productivity is now suffering. Worse for the system is the disproportionate salary burden, within the Emoluments vote-head of the Recurrent budget, of this group of top heavy officers whose individual salary is enough to hire 5-6 fresh graduates.

Suspension of the tenure policy does no good for the system. The claim that it is to retain experienced officers is a ruse, as there is no exercise to determine which officer merits to be retained on account of proven competence. Indeed, majority of those benefitting from the suspension are the lower quality officers who were irregularly catapulted to the director grade level. In many MDAs, the suspension has induced racketeering of adjusted biodata certified with sworn affidavits to enable retirement-bound officers perpetuate their stay in the service to the detriment of young, bright, moldable and technologically-friendly fresh graduates waiting on the outside.

The Bungled Handling of Purported Reinstatement of Maina
The bungled handling of the purported reinstatement of Abdulrashee Maina in 2018 is one issue that did not portray both the Federal Civil Service Commission and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation in good light. It is refreshing that the FCSC has now been reconstituted, with Tukur Bello Ingawa – a man of impeccable integrity as chairman. More importantly, with the news that Maina has now been arrested, it is expected that his trial will go some distance in instilling the right attitude in public officers put in charge of public funds.

The Extension of Service for Selected Retiring Permanent Secretaries
The recent circular from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) announcing an extension of service to seven Permanent Secretaries who are already due for retirement stated, among others, as follows:
“The decision to extend the tenure of these permanent secretaries is premised on the need to ensure that the new Ministers are properly guided, briefed about their sectors and to ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the delivery on the Presidential Mandate which they jointly signed; The Permanent Secretaries will also help the Ministers to manage the process for the preparation of the 2020 Budget in line with the commitment of Government to return to the January-December budget circle and help develop various policies and programmes aimed at lifting 100 million Nigerian out of poverty in the next 10 years. The action is in exercise of the powers conferred under section 171(2)”.

The reasons adduced in the circular for the extension of service of the permanent secretaries are germane. It is also true that the President is empowered by section 171(1)&(2) of the constitution to make appointments to the position of permanent secretary .Indeed, that power of the President cited above is without any restriction whatsoever as to where the appointment should be made from. However, what the circular quoted above conveys is not an appointment but “an extension of tenure of service”. It therefore falls within the purview of the conditions of service of those officers.
The Tenure Policy is the appropriate channel through which that extension should have been made. Although the information within the public service is that the Tenure policy has been suspended, the Gazette under which the policy was published has not been repealed through another gazette.

Therefore, as long as it subsists as part of the public service rules, it remains a legal document which is superior to any administrative instruction in an official file directing its suspension. Outside the Tenure Policy, the best way to have conveyed the action of the President was to have said ”the President has approved the re-appointment of seven permanent secretaries for one year, effective from the date of their respective retirements”.

From the pension angle, there is also no problem with the extension because, by the Pension Reform Act 2014, the continued contributions of officers after 60 years of age or 35 years’ service are not unlawful for contributors that are authorised to remain in service, as in this case.
However, the real challenge with this extension of service is not just on moral and ethical grounds but principally on how to justify it under HR management guidelines bearing in mind the career progression and succession planning principles which have been instituted to give equal opportunities to all officers. There are also concerns about the opaque nature of the assessment that brought out only those officers among the entire lot.

On moral and ethical grounds, the questions that are being asked in respect of the Permanent Secretary beneficiaries, having attained their positions because their predecessors from their States of origin vacated office at the retirement age or years of service prescribed in the public service rules, is how they would feel whenever they see the potential beneficiary Directors from their States who have been denied the same opportunity that they have enjoyed. Some have even gone as far as projecting that it could alter political appointment calculations in their States and, in the process, engender inter-community feud and inter-personal resentment !
To be continued tomorrow
Adegoroye, a retired federal permanent secretary and pioneer director general of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) also the National Publicity Secretary, Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).


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