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Friday, 18 January 2013 12:37

Dr Chandan Jankee : “Time to introduce civil service exams"

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Civil servants are awaiting with much anxiety the report of the committee set up to look into the anomalies and omissions of the PRB Report as submitted to government by Commissioner Mohun Aujayeb in October 2012.
The Aujayeb report met strong opposition and created a stir among government employees, mostly by those whose wages and salaries are the lowest. The matter was even discussed in Parliament after the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister how same was approved by Government when the recommendations thereof widen the gap between the highest and the lowest paid civil servants.

Government accordingly set up a mechanism to sort out the matter, first by circulating an option form to be signed by the employees and the setting up of an independent committee to look into the anomalies and omissions contained in the report. At this point a few names were suggested to chair this committee, and among these was the name of Dr Chandan Jankee, Senior Economist and lecturer at the University of Mauritius. Finally the head of government chose one of his advisers, Dev Manraj, to do the job.

The Committee received the memorandum of trade unions of the civil service employees, also went to Rodrigues to hear unions there and will soon call unions to depone before the commission if ever there is any clarification needed; after which it will draft its report on all anomalies and omissions contained in the Aujayeb PRB Report and submit it to government by the end of March 2013.News on Sunday met Dr Chandan Jankee, one of the nominees of trade unions to chair the committee on anomalies and omissions to put this question to him: ‘What if you were the commissioner of the PRB?’

What is the main focus of the PRB report and why was it rejected by the unions?
The mission of the PRB is based on the premise of equity, independence, motivation, recognition, productivity, compensation, modernity, financial resource capacity,   comparability, technical capacity, continuity and acceptability.  An analysis of the PRB report in Mauritius should be done within this framework. The PRB report is dependent on the quantum allocated by the Ministry of Finance based on the economy and financial resource capacity.

Given our focus is the recent PRB Report 2013, there has been general disagreement of the quality of the Report and its rejection by the civil servants, especially those within the low income brackets.  The frontal attack on Director   Aujaheb was mounted by the trade unions as well as the press ventilating the views of the civil servants.  The government did not take long to remove its support and refused to share the responsibility of the report.  The Prime Minister came to the rescue of the government to liaise with the trade unions and the civil service.

The momentum of the trade union to reject the report was slowed down by some of their leaders with sinister objectives to support the PM and his government .The severe lack of solidarity among trade union leaders evaporated the concerted actions towards burning the Report.  The civil service has missed a golden chance to militate for a good report reflecting the basic premise raised above.   This is the fault of some trade union leaders who are at arm’s length with policy makers so as to be in the good books of the government.

Another issue was the appointment of the Commissioner and his assessors which was dictated mostly by the government with the complicity of some trade union leaders who were the first to flatter the choice of the PM even before the Report was revised. They played well the game of the government for personal gains. Consequent to the bad report, the trade unions could have used this opportunity to bargain for an independent Commissioner and assessors instead of dancing to the tune of the PM.  As an adviser at the PM office, with the responsibility for the implementation of government projects including the Budgetary measures, it would be naïve to accept that Dev Manraj would be independent and has no conflict of interest.   Politics has its reason which reason does not know regarding his position at PM’s office and Commissioner of salary.   He is   more equal than others and is among the few lucky ones. Power is blind and corrupt.

A more important question today is what he can do in order to satisfy the civil servants when revising the report in the light of anomalies and errors. According to me the PRB report itself should have been scrapped and coming up with an anomaly  Report is  futile as it may represent a very piecemeal  approach and  patchwork. Given the pressure and time constraint, with due respect to Mr Manraj and his assessors, no major change would be effected in line with the aspirations of the civil servants.

What, according to you, are the most important anomalies and omissions in the Report?
Given the adverse world economic environment and its concommitant impact on the domestic economy, I know that the expectations and demands of civil service are not exaggerated but any report should be guided by the principles of equity,   motivation and compensation. There has been too much emphasis on civil service reform, productivity and retention.  Any report should take into account how to retain the public servants, motivate them as well as compensate them in terms of their qualifications, experiences and   performance.  In order  to  eliminate injustice  and  promote a modern efficient  civil service , I humbly propose the following  which I feel should be considered for the PRB report . Instead of an anomaly and Errors and omission report, we should give an interim rise in wages to civil servants and work out a new Report founded on the principles mentioned above.

What are your proposals?
These are my proposals for salary revision and other conditions of work.
Equal opportunities: There have been lots of criticisms targeting the Public Service commission regarding recruitment in the public sector.  At times even the qualified candidates are seen with a bad eye due to some weaknesses and injustice in the system.  A civil servant will be respected if the system is transparent and fair as well as accessible. A public sector should be used as a tool for social mobility, inclusion and correcting the market failures. There are various allegations of favouritism with regard to some sections of the population at times not justified because of loopholes in the system. Hence for access and equity, like India and Singapore let us introduce a ‘civil service examinations’ with proper series of examinations and use of positive discrimination for some vulnerable groups to promote mobility.  

A foolproof system with the right institutions should be worked out and here political will is a major ingredient. In order to ensure transparency, the list of selected candidates together with their qualifications and interview performance should be put online.

Salary and conditions of work : The increasing difference in the salary scale with the top obtaining an increase of more than Rs 40, 000 as compared with only Rs 500 has been the major deception in this report. It was an accounting exercise with simple calculation of increase based on the allocated quantum from the government. Given the unfair and regressive tax system, for equity I feel that we need to have another system of salary determination. The government should come up with a salary structure practised in Australia and elsewhere where a worker is paid according to qualifications and years of educational training.

A national salary structure should be implemented for the country for different positions according to qualifications and years of study. For example, given the limited opportunities  and  other factors determining access to jobs especially in some public institutions or  recently privatised ones, a more equitable system is to maintain a minimum salary standard  for workers with same  qualifications . Today, an economist employed at the Ministry may get a much lower salary than his peer say at the Bank of Mauritius or Financial Services Commission. 

Another example is the MRA where the same officer is paid much higher from automatic higher tax collection instead of productivity. The difference in salary may not be due to productivity but following monopoly positions of these institutions and their legal rights to charge fees.  This stark injustice should be corrected and this is what is known as an equitable society. Just creating an Equal Opportunities Commission is not a solution, we must create a system which prevents inequalities. Such a national salary structure having a legal binding is imperative and this could also include the private sector in order to bring in more equity. There is an proliferation of qualifications in the country with more and more parents investing in their children. Such a salary structure would minimise frustration and create an inclusive equitable system.  Moreover, a minimum salary should be put in force in Mauritius in order to work out the salary structure and protect the low income groups.

Promotion and Transparency : Given the pyramidal system, limited opportunities for promotion are inevitable and this is where compensation is important and should be included in the PRB report. Overlapping salary scale should be used to compensate closely qualified officers at least in terms of increments on a higher salary scale rather than being on top for a long time. Promotion exercise should be transparent based on examinations and interviews under camera recordings for the possibilities of review in case of enquiry. Civil servants should be given a proper career path with established opportunities, with no appointments of contractual boss nominated politically. The appointment of senior advisors and chief executives on contract should be discouraged in order to motivate qualified civil servants to meet their aspirations.

Training and Productivity : The establishment of a civil service college is timely and appropriate training should be given in order to increase efficiency.  Such training should be followed by promotion and compensation with appropriate benchmark for assessing productivity. Indicators of productivity and assessment exercise should be known in advance.  There should be fairness in allocating acting positions and administrative experience. There are so many cases where officers have been in acting positions for years  but  promotion is kept  for some lucky ones.

In the absence of a proper system of promotion and assessment, I believe that seniority is the best rule of thumb supported by training and examinations. There is a lot of abuse of the system of promotion when departing from seniority as academic qualifications are not a good substitute for work experience.  The recent promotion of rectors and deputy rectors in the secondary education is a classic example. The eligibility for deputy rector is five years whilst a senior educator to work under the deputy rector is twenty years. There is a lot of frustration among educators. Similar cases are found in other sectors.

Benefits : I find it unacceptable why can’t we innovate and come up with a number of vehicles to improve the quality of life of our civil servants.  The use of public-owned institutions like banks, insurance companies, travel agents and pension funds should play this role instead of benchmarking with private organisations with same charges.

For instance, we must introduce affordable housing schemes, medical insurance facilities, pension plans, soft loans, educational plans, and leisure and health facilities amongst others.  The straight jacket of duty free cars should be revamped in the light of the traffic congestion and high cost of maintenance impoverishing civil servants. A proper alternative should be given to compensate civil servants for whom a duty free car may not be attractive. Housing loans or educational loans could be more helpful.  In some countries for instance India, civil servants get accommodation facilities like government flats and this is possible here. There are many benefits which should be worked out and given to civil servants.  I also propose that civil servants should be given the choice to take their part of their pension contributions in order to finance education or some construction projects.

Protection and Rights.
Another important issue is how to protect the civil servants in their duties. Given the interference of political nominations, Ministers in technical decisions, a proper line should be drawn to protect civil servants. There should be a proper institution like a civil service ombudsperson capable to revisit promotion, transfer, responsibilities and other matters to protect officers.

Representatives and Trade union leaders. There should be rotation in the leadership of trade unions representing civil servants as well as some established ethics and code of conduct working in favour of the civil service.  Moreover, I personally feel that the Errors and Omission Committee should be put in place before the publication of the PRB report in order to avoid excessive political manipulation.

To conclude, the public sector is a window for indicating good governance, efficiency and productivity, motivation and equity for all other sectors of the economy.  This is the main objective of the PRB and its reports. The modernization of an economy needs an efficient and motivated civil service which I think any Commissioner should take into account instead of looking simply at the anomalies underlined by some trade union leaders which may not necessarily manifest the predicament of the civil service community. I wish the Commissioner as well as his assessors the best of luck.
Indradev Curpen

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