Scores of young professionals within Namibia continue to make up a big chunk of the country’s public service system. Mathias Haufiku talks to the executive chairman of the Public Service Commission(PSC), Markus Kampungu, about initiatives the Commission is taking to modernize the public service.
Kampungu tells how the Commission is being transformed to ensure that skills are retained to remain in tandem with the needs of the population while at the same time seeking ways on how the private and public sectors can work in harmony to meet the development objectives of the nation.
According to the latest PSC annual report(2014), the public service employs 65 725 staff members.
The interview was conducted in recognition United Nations Public Service Day which is celebrated worldwide today under the theme “The future is now”.
The UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/277, designated 23 June as Public Service Day.
The UN Public Service Day celebrates the value and virtue of public service to the community; highlights the contribution of public service in the development process; recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue careers in the public sector.
The Public Service Commission is seen by many as a cog in the government system when it comes to human resources. What is the true role of the PSC?
The Public Service Commission differs from country to country, it all really depends on how it is configured in a specific country. In our context the PSC is duly provided for in the Constitution and its primary function is to advise government on human resource management and administration issues. Whatever happens in terms of policies relating to human resources, the Commission is the primary advisor. One should go to extent of saying that the PSC is the engine for government that enables it to provide services to its citizens. A government without a PSC will not enable it deliver services to its citizens because the public service is key as far as the implementation of government programs are concerned. Those are the functions in a nutshell.
What do you feel are the major challenges facing Namibia’s public service?
Having such a mammoth task to provide services, there will always be challenges to meet the needs of the population, but I can say government has managed to setup structures to provide the human resources wherever it can and services across the board. It is one thing to establish infrastructure and another to provide human resources with the hope to deliver services and stay responsive to the needs of the people. Some of the challenges in terms of service provision include distances that people have to travel to access services. You might find that in some areas the services are available but the numbers in terms of the populace do not correspond.
So our challenge is to always ensure that the human resources in the public services are commensurate to cater for the economic and population growth. Financial resources will always be a challenge, however, this is not only unique to developing nations since developed countries also have challenges.
There has been wide-ranging debates regarding the size of the public service and many have expressed concern regarding the size of the public service. Would you say Namibia’s public service is bloated?
Those are just dichotomies. If you look at how disperse the country is and the population patterns in the country, it tells a different story because you have settlement patterns which impacts the entire system. Somewhere at a village people want a school and a police station which means the public service should be well capacitated to take care of that. In some areas the numbers are low but services must still reach those communities. In some regions like Kunene people move all the time but that does not mean they must be cut from accessing services. You cannot model our system on that of developed countries because our situation is separate and in some instances you will be forced to expand the public service to cater for the whole nation. However it will be good if we can find innovative ways to reduce the numbers while still responding to citizens. In the absence of innovation, we will be forced to expand now and then. But like I said, this situation is a real dichotomy. One could easily ask those who say we have a bloated system what the right size for our public service is. But in essence, we must take note that the way we live impacts how government responds to the needs of the population.
We made strides in certain areas by trying to respond to the needs of the population but some areas still require improvement. That dynamic will always be there, in fact, I never came across a public service that said they reached their targets because people always demand for more. Therefore, we must continuously work on improving our public service system
The dilemma is that there are various school of thoughts when it comes to the size of the public service because if you have enough resources you would hardly consider the size of the system. Look at Singapore, they employ over a million people at their port, would you say it is bloated? For me the size of the public service is relative in relation to available resources. If we collect enough revenue in terms of the national budget, things will change. The context is sometimes misplaced, but of course people should be allowed to criticize with the hope that service provision will continue improving.
Would you say young people are keen to venture into public service?
Yes. If you look at the statistics, you will see that the youth would rather start from entry post level and gradually acquire experience. Normally they use government to acquire skills and as they become competitive they are poached or move into the private sector. Of course our packages are different and our salary brackets cannot compete with the private sector, although the benefits we offer are much better than the private sector. As much as people look at salary levels the benefits in the public service outweigh that of the private sector. It is common knowledge that in the private sector you take home a big salary with limited benefits. I have noticed that at times the youth want to have cash and buy cars which is easier to do in the private sector because the package allows you to do that while in the public sector they might struggle a bit longer to do the same. But over the years people would come join the public service, gain experience, move into the private space and once they reach 40 or 50 they realize that they have no house or pension and end up coming back. Some would re-enter the public service close to retirement and still complain about the pension they get upon retiring. We know we will not be able to retain those who are targeted by the private sector because of the salary levels but there are efforts underway to look into how we can retain our staff and attract new staff members to fill vacant positions.
With reference to the broad-based development agenda of the country, how can the public and private and public sectors work together to grow the country because it seems as if the two are competing?
That is a difficult question I must admit. It is a serious challenge as to where the convergence between the two systems should be. One actually questions why there should be competition for a certain skill instead of working together. But I must say there is need to engage one another. However you must remember that where you have a shortage of skills and everyone wants that skill, competition is bound to exist. I am however confident that the more we train our people and impart skills in them we will find stable grounds and there will not be a need to compete for skills anymore, but for as long as there is a skills shortage in the market we will continue having this challenge.
What are some of the immediate policy changes that the Commission is working on?
Age distribution is the biggest fear we have. We are cognizant of the fact that if you do not plan properly you will find yourself in a situation whereby a certain age group exits the system at the same time and even if you replace them you will still lose the skills and it will impact service delivery. We are therefore working on a succession plan to avoid any drawbacks. There is need for a succession plan to prepare for a mass exit and empower the next layer to takeover. The youth are joining the middle class and we need to manage that aspect to also ensure that talented young people are not frustrated which could result in them leaving the system. There are those young people who are fast learners, some of those need to be fast-tracked to ensure that they do not remain in one position for too long, but of course there needs to be a balance. We have visited Singapore and South Korea in the past to see how they deal with succession in the public service.
How important is World Public Service Day to you?
The day gives us an opportunity to reflect so that we can see where we made strides as well as where we struggled to meet demands of the people. It also gives us a chance to celebrate our successes and share them with institutions across the country to ensure that we identify the best practices from all performing government offices, ministries and agencies so that we can replicate it all over. The day also allows us to reflect on the challenges facing us and to find ways to address them[challenges] collectively.
Finally, your message for all public service employees in the country as we celebrate World Public Service Day?
World Public Service Day is key for us to celebrate the values and virtues of the service we deliver to the community. It allows us to do introspection and ask ourselves if the services we are providing to the population are responsive to their needs.
While doing our job as public servants, we should go beyond the call of duty to service our people and those with new ideas should showcase their innovation so that we can consider them to improve the system.