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Civil service undergoing massive overhaul

01 Sep 2019 at 14:51hrs | Views
Public Service Commission (PSC) chairperson Vincent Hungwe has revealed that the civil service is under massive transformation to improve professionalism and efficiencies.

In an exclusive interview with Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor, Hungwe (VH) outlined a number of initiatives, which he said are already being rolled out. Below is the interview recorded on Friday.

TN: Welcome to In Conversation with Trevor, Dr Vincent Hungwe. Thank you very much for this opportunity. You have had an illustrious career, starting as a teacher, lecturer, joining the civil service and going to the United Nations Development Programme and now you are back in Zimbabwe. Why are you back at a time when some people think this is the time to be out in the diaspora?

VN: Thank you very much for that and also characterising my career as illustrious.

This is the first time somebody has done so. I have been in government, or in public service, if you like, for about 25 years and also in the international civil service for about seven to eight years.

And I came back to Zimbabwe in December 2017 at a very momentous time in the history of our country where there were opportunities for Zimbabweans to communicate the message eloquently that the responsibility of building a new Zimbabwe is consistent with the vision so eloquently and lucidly articulated by His Excellency President Emmerson Mnangagwa of creating and transforming Zimbabwe into an upper middle income economy and so that cannot be farmed out to anybody.

It is the responsibility of citizens. And citizens have to demonstrate that they are committed to that particular cause.

TN: So you are ready for the assignment?

VH: Yes, pretty much.

TN: So, reading through this document, you talk about work-life balance. What does work-life balance look like for Dr Hungwe? How do you relax?

VH: Work-life balance is all about ensuring that persons that commit themselves to doing certain things within the private and the public domain also have lives as children, as fathers, as mothers, as grandmothers and grandfathers.

And also, they have friends because they are part and parcel of the community.

For me, work-life balance is really about giving the best I can when the time so requires, but also making it possible for me to be with friends and family.

And for me, it is about playing football, it used to be, but now it becomes very dangerous because of my age, but I am now migrating to play a lot of golf. I am an avid golf player.

TN: What are you reading now? What books are you reading? Do you love reading?

VH: I read quite a lot, but I also am forced to read from time to time by my wife.

Recently she bought about two books for me. I am happy you have asked about this. The book by Tom Nichols, it is called The Death of Expertise.

Some kind of a tour de force of sorts that seeks to campaign against the ever-increasing wave of attacks against specialists - against experts and some kind of blurring, if you like, of fact on one hand and opinion, and in some instances I would like lies on the other.

TN: I have gone through the Public Service Commission's strategic plan, it's an amazing document. If all that is in here was implemented, we would have an amazing PSC and amazing civil service. What is the risk of this gathering dust in another cupboard somewhere?

VH: Well, the risk of it gathering dust on the shelves as it were is very limited, if existent at all.

Why? Because of the nature of the document itself. I am happy you recognise the substance of it, but you can also see that is not substance, that in fact was not born out of the PSC as it were.

It is a substance that much reflects the author of that document.

And the author of that document, as I have said before, is His Excellency the president of Zimbabwe Comrade (Emmerson) Mnangagwa.

The purpose, which is pretty much indicated in the vision - the organisation or structure that is required to drive it, and the fundamental principle and values that underpin it - things that the president himself has been articulating for over the past 18 to 24 months.

TN: What is fascinating is the authority around the document, as a commission, you want to be in charge in directing the Civil Service Commission in making sure that delivery of service, delivery of quality service to the public, which is something we are not used to seeing. There is force in this document of one, to change the thinking, of wanting to change the things that have been done. Just take me through the principles that have been guiding you in the process of getting to this document.

VH: The principles that guided us pretty much arise out of the policy clarity that has been presented to us.

It's very clear that in order for us to get to 2030 as an upper middle income society and economy, there is going to be very significant pivoting in the nature of leadership that is required. There is going to be significant pivoting, away from an excessive pre-occupation with the politics of our country.

Very important, but at the end of the day, good politics is always a function of good economics and the pivoting towards enhancing economic growth is the basis upon which sustainable social development and political stability can be predicated - a very important fundamental principle that has informed us.

TN: Talk to me about you transforming the commission to being an employer, because most of us used to know the commission as an employer providing that service for government. But now this is transformative. Talk to me about that and any headwinds that you are facing with that?

VH: Yes, it is all about mindset. The commission can no longer continue to become inward-looking.

Its vision hitherto has been that we want to be the employer of choice.

There is nothing wrong with that, but being an employer of choice must have a strategic purpose behind it.

Being an employer of choice means that you got a particular higher level objective, purpose, mandate and vision and that purpose is to ensure that we will create the necessary capacities within the public itself to be able to understand what its mandate is about, to be able to understand what its functions are, to understand how those strategic interventions that are required to achieve the mandate can actually be effectively facilitated.

So, the PSC is no longer going to be inward-looking. It is actually going to be outward-looking.

Not to become necessarily an employer of choice and end there, but to be an employer of choice that has got the capacity to effectively facilitate what each and every one of our delivery units in the form of line ministries, their departments and agencies can actually do on the ground and that in itself requires a very fundamental, transformative change in terms of how we think and do our work.

And over the years, you would find that the PSC has, because of this inward-looking perspective of what its mandate is about, has also tended to focus on recruiting people, appointing them and ending there.

Now, the question is more fundamental and deeper than that, the question is: What is the nature of the structure that the person that we are going to recruit, going to be like? What isthe nature of the skills? The knowledge that that person must have.

What is the nature of the values that that person must espouse in the way they conduct themselves and in the way that they do business?

We must move away from an understanding that says performance can no longer be an issue.

We want a new culture blueprint that says we are going to be high performance, motivated. We are going to be accountable. We are going to be responsive. We are going to be more ethical in the way we do our business and we are also going to able to ask questions about the extent to which we are actually achieving the vision that the president has articulated.

TN: You have got a huge mandate. How many people are we talking about that fall under the Commission, that fall under the civil service? Are you able to break them down according to gender, into professional and non-professional?

VH: Yes, the public service as we currently stand, has about 205 000 employees and by public I am leaving out the armed forces, the Zimbabwe National Army, the police and prisons and correctional services.

About 57% of those employees are women. So we are doing well from that global aggregate perspective and 64% of those are young people between 25 and 45 years.

Sixty-two percent are in the ministries of education, primary and secondary education.

If we put in the health sector, the number increases to 82% and I was looking at the total picture of the number of directors, deputy directors, chief directors and permanent secretaries, it's not a lot - it's about

1 000 to 1 100 people, but there we have serious challenges with respect to gender.

We have recently established that 68% of those people at higher levels are male and, therefore, we need to address that.

TN: They are older and male?

VH: They are older and male. In fact, about 52% of deputy directors and above are above 48 years old. So yes, they are older males, but also we are sitting on a very interesting civil service demographic dividend if you like, of 68% of our employees being between 25 and 45.

TN: That's a good thing.

VH: But the critical issue, Trevor, is this and I come back to the fundamental values and principles that must underpin the way we are going to do our business.

There are certain things that we have been doing in the past that actually belong to the past, the nature of our uptake of technology and systems that are pretty much consistent with our capacity to remain competitive in terms of prices, in terms of the accessibility of our services requires a transformation that is technologically based and in the majority of cases, those very same people that we have been talking about as constituting our civil service demographic dividend potential require some kind of a transition from old-fashioned ways of doing business, from old-fashioned work processes to work processes that are likely to be more efficient, more  cost-effective in terms of the delivery of services.

TN: You have spoken about the new workplace and the resistance to technology in the civil service, talk to me about it?

VH: It is a pity, very same age groups that we talked about, that is above deputy director, director, to permanent secretaries seem to be quite resistant.

TN: But why?

VH: I suppose because of mindset in a very pointed plan, structure and operation that has got to enhance their technological capacity.

TN: So they are afraid of technology, they are afraid of change? So what are you going to do to make sure that this happens?

VH: Well, we have put in place a mechanism between ourselves, the Office of the President, in particular, the e-government unit within the Office of the President and also the ministry of Information and Communication Technology to ensure that we are going to provide the requisite training in order for them to uptake on the skills required.

TN: We have already gotten on to the question you asked when we embarked on the mammoth project, is the civil service fit for purpose? You said as you answered this question, we experienced an excruciating mix of the answers we got and anguish and frustration over the terrains we had to cover.  Tell me about the terrain you had to discover when you tried to understand the civil service of the past and where you want to take them?

VH: The embarrassment is also in the analytical document. If one is to look at the SWOT analysis that we undertook, and the pastel that we undertook, you will find the instances of embarrassment.

Let me lay this one out for you: government has 21 ministries, throwing out the Office of the President, of the Public Service, you will expect to have 21 chief accounting officers for the ministries.

When we came in July 2018, we recognised that at the level of permanent secretaries, which included the principal directors, chief directors and deputy directors, we have like 98 individuals.

These are people sitting at the level of chief accounting officers for 21 ministries and, of course, they go under very interesting monikers of permanent secretary, accounting and non- accounting, senior principal directors, of course that was an embarrassing situation.

We wanted a situation where each and every ministry had a chief accounting officer, that is the beginning of the story and that is where it ends.

We have taken steps to make sure that it was addressed.

TN: What steps have you taken?

VH: The majority of the principal directors and permanent secretaries, some of them have been sent on retirement.

TN: Do you have numbers?

VH: Yes, I think when we had the new Cabinet announced after the July elections, we reduced the number of all accounting secretaries to equal the number of line ministries that His Excellency established.

We keep on addressing the situation.

TN: Quickly looking at the pastel analysis that you talked about, I was surprised to find there is a line there that there are sections of the civil service who are not committed to government programmes. Does that concern you?

VH: It does, especially when the commitment is lacking in zones where you would expect the potential in terms of delivery as you move forward, but some of these also arise out of the fact that there is no pointed focus attention at changing mindsets, at making persons more patriotic recognising the kind of role that they have to play and recognising the nature of the attitude that they have to bring, they have to bring to work.

Some of them also arise out of lack of capacity on our part as leaders to actually demonstrate in terms of the way we behave and in terms of the way we do our work.

It's not very easy for your youngsters within the civil service to become committed if the permanent secretary on a day-to-day basis did not perform at work.

TN: There is disjuncture sometimes between what the president says and what you see happening in the civil service, which raises the question: Do some people get the new president's mantra of the new dispensation or Zimbabwe is open for business because you do see behaviour that goes against those two mantras? Do these senior civil servants understand the new mantra or belong to the past?

VH: They belong to the past, but our experience is that the uptake of the attitude, the direction which we want to go has been quite interesting on the part of the chief accounting officers that we have.

Remember this time last year, we did not confine ourselves to recruiting at the level of accounting officers from the civil service.

We also have recruited civil servants from outside the civil service.

In some instances, from the diaspora. We have quite a number of permanent secretaries that have come back to serve.

That in itself has injected some element of commitment, patriotism and wanting to own the results that come out.

TN: You have spoken quite eloquently about the new culture blueprint, and as you know, Peter Drucker says culture is a strategy for breakfast and Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen have come out saying culture actually is a strategy for lunch. What are you going to do to drive this culture change? This new blueprint that you have could be dead before arrival if the culture drive is not forcefully implemented.

VH: You are right, in our structure, we have an entire agency that is going to focus the greater proportion of its energies, plans and work on matters relating to strategy, planning and programme management.

And therein lies the units that are going to drive our advocacy dimension, the communication dimension and culture change agenda.

We are going to ensure that that very same approach is going to be cascaded in all the line ministries.

There is not going to be a line ministry that will not have advocates, communication experts and change managers to drive the change that we want to drive at.

TN: Let us look at the values that you are pursuing in a new culture blueprint, which to me look very impressive. Just unpack them and see what effect it will have in changing the attitudes of civil servants and the service they are going to give to the public?

VH: The first is really about patriotism. The responsibility for making Zimbabwe a better country for its citizens lies with its citizens.

It is not going to be possible to contract out that responsibility.

The issue of patriotism must be in front of us, we drive the culture change agenda. The second one is performance.

These include the issue of planning performance, appraising performance and rewarding good performance and taking action to reward good performance.

I am moving away from publishing non-performance.

The other issue is related to ethical conduct in the way public servants do their business.

We have committed ourselves to work closely with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to flash out people involved in unethical conduct.

There is also an issue of accountability, making sure individuals are brought to account at all levels.

Every individual performance should be tracked.

Lastly, we need to ensure that in order for us to achieve all these standards, we must transform ourselves into a learning organisation.

TN: There has been announcement of a system of ensuring that people do come to work, that you don't have ghost workers, the biometric system. has it started being implemented and if so, are you seeing any result?

VH: We have established an inter-ministerial committee that is looking at the issue that is chaired by the secretary of commissions and involves quite a number of other ministries.

The office of the Registrar General, ministry of Finance, Salary Services Bureau, Pension Office and the Office of the President and, as we speak, plans are underway to make some study visits to Tanzania where the biometric system has worked on the basis of the report they have shared with us, which has proved to be quite helpful in dealing with the challenge of ghost workers.  We have received support from two entities, principally the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank to make sure that this is a reality.

TN: Do you have an idea how many ghost workers we have? Do we know where they are?

VH: If my recollection serves me, there was no specific figure that was given, but there are instances that were identified that could create such a situation.

There were some instances where individuals could get to a primary school, satellite primary school in a new resettlement area, total population is maybe 30 or 400 pupils.

Under normal circumstances we would have seven teachers on the ground but at the Salary Service Bureau we have 10 teachers that are being paid.

TN: Let's move now to the efforts that you are now investing in to build the civil service that is fit for purpose and critical to that remuneration structure, and I see that you are saying the PSC is moving away from, rather leaning now towards to non-monetary incentives which is on costs. Do you want to help us understand what that is going to look like?

VH: Yes, there has always been a tendency to want to look at salaries and conditions of service in purely monetary terms. You are right, at the end of the day everything costs.

That there has been a tendency to say that in order for us to effectively motivate or attract, motivate and retain our employees, we must pay salaries. That is important in any way.

I am not suggesting that salaries are not important, but salaries ought to be looked at in the context of the total package of factors that effectively motivate employees. It's not always salary.

There are a whole host of other factors, let us call them non-monetary benefits around career development, ability to be able to meet the basic needs of family whilst you are working and even in retirement, to be able to send children to school, to be able to provide facilities like transport, to be able to have a home, to be able to access medical care, invest so that you can then begin to create assets that you can make use of as and when you are retired and also to prepare for retirement. In other words, the pension that we define right at the beginning must actually be sustainable in terms of its delivery when somebody retires.

All these things in our view are very important.

TN: And you are focusing on that?

VH: We are focusing on that. This is the context where we have established a new agency called pay benefit development and benefit management.

That benefit development we say how else we can ensure that beyond paying a salary, we can mobilise other things in order for our employees to be motivated and therefore provide us with the kind of service that we expect.

TN: I have looked at your strategic plan results. How happy are you with the progress as you tick the boxes in terms of what has been done and what has not been done?

VH: We are not happy with the progress this far and this is why we indicated on the launch that we want everybody to keep us on our toes.

It would have been our expectation that by now we should not have been talking about assisting line ministries.

But this is happening, but globally, in aggregate terms, we are confident that come December 2020, all the various challenges around policies, structures, process and attitudes ought to have been cleared off the way.

TN: Dr Hungwe, there are still many places that frighten Zimbabweans to come face to face with civil servants, passport office, immigration at our border posts, attitudes have not changed.

The civil servants see themselves as employed to make the lives of people miserable. What assurances can you give to Zimbabweans that the experience that they are getting at the border post, etc will be a thing of the past?

VH: Not by the time the strategy will have been implemented. But within the timeframes the strategy is implemented, some of these problems should be addressed. The problem we have is over-reliance on human interface.

One of the things we are doing is to reduce the human interface to every extent possible.

A combination of technology interventions, changing our workflow systems, also changing the attitudes of civil servants will contribute to the resolution of the problems you mentioned.

This will also help reduce the number of people we are going to recruit.

TN: What assurance as the number one implementer, what assurances can you give to Zimbabweans? I am going to give you an opportunity now to address Zimbabweans regarding these shortfalls that you yourself has candidly identified.

VH: My immediate reaction to Zimbabweans is that they can rest assured that the PSC under our charge will adopt an attitude that says there is not going to be anybody who is going to be spared the rod, the rod comes as necessary for us to be able to transition from a culture that is characterised by the maladies of the nature that you articulated to one where the civil service is characterised by a high performance culture of accountability, a culture that respects ethical conduct.

A culture that also ensures that each and every person is absolutely awarded on the basis of their performance and a culture that says non-performance has got no place within the civil service.

TN: Sounds like this is the end of the uncivil civil servants?

VH: Absolutely, I agree.

TN: Dr Hungwe, thank you so much for coming on to in conversation with Trevor. Thank you for your time. Thank you for welcoming us into your office.

VH: We do appreciate the ever opening-up of opportunities for us to have this kind of national conversation because it is only on the basis of conversation of this nature that we are better able to identify where the gaps are and nature of the interventions that are required in order to close them.



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