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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

NCC on Permanent Secretaries

Some semblance of common sense from NCC delegates on permanent secretaries :

Merits, demerits of appointing permanent secretaries from outside civil service, Emmerson Muchangwe, Daily Mail, Commentary :

The question of whether or not permanent secretaries should strictly be appointed from the civil service was one of the most contentious issues during the recent sitting of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) plenary. Article 274 generated a lot of debate because of the sensitive nature of the office of permanent secretary. When they discussed the appointment and responsibilities of this office at both ministerial and provincial levels, members of the NCC were clearly divided between the die-hard proponents for appointment of permanent secretaries from within the civil service and those strongly opposed to that view.

The Mung’omba Draft Constitution and the NCC Public Service Committee strongly proposed that for one to be considered for appointment as permanent secretary, he or she must be a career civil servant and that when such an appointment is made, it should be ratified by Parliament.

There was also the question of whether or not the Public Service Commission should play a part in the process leading to the appointment of controlling officers, as permanent secretaries are generally known in the civil service.

These vexing but interesting questions kept the members of the Conference alive throughout the debate as each one of them freely aired their views.

As they debated the proposal of appointment of permanent secretaries from the civil service, it was evident that those opposed to the strict appointment of permanent secretaries from the civil service took a totally different view, with most of them preferring that candidates be drawn from a wider spectrum.

During the debate, some members who supported the proposal argued that the key component of the civil service was that permanent secretaries should be non-partisan and support the government of the day.

They argued that the civil service had been ineffective for a long time due to politicisation and continued appointment of permanent secretaries from outside the civil service. They held that as a result of that system, civil servants were demotivated.

The proponents were also of the view that a stable Government depended on a non-partisan and stable civil service as was the case in Malaysia and Botswana where permanent secretaries were strictly career civil servants.

They felt that it was important that people should have a say on who should be appointed as permanent secretary through their representatives in the National Assembly and that this could only be achieved through parliamentary ratification to ensure better service delivery.

They also felt that underdevelopment and corruption experienced in government institutions would be minimised if Parliament ratified the appointments of permanent secretaries.

Some members supported the appointment of permanent secretaries by the President on the advice of the Public Service Commission. They however did not support the idea of parliamentary ratification, arguing that the Public Service Commission was the appropriate institution to make recommendations on the appointment of permanent secretaries based on their suitability and performance.

They argued that permanent secretaries appointed by the Public Service Commission from the Civil Service performed better because they had risen through the ranks of the civil service.

Further, such officers understood the General Orders, Financial Regulations and had undergone continuous civil service training.

They held the view that ratification would not guarantee the impartiality and effectiveness of a permanent secretary but would only delay the appointment of permanent secretaries because there would be too many appointees referred to the National Assembly for ratification.

Opponents of the proposal were of the view that it was necessary to appoint officers that the government of the day would be comfortable to work with by creating a window to allow the appointment of permanent secretaries from outside the civil service.After a lengthy debate, Conference Chairperson Chifumu Banda posed four questions on which members were to make a decision. The following were the questions and their appropriate answers:
  • Does one need to be a career civil servant to be appointed permanent secretary - NO.
  • Should the Public Service Commission render advice in the appointment of the permanent secretary - YES.
  • Should permanent secretaries be appointed by the President - YES.
  • Was it necessary to have the appointment of permanent secretary ratified by the National Assembly - NO.
Going by discussions on this issue, it is clear that various government officials need to work with controlling officers they can trust and therefore restricting them to civil servants alone would not be in their best interest. All in all, the Conference gave a resounding YES when asked to indicate that the President will be responsible for the appointment of permanent secretaries on the advice of the Public Service Commission. This gives assurance that appointees to this high position will be of high calibre.

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