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Ethiopia's Civil Service: A Committed Agent of the Socio-Economic Development

By Hana Alemu
Tigrai Onlne - June 24, 2014

The 8th annual civil service day was celebrated today in the presence of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. In the occasion, the Prime Minister noted that bolstering the developmental commitment at all levels through good governance and efficiency is crucial to advance efforts of transformation and also announced that the government works to make civil servants beneficiary of the socio-economic progress they are striving for.

That is through the salary increment, residential house and transportation service provisions. The broader meaning of the announcement was buttressing the Civil Service Reform Program that achieved several progresses over the years since its launch in 1996 following EPRDF's coming to power.

The Civil Service Reform Program, started in 1991, was part of a wider attempt to effect a policy of transition from the old practice of single party hegemony to a multiparty system, and changing the centrally planned economic model to a market variant. The political dimension of the transition was also expressed in changing the form of government (from unitary to federal) and instituting national/regional self-governments by way of devolving tasks and authority to the newly created sub-national entities. The economic side of the reforms manifested themselves in the denationalization and deregulation of many public enterprises that were formerly under the custodianship of the state.

Indeed, Ethiopia's civil service structure was formally established during the reign of Menelik II in 1907. Under a ‘western-inspired’ administrative system, the ‘formal framework’ of government brought Ethiopia into the twentieth century, but Menelik’s subsequent illness until his death in 1913 stunted further modernization, as Clapham's study shows.

Although the institution underwent a series of changes commensurate with a host of new needs and imperatives, the period was marked by weak leadership until Hailesellassie succeeded Menelik’s daughter, Zawditu, in 1930. Later on, during his reign, Emperor Hailesellassie undertook a series of institutionalization and restructuring measures in the hope of bringing about an effective and efficient civil service governed by specified rules and procedures of a uniform nature.

However, because of factors emanating from the very nature of the regime and among other things, due to the high regard given to political loyalty in assigning civil service posts and the level of political interference affecting standard operating procedures, the Civil Service repeatedly failed to deliver the intended service to the public. 

For instance, the 1931 Constitution attempted to place the bureaucracy at the forefront of the country’s development and to unify it, but following a coup attempt in 1960, it was felt that the ‘‘transformation’ of Ethiopia has been far too slow’. The abortive coup also revealed political tensions that had been growing from the 1950s within a ‘creaky’ and corrupt bureaucracy still subject to inertia and feudalism.

The imperial period was finally replaced in 1974 with the Dergue socialist system, which favored central economic planning and banned private ownership. The nationalization measures, along with the proliferation of new government institutions and corporations led to a tremendous expansion of the public sector. Therefore, as one researcher described the regime was a ‘coalition of military/bureaucratic dictatorship’. 

Moreover, the Dergue regime was put in disarray by the fusion of the institutions of party, state and government. It also encouraged the proliferation of parallel structures by appointing party functionaries to key decision-making civil service positions. Hence duplication and fragmentation of public functions and the downplaying of merit and professionalism became the order of the day. The subsequent years were characterized by the centralization of administration in addition to the increase of corruption, inefficient service delivery and the routine neglect of the due process of law in matters of public concern.

The Dergue was ultimately ousted by the gallant youth fighting under the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991. A new constitution was adopted in 1994, paving the way for the country’s first democratic elections. 

Since 1991, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) led government embarked on a series of reform programs hinged on the ideological shift happened in the country from centralized command economy to free market economy. In the early 1990s, the government launched Structural Adjustment program consisting Civil Service Reform Program (CSRP) as one of the components.

The phased reform measures have been taken by the government, and the first phase of the reform (1991-1996) focused on the restructure of government institutions and retrenchment program. The second phase of CSRP was launched in 1996. The five sub-programs pronged program includes: the top management system, expenditure management and control, The Human Resource management, Service Delivery and Ethics. The sub programs were further split into a number of projects.

There were six projects under the umbrella of Service Delivery Sub-Program: development of service delivery policy, grievance handling directives, award system in the civil service, Methods Integration of related public service (center links), and preparation of technical directives for improving civil service delivery and service delivery standard directives. However, the implementation status of the aforementioned sub-programs as evaluated in 2001 (in the Capacity Building Strategy paper) by the government was below the expectation. This attributes to many factors like too much focus on technical aspects, rather than changing attitude of the workforce, impulsive start of implementation, and lack of committed political leadership.

Spanning over a decade, Ethiopia’s transformation agenda has evolved over three phases (1992, 1996-2000 and 2001 onwards) in response to a growing awareness that pervasive deficits in capacity have hampered the ability of the state to secure the fundamentals of poverty reduction and democratic development including responsive service delivery, citizen empowerment,  and good governance.

Following the consolidation of power, the Government also acknowledged the deep institutional constraints on basic functions such as policymaking, service delivery, and regulation. Core public management systems at the federal and regional levels were hampered by outdated civil service legislation and working systems; the absence of a medium-term planning and budgeting framework; ineffective financial and personnel management controls; inadequate civil service wages and inappropriate grading systems; poor capacity for strategic and cabinet-level decision-making; and insufficient focus on modern managerial approaches to service delivery.

In 1994, a task force was commissioned to conduct a diagnostic overview. The primary phase of diagnosis and taking stock of the problems facing the civil service ended in February, 1996, with the identification of weaknesses in the ways the civil service managed its financial and human resources, delivered services to the public, strategic priorities and performances and monitoring and evaluation of top management. 

Following the identification of problems, efforts were made to reform the system by providing, among other things, training to civil servants at federal and regional levels. 

In recognition of these constraints, the Government embarked on a comprehensive Civil Service Reform Program (CSRP) in 1996, marking the second reform phase. Indicative of Ethiopia’s “first generation” capacity building efforts, the CSRP sought to build a fair, transparent, efficient, effective, and ethical civil service primarily by creating enabling legislation, developing operating systems, and training staff in five key areas: (i) Expenditure Control and Management, (ii) Human Resource Management, (iii) Service Delivery, (iv) Top Management Systems, and (v) Ethics.

Successful efforts (for example, budgeting, planning, and accounting reforms) at the federal level were intended to provide prototypes for regional authorities.  The CSRP was also influenced by the international New Public Management trend, and reforms in New Zealand in particular.  The CSRP also faced some delays due to the Ethio-Eritrea border conflict 1998-2000. However, some achievements which may pave the way for full implementation of the CSRP were witnessed. Among other things, the development of new legislation (for example, a financial management proclamation, a civil service law, a code of ethics, complaints-handling procedures, and a service delivery policy) as well as operating systems for budgeting, procurement, and some aspects of personnel management such as salary surveys and records management.

However, due to various problems including lack of capacity, only limited successes   were made in bringing about improvements in performance and service delivery, effective policy formulation, programme and project execution as well as in tackling other problems of the civil service in general. The problems are much more serious in regions such as Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela and Somalia where civil service performance and public service delivery are at a rudimentary stage. The problem is aggravated by weak civil service structures and human and institutional capacities. 

The most recent reform phase began in September 2001, with the launch of the Public Sector Capacity Building Support Program (PSCAP), which also revived the CSRP. The Government has moved quickly to prepare the CSRP for its “full implementation” across all regions and levels of government. Pilot studies and special programs on performance and service delivery improvements in selected Ministries, Agencies, and Bureaus have been initiated. These include; the establishment of focal points responsible for reform implementation across tiers of government; a series of workshops undertaken to sensitize the political leadership and civil servants across the country; and the launch of a “special program” of Performance and Service Delivery Improvement Policy (PSIP) in priority Ministries, Agencies, and Bureaus designed to deepen the implementation of performance management. PSIP, along with other reform programme areas, have promoted Business Process Reengineering (BPR) as a key management initiative, particularly in those ministries that interface directly with the private sector. 

The civil service reform sub-programme (CSRP) is an integral part of a broader programme of multi-faceted reforms intended to build and strengthen public  sector capacity for the attainment of the Government's socio-economic development goals and objectives. It aims at creating an enabling environment which will allow the civil service to function effectively and efficiently. It focuses on the development and implementation of appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks, and institutional and human resources as well as the introduction of improved management systems and best practices. The overall purpose is to build a fair, effective, efficient, transparent and ethical civil service through institutional reforms, systems development and training. The need for civil service reform is dictated by the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the existing system and the lack of capacity of organizations both in the public and private sectors to effectively manage and utilise available resources for bringing about sustainable  growth and poverty reduction.

Civil service reform goes hand in hand with decentralization in the delivery of public services upon which the Government has embarked on since 2003. In this context, reform of the civil service is the process of modifying rules and incentives to obtain a more efficient and dedicated civil service in a newly decentralized environment. Civil service at all levels of government needs capable, motivated and efficient staff in order to deliver quality services to the public.

Implementation of the CSRP is now in full gear in the context t of the country's National Capacity Building Program whose aim is to develop human and institutional capacity at all levels of government and in all sectors of the economy.  Positive results have been attained and the Government is encouraged to intensify implementation of the CSRP for attaining the objectives of sustainable growth and poverty reduction. Its critical importance in this respect has been echoed widely in several policy papers, including the SDPRP.

Based on lessons learned during the first half of 2002, the Government undertook relevant policy and institutional reform measures for full-scale implementation of the sub-programme with the following measures ta ken prior to startup of implementation: Placement  of the responsibility to  manage and co-ordinate the CSRP under the Civil Service Ministry; Restructuring the original CSRP co-ordinating office as a CSRP Office and strengthening its capacity to manage and co-ordinate implementation; Transferring ownership of the various  reforms and accountability for their implementation to federal and regional institutions through a series of seminars delivered to top officials on  the objectives of  the CSRP and its components; Providing extensive training to staff from various federal and regional institutions so as to enable them spearhead implementation of reforms.

Full implementation of the CSRP was launched beginning September, 2002, and is now well underway. As a start-up move, civil service reform offices were established in key federal and regional civil service institutions to provide technical support in planning and management. A document containing information on “quick win” reform measures to increase service recipients’ (clients’) satisfaction was also distributed to these institutions.

The overall objective of the CSRP is to enhance the capacity of the civil service so that it will be effective, efficient, transparent, accountable, ethical, performance oriented, and that it promotes good governance, provides client-oriented service delivery and is supportive of the Government’s social and economic development policies and private sector development. Its specific objectives are the following: Ensure the ability of federal and regional governments in efficient and effective service delivery as well as equity in the treatment of clients on a sustainable basis; Ensure that federal and regional governments have staff with significantly  better understanding, appreciation and management of public service delivery issues; Ensure that federal civil service  institutions re-orient their planning, management and performance evaluation to  strategic management issues, and have staff with the capacity to undertake planning, management and performance evaluation;  Ensure that regional governments have staff with the capacity to undertake planning, management and performance evaluation on strategic management approaches; Ensure better understanding of, and commitment to, the proper conduct of government business and to safeguard public property.  •   Enable the police and the judiciary to have significantly stronger ability to investigate and judge cases of impropriety in civil service delivery; Ensure that the media will be able to investigate and report cases of impropriety and corruption in government and the civil service; Ensure that federal and regional governments manage and promote staff on the basis of performance and in a fair and honest manner; Ensure that federal and regional governments operate within a comprehensive and complete legal framework for  civil service in hum an resource management; Ensure that federal and regional governments have staff with significantly better skills in human resource management; Ensure that federal and regional governments train staff of civil service institutions to implement government policies and priorities; Ensure that federal and regional governments are governed by  comprehensive legal frameworks for financial management; Ensure that federal and regional governments operate budgetary systems showing informed and rational annual and medium-term resource allocation reflecting government objectives and priorities; Ensure that federal and regional governments have in place improved accountability to elected representatives; Ensure that federal and regional governments make proper arrangements for acquiring, safeguarding and controlling financial and physical assets; Ensure that federal and regional governments have staff with significantly better financial management skills. 

The most important beneficiary of the CSRP is the Ethiopian public who will deal with a client-responsive civil service providing quality services with integrity. At the end of the reform, the civil service staff and work force will be a self-confident, competitive group inspired by a sense of service to the public. The private sector will reduce its transaction costs of doing business with the civil service.

The outcome of all these efforts was great and tremendous. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi summed it up in a few sentences (in 2011):

Unlike all previous governments our writ runs in every village. That has never happened in the history of Ethiopia. The state was distant, irrelevant. You paid tribute from time to time and if you didn’t like it you rebelled. That’s the history of Ethiopia.

Now we have a formally structured state, there is a school in every village and clinics in every village, roads, and infrastructure.

The new constitution is working; people are beginning to feel part of a larger entity. They are beginning to feel the benefits of belonging to a larger country.

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