Over the past decades, Somalia has experienced extreme trials and tribulations, impacting almost everything. One severely affected but largely overlooked area is the country's civil service sector. Somalia's relatively brief history of statehood spans just over six decades, with nearly half of it lost to devastating civil conflict and another two decades to a vicious era of dictatorship. The country has no noteworthy history of an effective civil service machinery, though there have been better times. For instance, prior to the military authority, civilian governments made commendable efforts, particularly under Prime Minister Abdirisaq Haji Hussein, as part of President Aden Abdulle Osman's second government. During those days, politics had little or no place in civil service management and appointment, while later on, crucial civil service positions, like Director Generals, became political cards in the hands of incumbent leaders.
Although the country is currently recovering admirably on all fronts, especially in the security sector and public financial and debt management, the main pillar – the government civil service – is not sound enough to support the structure. They can only fulfill basic clerical duties and lack essential skills and traits, such as policymaking and evaluating the performance and functions of their officers. The majority of the existing workforce, particularly those in higher positions, have been appointed due to political patronage and clan-balancing considerations, with limited consideration given to other critical qualities like experience and capacity. Clearly, such an environment cannot produce the desired civil servants and requires urgent reform. This article will focus on the challenges facing Somalia's civil service machinery and offer ways to address existing challenges, which, if left unchecked, have the potential to derail all other efforts. This will help policymakers confront this ominous but less visible predicament.
Current Somalia Civil Servants
All academic disciplines relating to politics and social affairs consider effective government civil service as a necessary precondition for the function of any state. Renowned sociologist and political theorist Max Weber defined government bureaucracy as a system of administration that manages and implements public policies and services. Weber described them as a system, and for the most part, civil servants are recognized as a machine. That is an accurate and meaningful analogy – the state is the vehicle, and civil servants are the engine to propel it. There is no movement without a properly functioning machine. With that analogy in mind, the reality of our government civil service needs to be brought under the spotlight. In short, a combination of institutional weakness, absence of effective legal frameworks, poor policies and procedures, and lack of mandatory training programs, as well as inadequate delivery institutions, are the main challenges facing Somalia's civil servants.
To begin with, there are serious overlapping regulatory and management roles bestowed on the current National Civil Service Commission (NCSC). As an independent constitutional body, the NCSC has the mandate to set rules, standards, and procedures for recruiting, promoting, dismissing, and disciplining civil servants. Moreover, the NCSC is responsible for leading and managing civil servants, effectively serving a dual regulatory and management role. As a result, government departments cannot recruit staff without the NCSC's permission, meant to ensure that government agencies have the necessary budget for the salaries of new staff. However, staff have been employed with the commission's consent but without salary allocation or even employment positions to fill. The NCSC has managed to ensure the availability of a budget for new recruits but has failed to stop overstaffing. The NCSC possesses immense management and leadership powers, which would be better vested in the government through a new Cabinet Office for the Civil Service. By doing so, the NCSC's mandate can be better focused on regulatory oversight while avoiding conflicts of interest in performing management functions.
On the other hand, dysfunctional grading and hiring practices have created a messy environment in the civil service. This approach classifies civil servants into four grades (A to D) based solely on their qualifications, ignoring factors like age, expertise, rank, length of service, and the significance of their work. Consequently, an upside-down pyramid of civil service personnel has emerged, with many university-educated individuals promoted to level A for better pay, regardless of experience or contribution. This system has resulted in more staff concentrated in higher pay grades than lower ones. It seems that recruitment procedures have become a welfare system, with positions created and salaries provided to people without specific roles or tasks. For instance, a grim example of over-staffing is a ministerial department with over 300 staff on its payroll but only six offices, which obviously cannot accommodate such a large staff population.
Practical Steps for Improvement
To change this bleak reality, I argue that the following steps must be taken as soon as possible. First, the government should split the dual roles of the NCSC. The Civil Service Commission should remain a regulatory body responsible for upholding the principles of impartiality and integrity of the civil service. To do so, a modern and effective legal framework must be developed, and laws no 10 and 11 that establish the NCSC and govern the Civil Service must be reviewed, improved, and harmonized. The legal framework should be designed to ensure that the Civil Service operates in a transparent, accountable, and merit-based manner. It should be able to fight corruption and nepotism that are currently prevalent in the civil service. This can include establishing clear criteria for recruitment and promotion, defining performance standards and metrics, and establishing mechanisms for disciplining and dismissing civil servants who fail to meet these standards.
Establishment of a Cabinet Office for Civil Service (COCS)
The COCS, a first in Somalia, would be the federal government's organ responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in all civil service-related affairs. The COCS would provide policy advice and support on cross-cutting issues such as national security, government transparency, and efficiency. This Cabinet Office would also oversee the civil service and set standards for managing and delivering government services. Currently, government departments do not share best practices or knowledge due to a lack of horizontal relationships across agencies and departments. The COCS should provide this horizontal coordinating role, ensuring overall technical management between departments and agencies.
In general, a key challenge facing Somali Civil Service personnel is their inability to develop policies or effectively manage personnel. To address this, the new COCS should have the necessary powers to develop policies and strategies guiding civil service operations. The COCS would oversee the recruitment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, and disciplining of civil servants, ensuring appointments are made on merit, based on fair and open competition. The NCSC, on its part, should set rules and standards for recruitment, selection, and promotion within the civil service while monitoring compliance and investigating alleged breaches.
Recognition and Best Practices
Recognition is crucial for improving government institutions' performance. Acknowledging and rewarding best practices encourages civil servants to excel and fosters a culture of excellence. The government should establish a national award system recognizing outstanding civil servants and departments based on objective criteria such as performance indicators, customer satisfaction ratings, and compliance with ethical and professional standards. Recognizing and rewarding civil servants for outstanding performance is a powerful motivator and can help attract and retain the best talent in the civil service.
Grading and Hiring Practices
The Federal Government of Somalia's Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs has been working diligently on a new pay and grading policy, which is reportedly awaiting Cabinet approval. This policy should introduce a new grading system that factors in civil servants' rank and years of service, acknowledging their contributions. Additionally, each government position should have a precise job description, ensuring that employees are assigned roles based on qualifications and experience rather than in an arbitrary manner. The government must guarantee that civil servants are hired for specific tasks and that sufficient office space and job requirements are available. By doing this, the government can ensure civil servants are productive and contribute effectively to the development of essential infrastructure to modernize the country.
Size of Workforce
Due to fiscal and practical realities, the current size of the civil service workforce is unsustainable. To tackle this issue, the government must investigate ways to reduce or eliminate redundant and overlapping roles. One solution is a hiring freeze, a highly effective measure to decrease the number of civil servants. By halting new hiring until the existing workforce reaches a manageable level, the government can cut expenses and enhance efficiency. Furthermore, conducting a skills audit can identify areas where civil servants possess overlapping or unnecessary skills. This allows the government to reallocate personnel to areas where their skills are most needed, resulting in a more efficient and effective civil service workforce.
Improving Performance and Professionalism
To establish an effective civil service in Somalia, the creation of a National Civil Service Institute is crucial, either as a stand-alone institution or under the auspices of the national university. Current and future civil servants should receive training on best practices in service delivery, policymaking, and performance evaluation. The training should be mandatory and last at least one year to ensure civil servants are adequately equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills. Additionally, a compulsory National Civil Service Examination (NCSE) should be introduced to confirm civil servants possess the required skills and knowledge. All existing and future civil servants must pass this exam before joining government institutions, and the examination should cover core areas such as policymaking, service delivery, ethics, and communication skills.
Developing an effective civil service in Somalia is crucial for achieving good governance, promoting economic development, and ensuring social cohesion. The recommendations in this article are based on best practices and experiences and can be used to both strengthen and guide the development of Somalia's civil service machinery. Creating a Cabinet Office for Civil Service, establishing a National Civil Service Institute, implementing a compulsory National Civil Service Examination, and introducing a National Award System are all critical components for building effective civil service machinery in Somalia. By concentrating on these areas, public service delivery will improve, transparency and accountability will be enhanced, and a culture of excellence will be cultivated.
Abdirahman Farah (Luunge)