Adegoroye: tenure is instrument of political appointment

 

Goke Adegoroye

Goke Adegoroye

• Age, Years Of Service Instruments Of Career Appointment

Recently, the Federal Government in an unprecedented move renewed the appointment of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Jemila Shu’ara, drawing the ire of senior civil servants. Dr. Goke Adegoroye, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) tells KARLS TSOKAR why he thinks government’s decision is in line with extant rules.

Why did the government re-appoint a Permanent Secretary whose tenure had expired; does this not contravene the rules of the service?

The primary existence of the civil service and all government institutions in general is to enable them organise government around problems. Problems of development such as provision of infrastructure, provision of services, education, health, security etc., are all tackled with the instruments of governance, as various institutions play their respective roles as executors of government decisions.

The failure of the government institutions to deploy instruments of governance to solve problems, as expected by the populace, and allowing the problems to linger and fester, like open wounds, has inadvertently put those institutions into a position where they have become the ones weaving problems around government.

Operations and processes in the civil service are guided by rules and regulations, which are encoded in documents called Public Service Rules (PSR), Financial Regulations (FR), and Extant Circulars, issued from time to time. These PSR, FR and Extant Circulars constitute the instruments of governance in the civil service. The ability of civil servants to uphold the public trust is, most often, a reflection of how well these rules are upheld. When, however, these rules are manipulated, wrongly interpreted, or there is a delay or outright failure in their application, what results is the type of problems we have at hand today.

The intention of government to source and retain a Perm Sec of the calibre of Dr. Jamila Shu’ara is quite in order, because the subsisting instruments of the Civil Service of the Federal Republic of Nigeria support it. It is a common practice in many countries. In Malaysia for example, I recall Tan Sri Mohammed Sidek Hassan, the Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia from 2006-2012, was re-appointed to the post of Chief Secretary to the Government three times, despite having reached the age of retirement in 2009.

The challenge here is the inability of the service leadership to provide government with proper articulation of the procedure to carry out the intention of government and communicate the same to the entire bureaucracy, to prevent the deluge of service-wide gossips, misrepresentations and maligning of character and protests from civil service labour unions, like the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), which the issue has now generated.

The premise of 35 years of service and/or 60 years of age as due date of retirement on which the criticism of government in the “extension” of service of Dr. Shu’ara is based is a wrong premise, because it runs contrary to political/Presidential appointments and the application of the Tenure Policy. It is a manifestation of the tri-dimensional gaps that the civil service has in recent years been facing, especially at its top echelon, namely: Capacity Gap; Institutional Memory Gap; and Integrity Gap.

If what is contained in the newspapers about how the purported “extension” of service was communicated is correct, then one could see why the ASCSN kicked against it, calling it “a time bomb” and threatening a showdown with government. I have also found out that many civil servants are threatening massive requests for extension of their own service when they clock 60 years or attain 35 years of service, since precedence has now been laid.

Apparently, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation was acting on the premise of the mandatory conditions of service for career appointments (35 years of service/60 years of age), which in the case of Dr. Shu’ara is not the correct premise. Unfortunately, even if the officer were to be treated under the career appointment conditions, like all officers under the control of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), the communication that her “emoluments and other conditions of service would be sustained till 17 February, 2017” cannot hold as it has implications for pension calculations. I was discussing this issue with a retired Perm Sec colleague friend of mine and his reaction is that this is a very basic issue that a Principal Admin Officer (GL 12) in the service should know.

In the first instance, there is nothing like “extension of retirement period” in the Public Service Rules, and one is at a loss as to what the expression is intended to convey. Is it the “length of the period of retirement that the officer has commenced” (considering that there is no specified period attached to retirement, since one is not God) or “the due date of retirement” of the officer, which, I believe, is what was intended?

Can the tenure of a civil servant then be extended after the due date of retirement is attained?

There is no provision in the civil service for the extension of due date of retirement. And certainly, no one can determine the length of retirement! What can be done in that instance is to approve her retirement and give her an offer of contract appointment. But in reality, the officer is an appointee of the President and not of the FCSC. In addition, like all top civil servants on the grades of Director and Permanent Secretary since January 2010, she is under the Tenure Policy.

Tenure is an instrument of political appointment, while years of service and age are instruments of career-based appointments. The two are distinctly different; they are meant to run on parallel tracks and are therefore not supposed to intersect or overlap.

According to sections 169-171 of the Constitution, it is the President that is vested with powers to appoint and remove: Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Permanent Secretaries, Ambassadors, as well as Heads of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Parastatals and Agencies. While the constitution specifically states that “appointment to the post of Head of the Civil Service of the Federation shall not be made except from among Permanent Secretaries or equivalent rank whether at the federal or state (level)”, it fails to specify the rank from where Permanent Secretaries are to be appointed. That was the loophole, through which two of the 18 persons appointed Perm Secs, last October, were brought in from outside the civil service. If the President can appoint someone as Perm Sec from outside the civil service, re-appointing a retired Perm Sec would even be more welcome to civil servants.

What then is the problem?

There is an obvious lack of understanding about the correct way to apply and implement provisions of the Tenure Policy in the management of the career of permanent secretaries. Such lack of understanding is what has led to the overlay of tenure on 60 years of age/35 years of service, as laid out in the Public Service Rules. Such mishmash is what has allowed Permanent Secretaries to take advantage of both provisions, which smacks of a desire to have their cake and eat it. While the service may not have been quite conscious of it, it is the main reason why, in five years of operating the Tenure Policy, before President Buhari came in, it was not possible to offload even one Perm Sec from the corps of Perm Secs.

The basic requirement in the application of Tenure, as contained in the extant circulars is “that career officers who wish to take up tenured appointments should, at the point of taking up the appointment, retire from service, to ensure they run their term uninterrupted”.

In other words, at the point of appointment as Permanent Secretary, the affected civil servant is expected to put in his/her letter of retirement, as Director, to be able to take on the new appointment. That is what we have been doing for officers in the larger public service taking up appointment as Director General or Executive Secretary etc.

Extant circulars on the issue are now three. The first circular Ref. No. HS/PSA/6314/16 of December 20, 1979 was issued by the then HCSF, G.A.E. Longe, while the second circular Ref. No. CND.100/III/608 of June 28, 2002 titled, “Acceptance of Political Appointments by Career Public Officers”, clarifying and reaffirming the intent of the earlier circular of 1979, was issued by the then HCSF, M. Yayale Ahmed.

Following my intervention, after observing service-wide irregularity in the application of those earlier circulars, Stephen Oronsaye within his first month in office as HCSF had to issue another circular on July 27, 2009, (Circular Ref. No. HCSF/EMS/EIR/B.63694/ IV/T/196) titled: Interpretation of Public Service Rules on Compulsory Retirement Age/Year of Service in Relation to Tenured Appointments of Serving Public Officers, which among others, stressed that “career officers who are currently holding tenured appointments are required to retire from service with immediate effect and continue to run their term”.

Unfortunately, in retirement, I continued to observe that the civil service was still misapplying the provisions of the Tenure Policy. That was why, during the public presentation of my books: Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria (RGGN) Volume 1 – The Civil Service Pathway; and Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria Volume 2 – Leadership And Political Will, in June last year, I had to make the statement for all to hear.

I said: “Tenure is an instrument of political appointment while age and years of service are instruments of career appointment and disengagement. Both cannot be used at the same time, as they are mutually exclusive. By their failure to abide by the provisions of those circulars, either by act of omission or commission, the entirety of our Permanent Secretary cadre and the Head of the Civil Service himself, have rendered their current appointments irregular”.

That statement was to call the attention of the civil service leadership to the need to correct the situation and ensure proper application of Tenure. If this had been done, it would have not only solved this current problem but also prevented the lingering crisis in the Federal Ministry of Health, where Consultant Grade 1 officers on GL 17 who have been on post for eight years are refusing to vacate office, citing the fact that their current Perm Sec was originally one of them. On the surface, it is a moral question. If the provisions of the circular on tenure appointments were properly applied, the affected Perm Sec, a medical doctor herself who made her career in the same Ministry, would have been able to cite the fact that she had earlier retired and is now on political appointment. That would have given her the courage to discharge her duties.

You can now see why I say it appears that for my colleagues still in the service, rather than organising government around problems, they inadvertently seem to be organising problems around government; which is probably why our President was saying that some public officers might be out to undermine his administration.

Personally, I do not believe that civil servants would intentionally seek to sabotage their Comander-in-Chief. Rather, that impression seems to be an outcome of the frustrations arising from service delivery based on the level of capacity that currently exists within the top hierarchy of the service. It is the justification for the retention request of someone, like Dr. Jamila Shu’ara, who I describe in RGGN Volume 1 Chapter 8, which assessed the deployment of Perm Secs, as “an effective officer of high integrity that I can vouch for”. Dr. Shu’ara has a sound educational background; she is not in the group of civil servants who parade questionable Masters and Doctorate degrees from substandard and unaccredited universities.

In one of your books, you talked extensively on this topic. Can you throw more light?

The challenge of institutional memory of the service is grave. When I was writing my book, I was complaining that we have Perm Secs who have not spent up to 10 years in the service. Amazingly, we now have appointees that are totally from outside the system, and you can imagine the challenges being faced in the Ministries where they are deployed.

My book was based on the assessment of the capacity of the service and the need to do something to bridge the knowledge gap, especially for the top hierarchy and political office holders. In Chapter 16, which discusses Permanent Secretary, I provided a short-term solution to this capacity gap at the higher levels of the service. I suggested that the President can scout and headhunt from among serving and retired Directors and Perm Secs, competent officers of high integrity who can be persuaded to come in for, say two years, to render service and mentor those who would take over from them.

There is no doubt that civil servants would be more comfortable working under such former senior colleagues than under those totally from outside the system who seem to be having serious challenge with operating the civil service culture. Long-serving senior directorate level officers, who know their onions, respect and worship superior officers who would improve their submission. What makes them uncomfortable is the ordeal of unending rigours and challenges inherent in a subordinate having need to put through his/her superior officer in the bureaucracy on virtually every process and procedure in the office, while making a submission.

Such situations do not engender creativity; neither does it encourage them to put in their best. Rather, sadly, the best officers in the service, those with the institutional memory of the service, who came into the service in the administrative cadre between 1983 and 1986 are now concentrated in GL 16 and 17 and are due to retire within the next three/five years.

The Head of Service of the Federation has faced her own criticisms. How has she performed so far?

I believe that the current HCSF is trying her best, within the very obvious challenges of her coming into the federal civil service mid-stream in her career and her professional background as an accountant up till the time of her appointment as Perm Sec in 2013. I expect that she is consulting widely to enrich her decision-making process. I recall that after the President announced the merger of some Ministries in October, last year, she was able to assemble an excellent team of retired Perm Secs, like Chief Okafor, Akin Arikawe, Tukur Ingawa, and some past Heads of the Civil Service of the Federation, including her own mentor, Alhaji Isa Bello Sali; which was good. But that kind of professional support can work only in ad hoc assignments. For day-to-day response to issues, whoever is in that position would have to rely on the knowledge, expertise, and institutional memory of oneself and his/her immediate subordinates.



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