YANDE SYAMPEYO,Â Â Â Lusaka
The decision to place permanent secretaries on performance contracts is seen as a way of enhancing service delivery in the public service.
The level of service in most government ministries is a daily complaint by members of the public.
They are less than satisfied with the level and quality of the service offered by the public service despite the high academic credentials possessed by most public service workers and other reform initiatives progressively implemented by Government.
It is for this reason that the need for professional permanent secretaries came about, resulting in the placement of the controlling officers on performance-based contracts.
Who is a permanent secretary?
A permanent secretary is an administrative head of the ministry and a controlling officer. The office of the PS is responsible for directing and co-ordinating activities of the ministry. It performs the policy-setting role while the functional heads of department are responsible for executing the technical aspects of the ministryâ€™s functions.
It is the duty of the PS to ensure that there are effective linkages among and within departments under the ministry by strengthening internal systems to improve co-ordination and communication for the effective performance of the ministry.
This is done by putting in place effective management and control mechanisms such as, quarterly and monthly meetings at which long and short term issues affecting the performance of the ministry are discussed and reports presented on activities carried out and what is planned for the future.
Addressing the problem
In Governmentâ€™s quest to accelerate the realisation of a smart government and subsequently improve service delivery in the civil service, a performance-based management system was implemented for permanent secretaries. The system has clearly defined targets which aim to promote high performance among the controlling officers.
During the official opening of the first session of the 12th National Assembly, President Lungu noted that the performance based system is now operational in the category of permanent secretaries.
The programme will be cascaded to other levels of the public service including ministers with their boards, boards with their chief executive officers and local authorities with their chief executives.
What is a Performance-Based Contract System?
Performance management systems have been defined as processes designed by management and implemented by the employer mainly in an attempt to link performance to reward. This is achieved through measuring individual performance against set goals.
Performance management system is a tool for improving the work performance and productivity of individuals, teams and organisations.
The system enables individuals and organisation to achieve strategic ambitions through processes that are both systemic and systematic. It focuses on future performance planning and improvement rather than retrospective performance appraisal.
The aim of the performance management is to promote and improve employee effectiveness. It is a continuous process where managers and employees work together to plan, monitor and review an employeeâ€™s work objectives and his or her overall contribution to the organisation.
The Civil Servants and Allied Workers Union (CSAWUZ), one of the public service unions is delighted with the introduction of the performance management contract system.
CSAWUZ secretary general Joe Beene says it is cardinal for the civil service to provide quality service as Zambians have high expectations.
Mr Beene says if Zambia has to develop to a medium income country, it requires a highly productive civil service.
â€œThe civil service has a mandate to provide quality service to the public and this should begin with performing controlling officers.
â€œWe give the President a â€˜pat on the backâ€™ for this programme. We need more of such initiatives so that that we can turn the civil service into a vibrant one,â€ Mr Beene says.
He wants the performance contracts to be reviewed periodically to ensure non-performing PSâ€™s are relieved of their duties.
â€œIt is our wish that the performance of the newly- appointed ministers can also be reviewed timely so that we can be guaranteed of the best service,â€ he says.
A governance activist Reuben Lifuka says the decision by the Patriotic Front (PF) administration to introduce performance-based contracts for PSâ€™s is long overdue and a welcome development.
He says men and women that are privileged to serve as PSâ€™s should realise that only good performance and delivery on set goals, should be the normal.
â€œModern public service has evolved and today, it is run or expected to be run by competent and goal driven technocrats.
â€œPerformance-based contracts will allow the supervising officers including the secretary to the cabinet to gauge the attainment of set goals,â€ he says.
Mr Lifuka says the introduction of performance-based contracts should not be a mere statement by President Lungu but should be backed up with periodic monitoring and evaluation of the conduct of PSâ€™s.
He observes that it is also imperative for President Lunguâ€™s administration, to urgently introduce similar performance based contracts for all chief executive officers of quasi-governmental bodies including state owned enterprises.
â€œIt is time that President Lungu, in his appointment of permanent secretaries looked beyond the usual places (public service) and spread his net wider to bring on board many competent Zambians who are capable.
â€œPolitical patronage has in the past made public service – a parking ground for political cadres. Now is the time to change that system,â€ he says.
Performance-based management systems are increasingly important in the public sector in responding to budgetary and fiscal pressures, increasing demands for public services, and the need for more transparency in reporting on the use of government funds.
It is hoped that this system will instil confidence in the public and subsequently trigger hard work among PSâ€™s and the civil service at large.