THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION -Custodian of fairness and transparency in Namibia’s public service

THE Public Service Commission (PSC) is a Constitutional watchdog institution established to play an oversight role in the public service.

Amongst others, the PSC is mandated to ensure that recruitment into and within the Public Service is made in an equitable and impartial manner, free from patronage, discrimination and based on the principle of merit. Furthermore, it must also ensure that disciplinary action against public employees is fair and reasonable.

As custodian of fairness and transparency, the PSC is obliged by law to annually submit a report on its activities to Parliament.

The independent regulatory role of the PSC has in the past been criticized as being a stumbling block hampering the actions of offices, ministries and agencies as well as that of regional councils, especially when these institutions sought and failed to have it their own way. That notwithstanding, the PSC will unhesitatingly and without fear or favour continue to guard against any attempt aimed at circumventing procedural fairness and adherence to the Public Service Act, Staff Rules and Regulations.

The PSC will continue to advise government institutions to comply with and act in accordance with the provisions of policies, regulations and procedures in the execution of human resources practices as enshrined in the relevant acts pertaining to the public service. This is necessary to ensure that the public service corpse become professional, efficient and effective in service delivery.

The PSC is also committed to sustaining a responsive, efficient, effective and corrupt-free public service. In this commitment it relies on the qualitative advice, research and analysis of issues pertaining to human resources by the Secretariat of the Public Service Commission, as well as the Department Public Service Management.

The PSC has an open door policy to facilitate consultations with all its stakeholders. Through these consultations it is seeking to maintain and improve quality input into issues of human resource management involving two-way communication between itself and other role-players.

To keep abreast of happenings within Offices, Ministries and Agencies, (OMAs) teams of Commissioners have been assigned to various OMAs and Regional Councils, resulting in issues and concerns being brought directly to the attention of the Commission.

Balanced structuring of the public service

Since Namibia’s independence 21 years ago, the Public Service Commission has been playing its Constitutional role in ensuring the balanced structuring of the public service. Balanced structuring is being done through the implementation of the Affirmative Action (Employment) Act, 1998 (Act 29 of 1998).

This Act is aimed at achieving equal opportunity in employment in accordance with Articles 10 and 23 of the Namibian Constitution to redress the conditions in employment experienced by persons in designated groups arising from past discriminatory laws and practices. As such, the PSC has instituted procedures to contribute towards the elimination of discrimination in employment, i.e. gender and disabled persons.

Remarkable strides have been made in the balanced restructuring of the public service, especially in terms of disadvantaged groups and gender balancing. During the 2009/2010 financial year, Namibia’s public service consisted of 85 334 staff members, including political office bearers, and uniform members of the Namibian Defence Force, Police Force and Prisons and Correctional Services.

The civil service (excluding political office bearers, military and uniform staff) consisted of 57 066 officials, of which 34 007 were women and 23 059 men. Due to the oversight function of the Public Service Commission, the composition of the Namibian civil service is reflecting the composition of the nation in terms of gender, while the majority of positions in the public service are filled by previously disadvantaged Namibians. Special provision is also being made to accommodate the disabled in the Namibian public service.

The PSC viz-a-viz the High Offices

The Public Service Commission is tasked with advising the President and Government and making recommendations to the Prime Minister on appointments to public offices.

The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia (Chapter 5, Article 27) confers upon the President the executive power in the day-to-day governance of the country; (Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force). Equally, Article 32 of the same Constitution expects the President to discharge his/her powers, functions and duties as provided for by the Supreme Law of the country.

Article 32(7) on the powers, functions and duties of the President reads:” … subject to the provisions of this Constitution and of any other law of application in this matter; the President may, in consultation with Cabinet and on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission;”

(a) Constitute any office in the public service of Namibia not otherwise provided for by any other law;
(b) Appoint any person to such office;
(c) Determine the tenure of any person so appointed as well as the terms and conditions of his or her service.

As such, the President is in charge of Human Resources and all public officials are employed in the name of the President of the Republic who is ultimately accountable for their management and conduct.

The Prime Minister is responsible for the administration of the Public Service Act, 1995 (Act 13 of 1995 and directs the Public Service in so far as personnel matters are concerned. All appointments, promotions, transfers or discharges shall be made by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission. Thus, as the President has not been practically involved in HR-related issues, the Prime Minister exercises the powers as delegated functions, but at approval stage, i.e. after the PSC has made a recommendation. Therefore, the Prime Minister is not directly involved in the process of recruitment, except when he has to approve the PSC recommendations and all human resources’-related policies.

While the Prime Minister is responsible for the administration of the Public Service Act, 1995 (Act No 13 of 1995) in terms of Section 5 (1) and (2) according to which he approves various matters on the recommendations made by the PSC, he cannot reject or vary or set aside a recommendation of the PSC. Only the President can vary, reject or set aside such recommendations. The President does that, after he/she has consulted the PSC to hear how and why it recommended the way it did.

Regional Councils and the appointment of staff

In respect of staff provisioning to and management of human resources at the regional level of government, Section 23 (1) of the Regional Councils Act, 1992 (Act 22 of 1992), stipulates that the Regional Council is responsible for the “appointment, after consultation with the Minister, of a person as Chief Regional Officer … such other officers and employees of the Regional Council as it may deem necessary …”.

Furthermore, Sections 24 and 25 of the Regional Councils Act, 1992 (Act No 22 of 1992) as amended, read in conjunction with Section 6 of the Public Service Act, 1980 (Act 2 of 1980) as amended gives the Public Service Commission the power to perform the functions, carry out the duties and generally, to make recommendations relating to the employment or conditions of employment of staff members in terms of the Regional Councils Act.

Based on the above, a question can be asked whether the three Principal Authorities responsible for human resources ought to physically participate in recruitment processes of staff members being appointed to serve the respective public offices.

For example, the involvement of the President is limited to approvals of some appointments of suitable persons to specified categories of employment such as the Auditor-General and the Governor of the Bank of Namibia. The President exercises that assignment on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission.

Some Regional Councils have been literally interpreting “appointment” as meaning that councillors must physically sit in the interviews. However, councils are only expected to be involved at approval stage.

The Public Service (bureaucracy) is a complex and a formidable structure, hence the need for an independent institution for checks and balances. As an arbiter for fairness and transparency in the Namibian public service, the PSC monitors, verifies and audits procedural compliance whether in central or at regional level. It provides quality assurance that government policies, rules, regulations and ethical standards have been adhered to and complied with. It also ensures that employees are fairly treated and are not arbitrarily subjected to Government unreasonableness.

Cooperation between politicians and administrators is key to the success of the government and the whole country. The workings of any government rest on two pillars; the political and the bureaucratic control with their distinguishing characteristics, namely; policy-making for the former and policy-implementation, for the latter. There must be a sincere and honest attempt on the part of the bureaucracy to professionally meet the demands of the political structure. Civil servants are hired to serve the government of the day whatever its political colour.

Although respective mandates and responsibilities are separately bestowed upon stakeholders through different acts and at different times, they are mutually interwoven, intersected, complimentary, inclusive and reciprocal. Politics-regulation-administration complementarily and interdependence is a must and not an option. PF