Challenges of Public Administration Capacity Building in a Post-Conflict Country. An Interview with Dr C. William Allen from Liberian Civil Service Agency.

Dr. C. William Allen has been the Director General of Liberia’s Civil Service Agency (CSA) since March 2006. He responds to the AfCoP’s questions on the challenges of buildingcapacity and fostering new management methods in his post-conflict country’s public administration.

What were the consequences of 14 years of civil war on the Liberian civil service?

Firstly, there was a brain drain. Many of our best and brightest were either killed or fled the country for safe havens and greener economic pastures. The entire merit system collapsed as successive interim governments and warring factions took power. The civil service became bloated (from 25,000+ in pre-war years to about 45,000 by 2005). Most of the appointments were neither based on qualification nor on the infantile but established grading and classification system in place prior to April 12, 1980 when the military intervened in Liberian politics.

Since the end of the conflict in 2003, what progress has been made in the Liberian civil service and how is CSA’s Strategy being implemented?

There is now a comprehensive Civil Service Reform Strategy (CRS) in place which clearly defines the Government’s vision of “Smaller Government, Better Service.” This CRS is also aligned with the Government’s broader Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). The bloated number of 45,000 civil servants is now down to about 34,000. This reduction was achieved without any massive layoffs of civil servants, but rather by a systematic “rightsizing” process that has removed nearly 7,000 “ghost” names from the Government’s wage bill on the one hand, while on the other hand improving pension packages for those civil servants who have met the legal requirement to be pensioned either by age or tenure.

What are the challenges of building an effective public workforce in a post conflict country?

Based on our experience, the most challenging factor has been the nonexistent or limited human and institutional capacity brought about by the brain drain. Next would be the loss of institutional memory compounded by the destruction of vital public records.Add to this mix the quantum of expectations from the unemployed, war-affected population that jobs would be created instantly just because the conflict had ended and you begin to appreciate the magnitude of the challenges. Clearly, managing expectations features prominently among the challenges in building an effective public service workforce in any post-conflict country.

Which of your agency’s programs are you particularly proud of?

Others have told me that they are particularly impressed with our reform strategy document. That document lays out six prongs: Restructuring and Rightsizing; Pay and Pension Reform; Improving Service Delivery; Human Resources Management; Leadership Development; and Gender Equity in the Civil Service. But more pointedly, we are pleased with our Senior Executive Service (SES) program. This is a program designed to begin a reversal of the brain drain by recruiting 100 highly qualified Liberians into the Civil Service and assigning them to jobs in various ministries and agencies that have direct positive impact on advancing the reform and development agenda of the Government as spelled out in the PRS.These SES personnel are like change agents. The feedback so far is that the SES is doing well and those hired are transferring knowledge to their counterparts in a way that will make the program sustainable. We are optimistic that our Biometric Identification System (HRMIS) once completed this year, will be a model for eliminating “ghost” workers from the Wage Bill and establishing a “cradle-to-grave” record-keeping system for all Public Servants. We also have agraduate program in public financial management that will train up to 90 persons in six years so that we have a new cadre of financial managers schooled in accountability, transparency and ethical leadership in public financial management. These are a few programs that stand out, but there are others.

Why was it decided to make the CSA an independent body?

The Civil Service Agency was created by an Act of the National Legislature in 1973. The Liberian Civil Service however goes as far back as 1934. The decision to make the CSA an independent body was engendered by the realization that there was a need to increase the efficiency of the Public Service and to secure for deserving employees a responsible tenure of office and an opportunity for advancement according to merit and seniority and to place personnel employed by government on a competitive merit system.

The CSA is a government agency, but it is an independent body in that the Director General reports directly to the President and sits in the Cabinet; the Director General does not have to go through another Cabinet Member to perform his responsibilities. In that light, the Civil Service Agency is an independent public sector agency. Our Constitution states that Liberia should have an Independent Civil Service Commission. This is part of the legal framework we are considering as part of our Civil Service Reform.

How does your agency build capacity to manage for development results?

Capacities are built through training in collaboration with the Liberia Institute of Public Administration and other forms of training. There is also a lot of mentoring through our SES. The Cabinet recently approved a National Training Policy for Civil Servants and we are working with our development partners to develop a 10-year National Capacity Building Strategy. Also, our three-year PRS is now calibrated into bite sized 90-day deliverables that can be more easily measured for results. Most of our senior civil servants need guidance on how to manage for development results. I cannot say we are there yet, but there is certainly a commitment on the part of this government toward results-based management of our public institutions and limited resources.

What incentives are in place to attract and retain civil servants?

Salaries have been systematically increased since this government came into service in January 2006. Salaries of civil servants at the lowest level of the scale have increased six-fold in four years. The plan is to tie pay to performance and continue to increase pay rate. A new medium-term pay strategy is scheduled to be implemented with the new budget year in July this year. Working conditions have improved in most line ministries and agencies. Civil servants are protected by law from arbitrary and unfair disciplinary actions and a Board of Appeal is in place to hear grievances.

Does the Liberian CSA work with other African

Certainly. We have an ongoing training relationship with the Ghana Institute of Public Administration and Management (GIMPA). I have done study tours to observe best public sector reform practices in Uganda, Botswana, Rwanda, Nigeria and Zambia. Within the scope of regional cooperation, we have collaborative relationships with the other Mano River Union countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

I would also like to use this opportunity to thank all our development partners, because we could not have achieved all of this success without their support.

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Comment by Nuha on February 16, 2010 at 12:41am
Thanks dear Dr. C. William Allen for such an interesting interview, I found it very useful and it reflects the situation in most of the war affected African countries. What I like most about it is the straight forward analysis for the situation followed by a right solution for a problem
In Sudan we have the same problem of long lasted war and destroyed public service system. The efforts done till now are massive but we miss some main strategies:
a. The coordination of the reform efforts
b. And the right entry point for the reform
The financial and resources can be one corner for such process, but the lack of capacity among the people engaged in the planning and implementation through the evaluation of the reform process is essential. However currently it came to my knowledge that UNDP and the Ministry of Finance are piloting a reform project at the level of the ministry

Sometimes lacking the knowledge about the general situation in the country and urgencies can be destructive and may produce a false response. What we need first is to identify our gaps both human and institutional to plan for a massive data collection and situation analysis, then we have to restudy our reform trails then put an operational plan for the reform
Dear Dr. C. William Allen, I have 2 questions and I appreciate if I get answers:
1. What was the limit of involvement of national and international actors in this experience of Liberia
2. Form you opinion, what is normally the best entry point to interfere and improve the civil service sector?
Thank you very much

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