Prof. Weade Kobbah Boley of the state owned University of Liberia on June 23rd, 2022 addressed huge gathering at the celebration of the Public Service Day held in Monrovia lecturing them the importance of this day, and the significance role being played by those who honestly work in the interest of the majority.
Below is the full text of Prof. Weade Kobbah Boley’s speech delivered:
Today, as you celebrate public service day. I greet you with the fondest appreciation for the work done in the past, the work you continue to do, and the work you have yet to perform. I commend you because service to Liberia is the highest level of service any Liberian can perform, because it is service to humanity in the development of our country, Liberia. This is a privileged many yearn for but cannot attain because the functions of a public servant places enormous responsibilities on those who work in the interest of the people, for their good, by putting the public interest above their own.
A public Servant is a person who works for and is answerable to a government and not a political Party. They are the servants who should remain as governments change and go. Governments come and governments go, the civil service remains. This is because the public or civil servant works for any elected government developing policies and programs, ensuring their implementation and give advice to leaders. A civil or public servant is not appointed by the leadership but is employed by the entity he or she works for. The government, regardless of the leadership, depends on public servants to help them succeed in their plans for development. A weak public service stagnates development and jeopardizes the future of a country.
We often get it wrong by believing a change in government dictates a change in the civil service, No. The public service is what remains when politicians come and go. The civil or public service is that bridge between those who govern and the people they govern. A vibrant and effective Public Service determines the effectiveness and productivity in Government because members of the civil service are people who serve in all branches of government, and are depended upon to deliver government policies and programs. If the public service fails, the government fails. When the public Service succeeds, the Government succeeds. This places utmost responsibilities on leaders of Government entities to recognize the importance of the Civil Servants and work with them to achieve set goals and take step to ensure their implementation.
In Liberia, we have a popular expression, “we have the policies and programs, but the problem is implementation.” Implementation of governments policies and programs is the role of civil or public servants. These are people who have memories of the policies and programs, why they were initiated and the contexts in which they were promulgated with strategies for policy implementation. The role of the public servant is to determine the policies and programs of the government, plan, organize and direct and control their implementation. How many of you, public servants, know what the policies and programs are of this government? How have you segmented them in terms of your various assignments and how are you to assist in their implementation? Government policies and programs are intertwined and cut across all agencies. For Example, implementing the Pro poor Agenda requires the different agencies of Government to dissect the agenda and extract the portion applicable, develop strategies and ensure implementation at all levels. So when you bring all of the parts together, you have a composite whole of the development mosaic. Then you know how every sector performed. This is how the civil service contributes to national development.
The theme of this years, public servants’ day is “The role of Public Administration in Building and Sustaining Peaceful Co-Existence among Communities”. I have chosen to direct your thoughts on “The Honor to serve: Quality of an Effective Public Service in Liberia’s development”.
Public service is a calling to duty to serve and promote the common good for society’s development. Public servants are the most important public administrators in any bureaucracy. The development of today’ s world makes it imperative to have a vibrant public service. There is an international clamoring for more transparency and accountability in the way public officials and servants’ manage the public interests. Liberia is responding to the calls enshrine in the sustainable development goals for better education and health care, gender equality, access to sanitation and pure drinking water, electricity, etc.
Added to these are imperatives of good governance which imply transparency, accountability, adherence to the rule of law, efficiency and effectiveness, inclusion and minimization of corruption. This means service to our country comes with extreme responsibilities and only people who are prepared to serve with commitment, dedication and selflessness are qualified to be called public servants. Consequently, entry into public service should not be by affiliation to any political entity, ethnicity, fraternity or partiality. In the Liberian context, the case is different. When there is a change in Government, we believe there should be a change in the civil service culminating into stagnation of policy implementations, continuity and effectiveness because new persons have to learn how to function as public servants. We create a two-prong problem of unemployment of professionally qualified personnel and implementation gaps in programs and policies. More frustratingly, replacements in the civil service are often not meritorious resulting to a lot of square pegs in round holes which impedes the accomplishment of national developments agenda. There can be no peaceful co-existence among communities brought about by public servants, until we address the ills in the public service with the proper solutions. The first action is the promulgation of policies which make it impossible to replace Civil Servants from the position of Director down, regardless of the government in power for stability and continuity. It also helps the provision of an effective social service because retirement benefits and pensions schemes can be easily projected and disbursement planning more reliable.
To develop Liberia, a country with an illiteracy rate of over 48 percent as stated by the Ministry of Education, the world bank, and UNESCO, the quality of our civil service needs improvement. The Civil Service Agency needs to be more vigorous in civil servants’ assessment and qualification to hold public office. The CSA needs to be more robust and proactive in ascertaining people who enter the public service understand what the service is about and not to assume a government job requires extortion to perform. This requires constant testing and evaluation across the agencies and the establishment of clear practices for employment, gradation, and promotion where civil servants will get equal pay for equal work of equal worth and minimize corruption in the service. The age-old adage of “Where you tie a goat is where it will eat” is wrong, corrupt, and decadent.
My personal experience over the last two weeks, attempting to secure public service from government paid public employees in three agencies, left me bereft, frustrated and totally devastated.
While the international community is hammering us about corruption, we believe institutionalizing it is normal. This accentuates the need to put integrity back into the public service. Integrity in public service means instilling ethical, values, mores and norms to prioritize the public interest over personal interest. These are the minimal standard expected of a government employee. Ethical standards, in the public service, are standards when violated will bring the employee and institution to public disrepute. In most instances, they bring the government to disrepute. Nobody should be charged extra fees and risk not being served until self- imposed charges are complied with. This is corruption. It is these unethical behaviors which are killing our country that we should strive to remove, not institutionalize. Unfortunately, this is the story of all of our public institutions and agencies. More disgustingly, some of our public servants will tell you, this is our time. Time to do what? Denigrate our country and place it in an embarrassing position internationally? Time to enrich yourself at the expense of the Public you are called to serve? How can we build use our public service to build better Communities and Liberia? Petty extortion from the public and grand misuse of state resources are all corruption, only at different levels. Today, we even flaunt it as if the public is blind or indifferent.
When Civil servants receive salaries on a regular basis and do not go to work, or perform duties for which they are being paid, yet are contended to have people call them the “Papay children.”, meaning they can do anything they like without reprisals. they do a disservice to the Government and fail Liberians. We are all Papay’s children because we are all Liberians. When your actions embarrass the Papay, you embarrass all of us and our country. There is a direct correlation between dereliction of duties and inefficiency. These unethical problems range from low level civil servants to the highest levels. Code of conduct violations should be enforced and receive the requisite punitive measures to stem out unethical practices in public service delivery and serve as deterrent to all desirous of future violations. After all, Papay needs dedicated civil servants who can help him build a better Liberia not break it down and ruin his legacy.
Some of us have that commitment and dedication to duty. If we are in leadership positions in our offices, we need to demand that of our staff. It is only when we instill discipline, commitment to duty and integrity that we can start to empower communities and put Liberia on an unstoppable development trajectory. Until then, we will remain the proverbial old country of “growth without development” The future of Liberia is in our hands. We can nurture it or kill it by our actions.
Years ago, to enter the public service required passing a civil service test at the entry level you choose. In fact, having civil service qualification was an added incentive to acquire employment. While a student at the University of Liberia, I sat and passed three tests at different levels to prepare me for the job market before my graduation. Many of my colleagues did the same. I am still reaping the benefits today.
Promotion in the civil service was also based on merit and performance. Civil servants knew if they worked hard, they would be rewarded. Today, career civil servants can be removed and replaced without notice as if they were appointed government officials who serve at the will and pleasure of the President. How can we then ensure continuity in Government? Liberia needs a system, where irrespective of the government, certain categories of civil servants will retain their jobs until retirement age or get dismissed only for acts inconsistent with their roles of office. Let’s look at the other side of the divide.
Dignity in the call to serve