January 11, 2018
Is the Minister, master or servant? Is the civil servant’s employment one of serfdom?
These and other questions arise out of the NIA’s “All Rise” ruling. Seemingly, the mischief being corrected is endemic lack of courtesy in the Civil Service.
Honour and respect are due to positions of authority – teacher, high command, Minister, head of government and head of state. However, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3). Things must be taken in context.
If the authority figure is always in the room, continuous standing is absurd. Certainly, those who are incompetent, partial and offensive should expect resistance.
To my mind, the bigger issue is regard for rule of law. If we are a nation of laws then why are we consumed by indiscriminate dumping, interpersonal violence, uncontrolled street vending, nepotism, victimization, sexual display in public, and other forms of lawlessness?
Honour and respect are disrupted when persons in authority flout rules and procedures established to create and maintain good order. Familiarity breeds contempt. Lack of civility is a leadership failure contributed by actions that place self (ego and party) above the country.
Since “Massa day done”, Minister and civil servant are equal before the law in their separate roles. Separation of Powers and Rule of Law are irreplaceable principles therefore vital to the sustainable development future of the Federation. They foster the highest levels of government accountability, social justice, communal peace, competitiveness, and resilience.
The pronouncement from Charlestown is an opportunity to examine how we are governed. Fundamentally, those who govern do so legitimately only with the consent of the governed (adapted from John Locke). Consent of the governed plays out in the exercise of free and fair elections contested on equitable boundaries. It is the citizen who is truly sovereign; not the Minister and not some extra-territorial entity.
Civil servants are resident citizens whose votes help elect the candidate to the legislature and form the government. Ministers cannot then become overlords. Ministers are leaders who serve.
Minister and civil servant must stay in their respective lanes while preserving a symbiotic relationship. The Constitution is very clear about lane assignment. Section 61 states: “Where any Minister has been charged with responsibility for any department of the Government, he shall exercise general direction and control over that department; and, subject to such direction and control every department of the Government shall be under the supervision of a Permanent Secretary whose office shall be a public office.”
In essence, Cabinet decides the policies; the legislature approves the budget. Thereafter, the required implementation is carried out by line ministries where the Permanent Secretary is chief of administration/chief accounting officer for tax payers money, employee matters, and civility, among other things such as use of vehicles and other assets after normal working hours.
The Civil Service is a discipline organization whose rules of decorum must refreshed and reinforced ad infinitum. In that regard, the authority best placed to make pronouncements is the Head of the Civil Service (Chief Secretary) acting with the assistance of colleague permanent secretaries. Likewise, it is the duty of the head of government (federal and local) to be the exemplar of ministerial etiquette.
The Office of the Permanent Secretary holds the key to good order. The best performers keep both feet firmly planted in the Civil Service; both eyes on the Constitution and the Public Service Code; and one ear cocked the Minister’s way. Indeed, every Minister needs a competent Permanent Secretary to help separate froth from mauby.