PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
Thomas Jefferson, the American Statesman and Founding Father who served as the nation’s third President from 1801 to 1809, made an incisive observation about the role of the government that holds true more than two centuries later: Governments exist for the interest of the governed, not the governors. Public service is the cornerstone of any government. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Public Service Commission of Kenya (PSC) remains the oldest constitutional commission in Kenya with a mandate that pre-dates the country’s independence.
The role of the PSC includes the provision of competent human resources, promotion of good governance, and ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of quality services in the public service. The Commission has the mandate of managing the entry, tenure and exit of civil servants in the public service, making it a key enabler of the government’s development agenda.
Pivotal turning point
For most of its history, the PSC has had to grapple with extended periods of steady decline in the quality of service in the public sector owing to factors such as political interference in public sector appointments and the cancer of corruption, which continues to eat away at the country’s social and moral fabric while costing tax payers billions of shillings every year. Between 1970 and 2000, there were no less than four inquiries into the state of public service – the Ndegwa Commission Report in the 70s, the Waruhiu Committee Report in the 80s, and the Munene Committee Report and Kipkulei Commission Report in the late 90s. A consistent key finding by these commissions and committees was that the performance, productivity, and service delivery of the civil service was low and required improvement.
The turn of the new millennium, particularly after the Mwai Kibaki-led Narc government ascended to power, marked a pivotal turning point for the PSC. To drive President Kibaki’s ambitious Economic Recovery Program, which sought to revive the economy and create employment opportunities following the stagnancy and wanton theft that characterized the final years of the Kanu regime, the PSC introduced performance contracting in ministries, departments, and ministerial state agencies for the first time. Though highly unpopular, the move proved effective in getting the civil service back on track. Many important commercial State Corporations registered profits in their operations for the first time in decades.
Another key moment for the PSC was the passing of the new Constitution. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 brought a high level of political awareness among citizens and led to demand for high quality services, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, equity, and accountability in public service delivery. To respond to these demands, the PSC underwent a major overhaul and was reconstituted with a wider mandate and a leaner membership of 9 down from 17 members under the previous Commission.
A leaner and more focused PSC, with commissioners appointed based on merit and not political connections, has helped transform the public service in the years following the promulgation of the new Constitution. No Kenyan can dispute the fact that Huduma Centers, for example, have had a transformative impact on the delivery of essential government services such as issuance of national identity cards. Similarly, the successful roll out of the e-citizen portal has revolutionized how Kenyans access government services. The e-citizen portal, which is integrated with leading digital payment services, has allowed Kenyans to get government services much faster at the comfort of their homes while rooting out corruption and inefficiencies associated with manual systems. More examples abound demonstrating just how transformative the past decade has been in terms of the quality of public service in Kenya.
Citizen-centric public service
The Current Commission is the second to be established under the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It was fully constituted and sworn into office on 17th January 2019. Building on the successes registered under the new Constitutional dispensation, the Commission has set the vision of achieving a citizen-centric public service.
To achieve this, the Commission’s Strategic Plan 2019 -2024 has zeroed in on three strategic imperatives–efficient service delivery; ethical and value based public service; and enhancing the Commission’s capacity to deliver on its mandate.
The Commission has also recognized the integral role of ICT in driving its agenda and is pushing for continued integration of ICT systems within the public service for efficient service delivery and sealing of loopholes that engender corruption.
Likewise, deeper integration of ICT into public service is expected to play an important role in onboarding young people into the public service, considering they are more tech savvy than older demographics. This should help the Commission achieve its succession management goals while addressing the challenges presented by the youth bulge. 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is under the age of 35 and majority of this demographic are unemployed.
According to the Economic Survey 2020, the public service had 842,900 workers in 2019, more than double the number in 1980. The public sector therefore represents one of the most attractive employment opportunities given the continued growth in the public sector work force, which will only accelerate as county governments build more human resource capacity to serve wananchi in the years ahead. Pairing young Kenyans with jobs in the public service will not only address the youth unemployment challenge, but also help instill values of patriotism and service, countering the negative influences that have led many youths into despondency, alcohol and substance abuse, and crime.
The push by the PSC to build a more citizen-centric public service is underpinned by its commitment to the national development agenda. This includes the Kenya Vision 2030, Medium Term Plan III (MTP III) and the Big Four Agenda on manufacturing, food security, universal health care and affordable housing. It also aligns to the Africa Agenda 2063 and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Following his appointment to the high office of chairman of the PSC in 2018, the late Stephen Kirogo found himself strategically positioned to influence a new direction for the public service. He was able to apply the public service ideals of honour, trust and commitment that he cherished dearly. He was passionate about performance management and inculcated a culture of performance in a bid to turn around the long-held image of the public service as a corrupt, inept and lethargic institution. His recipe for improving productivity in the public service is the implementation of a measurable performance management framework that is underpinned by values and ethical conduct, performance culture and value for money.
In the short period he was at the helm of the PSC which is responsible for managing the human resource in the entire public service, the late Chairman superintended over the introduction of far-reaching reforms in the public sector, guided by a transformative Strategic Plan 2019-2024. Indeed, his priority assignment upon replacing Prof Margaret Kobia who was appointed cabinet secretary (CS) for Public Service, was to rebrand and reposition the Commission as the engine behind a citizen-centric approach to service delivery with public servants who are accountable to the citizens. The strategic plan gave him the all-important pathway he needed to drive the transformation agenda hence his introduction of a new mantra Reform, Perform, Transform Kenya as a rallying call for public servants to rededicate and be more accountable to the citizens.
The highlight of his transformation agenda is the introduction of the highly successful Public Service Internship Program, now in its second year. Through the program, the Commission onboarded young university graduates and deployed them to Ministries, State Departments, and Agencies for a one-year paid internship. The Commission rolled out the program in 2019 with the support of Parliament which provided the initial funding allocation of Ksh1 billion.
The selection process ensured that those recruited represent the face of Kenya, based on considerations of merit, ethnicity, gender, disability status, minorities and the marginalized. The interns are deployed in areas of their specialization and qualifications, and mentored to acquire the relevant hands-on training, competencies, practical skills and experiences required for the job market and entrepreneurship.
The first cohort of interns had 3,119 deployed in September 2019 in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies followed by the second cohort with 2,400 deployed in January 2020. The third cohort of 2,500 interns reported to their new workstations on 25th January, 2021.
Pension reform is yet another of the success stories of the PSC. The persistent long delays in processing of pensions in Kenya has been a major challenge for the government over the years with serious consequences for retirees and their families. This has been blamed on factors ranging from systemic inefficiencies, inadequate manpower and frequent break-down of the pensions system to low absorption of exchequer allocations.
The PSC, in fulfilment of its Constitutional mandate of ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in the public service, intervened by instituting radical measures to unlock the problem that had for many years condemned retirees to endless suffering. A Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) conducted by the Commission in 2019 helped to clear the backlog of unpaid pensions within 100-days and subsequently ensured timely processing of pensions and a seamless transition from salary to pension.
The transformed PSC brand is currently in the very capable hands of Simon Rotich as the Secretary and CEO, while Charity Kisotu is firmly on the PSC’s Chair.
The New-Look Public Service Commission of Kenya (PSC) is the Top Brand among the Constitutional Commissions that is being recognized by the BUSINESS MONTHLY magazine in this issue, as transforming the lives of Kenya.