Over the past weekend, the government had a press release that announced the massive reshuffling of the permanent secretaries. Here are the movements we know about so far:
- Lamin Camara at the Ministry of Agriculture has been moved to the Minister of Petroleum & Energy.
- Mod. K. Ceesay at the Ministry of Trade and Industry has been moved to the Ministry of Transport.
- Ndey Mary Njie at the Ministry of Youth and Sports has been moved to the Ministry of Defence.
- Cherno Barry at the Ministry of Defense has been moved to t he Human Rights Commission.
- Mariama Ndure Njie at the Ministry of Transport has been moved to the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
- Lamin Camara at the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum has been moved to the Ministry of Agriculture.
- Pateh Bah at the Ministry of Environment has been moved to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
- Saikou Sanyang at the Ministry of Lands has been moved to the Ministry of Environment.
- Hassan Jallow at the Ministry of Agriculture has been moved to the Ministry of Lands.
Whatever the reason that prompted these changes, the mass movements are not the appropriate solutions. If anything, they are likely to make matters worse. Suppose for argument sake that these changes were prompted by wrong doings on the part of some PS. In such a case, the appropriate response is to remove the concerned individual from their position, rather than transferring. After all, transferring an individual would only move the problem from one location to another. So, contrary to the government’s official position that these frequent transfers of PSs are “consistent with its philosophy to foster growth and promote rapid and efficient delivery of resources…” there is no conceivable way that these mass movements can be consistent with any efficiency in administration.
Let’s look at the case of one Permanent Secretary, Mod K. Ceesay to demonstrate the frequency of the PS changes. Before the end of last year, Mod K Ceesay was a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. He was moved to the Ministry of Finance late last year. A few weeks into the new year, he was moved to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Now, the same PS is being moved to the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure. In other words, the same PS has been moved across four different ministries within a one-year period.
We have different ministries partly because various sectors are fundamentally different. As such, there are different policies, which require different expertise for effective implementation. In particular, the relevant sector policies in Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Transport are quite different, which means the relevant administrative structure needed for the implementation of those policies are not the same. How would it be possible for a permanent secretary to effectively deliver when he/she barely has the time to recover from the whiplash of their latest endless move across very different ministries? The depressing reality is that Mr. Mod Ceesay’s situation is not unique as far as the frequency of movements of PSs are concerned.
To understand how such frequent shuffling of permanent secretaries makes it impossible to efficiently run an administration, consider what the role of the PS is supposed to be. A PS is the most senior civil servant in any ministry since ministers are direct political appointees. The PS are supposed to be chief administrative officers. Efficient administration of any unit is not independent of the peculiarities of the sectors. Health matters are different from fiscal policy, just as agriculture is different from education matters. Hence, knowledge and experience of the sector is critical to efficiency administer those sectors. So, while PSs are thought of in The Gambia mainly as administrators, the reality is that there can be no clear separation of policy and administration when implementation is being effected.
We should also note that most sector policies in The Gambia are implemented over a 5-year period. This requires some stability in key positions in each ministry. If a permanent secretary can be moved across 4 ministries in a one-year period, how can the government realistically expect the effective implementation of the relevant sector policies?
A few months back, I wrote an article on the country’s broken system for managing the position of permanent secretaries in the country. Given this recent development, our government is still clueless about what constitutes an efficient administrative system as far as the top echelon of the civil service is concerned. The role of the permanent secretary was created to ensure administrative continuity even if the ministers are changed frequently. Given the way the government is treating the PS position, may be this position should now be called Temporary Secretary position given the absence of any semblance of stability.
To make matters worse, neither the permanent secretaries nor the ministers are normally made aware of changes until the decisions are made. I also cannot imagine that the individual permanent secretaries themselves are happy with their frequent movements across ministries. But like many government officials, most of them are terrified to vocalize their unhappiness since this might jeopardize their positions in government. But without risks, hardly any progress can be made. If the PSs are unhappy with the state of affairs, they should make their voices hard at the highest levels of the government. I also cannot imagine that the various ministers are comfortable with these mass movements of permanent secretaries, often without their knowledge and against their wishes. Most people would be shocked to learn that most ministers have no say on which PSs are appointed to their ministries. In most cases, ministers learn of PS changes at the same time as the general public. Since the PSs are supposed to work directly with and under the ministers, how would administrative efficiency be ensured when the ministers have no involvement with personnel matters in the ministries?
One issue that must not be overlooked in this whole mess is the unnecessarily powerful position of the Secretary General (SG). It makes the no sense that the SG is supervising and overseeing the appointments of all the PSs. To effectively supervise all PS would mean the SG having the capacity to supervise all sectors in the country. In other words, for the SG position to have the power to appoint and move PSs across all ministries, the SG needs to have complete familiarity with all sector policies and implementation strategies in the country. This is simply not possible even if the individual occupying the position is supremely qualified. The powerful position of an SG is an anachronism from the past when the country had a parliamentary system of government. That is not the system we have now.
To make matters worse, we have not had competent individuals in that position for most of Barrow’s presidency. In fact, we currently have a manifestly incompetent individual in that role, Mr. Ebrima Ceesay. It’s one thing to have a poorly structured position but a whole different situation when the person in charge is wholly unqualified. With this reality, how is it possible that this new development would result in a “…more productive and efficient civil service”, as the spokesperson of the government indicated in his press release?
Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.