August 19, 2016

Being a Service Personnel

In Myanmar, a person who works for the government is referred to as service personnel in English.  However, I prefer the term government servant to the term service personnel, as the term makes it more obvious the role of a person who works in a government organization both to the person concerned as well as the public — he/she is employed by the government and paid to serve the interest of the people and not to boss over them or to exploit them.
Whether a person is a high official like a permanent secretary or a low grade one like a cleaner, all government servants have to follow the Public Service Personnel Act 2013. The act prescribes both responsibilities and benefits of service personnel. The responsibilities range from being loyal to the state, obeying what are prescribed in the constitution and existing laws, protecting public property and funds from wastage and misuse, not being involved in party politics, having a sense of duty, not to abuse the rights given in accordance with one’s responsibilities, to be respectful to the populace, etc. The Public Service Personnel Act 2013 also specifies the rights of employees such as right to security of employment, leave, promotion, pursuit of education, and retirement. Moreover, those who are employed in areas designated as being remote, enjoy twice the salary given to those in more accessible areas. In addition, government servants are obliged to follow the rules and regulations specified by their respective organizations. Each ministry may also have rules and regulations regarding the benefits their employees may enjoy, such as provision of housing, free transportation to and from work, use of ministry vehicle, etc.
Despite the strict rules and regulations set for government employees, some members of the public who have had the opportunity, or  bad luck, to have to deal with government employees will know that they are of many types. The first type, I regret to say, are few in number. The first type work in accordance with set rules and regulations and will offer assistance to anybody who needs to come to their office by providing him/her all the necessary information, and helping him/her complete him/her business matter as expeditiously as possible without the hope of receiving anything in return. The second type of government employee will do his/her job, but without much interest in helping a person. The third type expects something in return to speed up matters. The junior ones will explicitly have one of the drawers of their desk open to accept whatever gift is given, or they will expect something to be slipped in as tea money with the papers.  The fourth type will first frighten those who come to them by treating them insolently and throwing all the bureaucratic red tapes at them and then will do their job at a high price. Many make a lot of extra income for themselves by such means, but there are also those who act as a middleman and have to give a certain percentage of their income to their colleagues and their bosses.  Hence, the most important information some government employees want to get, on getting a new job, or being posted to a new department, is whether they can get extra income, or in plain words, whether they can get bribes there.  This does not mean that every employee is hungry for bribes. Some are contented with the salary they get legitimately.  Some having no opportunity to earn extra income from their primary job, and cannot make ends meet, resort to moonlighting by doing other jobs after work like driving a taxi driver, or working as a broker, giving tuition, working as a manager or a waiter in a restaurant, working as a private nurse, selling things as a street vendor, doing odd jobs on weekends, etc., etc.
The thing that government employees look forward to most is promotion as it does not occur very often in their career and not everyone may be included. The Union Civil Service Board has prescribed rules and regulations regarding promoting officer level staff to a higher post supplemented by rules and regulations of each ministry. It is very obvious that the higher the level, the smaller the number of posts available. Therefore, the selection procedure has to be most stringent.  Since there is large pool of staff available for selection with the same or even better qualifications and performance, sometimes, there has been surprising and disappointing selections. Although there are private expressions of doubts and dismay regarding such matters, Myanmar people do not have the habit of lodging complaints or raising questions about decisions made by higher authorities and so there is little public debate about the correctness of such decisions. To ensure confidence in the system as well as the authorities who have made the selection, it is very important that the criteria and the system utilized need to be very transparent and it must be ensured that the promotion given is strictly based on meritocracy with no bias or favouritism involved. Moreover, the more important the post is with wide decision-making powers like that of a rector or a pro-rector (future rector) of a university, the more careful the selection has to be, because if the person is an inefficient and incapable one, he/she is liable to make bad decisions and initiate wrong policies, and such persons are liable to prefer inefficient, back-biting, toadying persons as close confidents and advisors.  As a consequence, the organization not be able to progress due to poor management, as long as that person remains in office which may be for a very long time.  Moreover, there will be antagonism among staff arising from disrespect for and lack of confidence in the administrator. Hence, it is very important that the person delegated authority to make decisions regarding promotions has taken into account all relevant factors and that his/her decisions are double checked by the supervising authority to ensure that the right selection has been made based on meritocracy using correct and consistent criteria and done in an honest and transparent manner.
One of the things most dreaded by most government employees working in big cities and towns, is transfer time.  For those employees that work for ministries that have offices and branches under them all over Myanmar, including in far flung areas, such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Immigration and Population, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, they are liable to be transferred from one duty station to another, after serving the designated period, throughout their career, and they face the dilemma of whether to accept the transfer  or seek a new job. The majority of government employees understand the need for transfers, as people need to be rotated, but they feel that there should be a fair and consistent system free of favouritism, bribery and decisions made carelessly.  There is no doubt that transfers causes inconvenience and misery to many.  Some staff may be single and appear to have no family responsibilities, but in actual fact, they may have to leave behind their aged parents whom they have been taking care of. Working married couples may, in many cases, not be posted to the same region. The husband may be posted to one town, and the wife to other, and the children may have to be left behind with their grandparents in another town. Such a situation is not good either for the family, as they suffer from work enforced separation, and financial difficulty, or for the organization they work for, as such employees may not be able to concentrate fully on their work and may give vent to their frustration on persons they have to deal with or their staff. Another serious consequence of transfers is people resigning from their jobs. There comes a time when employees cannot take up their new post due to repeated transfer to the same place, intolerable living and working conditions, family and financial problems, feeling that the posting has been unfair, or simply becoming fed up with having to move from one place to another.
The percentage of staff attrition after every transfer is not known, or given much thought to, but bearing in mind that more and more jobs are now becoming available in the private sector, the number could be quite significant. Those who have the authority to transfer staff from one post to another may be too remote from them, to know their true worth and ability. They may also feel that their resignation is of little consequence to the department concerned, thinking that in the place of one who resigns, there are hundreds of persons waiting to step into their shoes.  This may be true for certain persons and certain departments, but it certainly is not true for all. For instance, those administrators in the education sector, if they have been teachers themselves, should know that a competent teacher, who has mastery of subject, teaching methodology and child psychology, cannot be produced over night, or in many cases even within a decade, especially an outstanding dedicated, hardworking and trustworthy one. Such a person would be a great loss to the academic department concerned and to successive generations of students as well.  Mediocrity breeds mediocrity. If left with only mediocre people, and run by mediocre people, an organization, especially, a higher education institution, will find it difficult to escape from the cycle of mediocrity.  Consequently, to ensure that outstanding employees who contribute to the development of an organization stay on until their retiring age, it is important that a conducive and fair working environment be created by those in administrative position.  The organization also needs to boldly get rid of the laid-back, the toady, the inefficient, and the corrupt to make its firmness apparent to all employees. The following practices by those in management positions may contribute to the development of a fair, smooth, working environment:
•    Creating a non-abusive, non-threatening, cordial environment
•    Being in touch with all levels of employees and giving them access to present their needs and difficulties
•    Being fair and transparent in assessing performance,  and in matters of promotion and rewards, by using a consistent, transparent and comprehensive evaluation system which includes double checking by higher authority
•    Taking into account all relevant factors, including  matching staff skills with organizational needs and personal difficulties when carrying out staff transfers
•    Making accountability central at all levels
•    Ensuring that cliques, toadying, favouritism, bribery and corruption do not exist
•    Assigning responsibilities to staff according to their capacity and the need of department rather than based on personal likes and dislikes
•    Practising a fair reward and punishment system
•    Carrying out staff capacity building activities to create a dynamic atmosphere
On the other hand, government employees in return, need to work in accordance with rules and regulations, without shirking responsibility on the grounds that their salary is too small compared to the private sector. (They may not know that sometimes they are enjoying hidden benefits such as, shorter working hours compared to those in the private sector.) They need to practice self-management skills both at work as well as in their personal lives. They need to constantly upgrade their skills and knowledge to match the organization’s changing needs. They need to be loyal to their organization and contribute to enhancing its image.
Now that the public sector is growing, there will be constant migration to the better paying private sector. However, creating a happy, fair, stable, more employee-friendly, and stress-free working environment that also gives careful consideration to the welfare of employees will go a long way in attracting talented people and building employee loyalty and maintaining good administrator-staff relationships. This will ensure that government organizations always possess a corps of efficient employees who have the willingness and capacity to serve the public which is their bounden duty.


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