The proposed Public Service Staff College: Shaping a Developmental State?

Recently the Stabroek News (Feb 28, 2016) reported President Granger saying: “I have no interest in having an unprofessional Public Service… I also said that I did not just want an efficient public service but an ‘unbribable’ public service; professional people, people who can do their trade and people who are prepared to do their jobs without fear or favour.” It is good to hear a Guyanese Head of State finally making such a comment. It is crucial that the civil service evolve into a professional, developmentalist and politically neutral body.

For those of us who have studied development economics from an eclectic perspective – and not the purely neo-classical variety – we observe how the State can do well for economic transformation once the capacity is in place. On the other hand, the State can be predatory and retard economic development. I would place the Guyanese State – in particular the police, CANU, security forces and others – more on the predatory than developmentalist side, thanks largely to the legacies of the old PNC and the recently booted PPP.

20140101watchMoreover, the Guyanese State has been used largely for rewarding political supporters – many untrained – who often are drawn almost entirely from one ethnic group. These political civil servants often failed to realize their role in the economic transformation of the society. In the 2011 and 2015 election periods, several Permanent Secretaries and senior public servants campaigned openly for the PPP. A few even demonstrated public servility to Mr Jagdeo, making them Jagdeo servants and not public servants.

This has to be changed. However, the first six months of the APNU+AFC administration also saw many old friends of the PNC being rewarded with important positions. The new hires of the APNU+AFC administration lacked diversity on many fronts: ethnicity, gender, religion and age. Of course, several of the senior civil servants who openly supported the PPP were sent home, as was necessary. A developmental civil service will faithfully implement the policy choices of the government of the day, be politically neutral and be embedded but yet autonomous from the private sector. They will have long-term careers subjected to suitable performance reviews.

The developmental State is embedded in the sense that it understands the shortcomings of the private sector in solving coordination problems and correcting market failures. Embedded civil servants do not view the private entrepreneur as a parasite and see him/her as inherently corrupt. The State will have the bureaucratic maturity to be autonomous even though it is embedded in the needs of the private entrepreneur. One feature of an autonomous civil service is: it is unbribable, as President Granger noted recently.

One of the channels through which President Granger sees the implementation of a professional public service is the establishment of a staff college for public workers. The staff college will have faculties in International Relations (Foreign Service), Defence, Public Administration and Information Technology. It all sounds reasonable until we consider that the University of Guyana already has well-established degree programmes in Public Management and International Relations. There is also a Computer Science degree at UG.

As an educator and one who not only created courses from scratch, but also has been part of university administration (to my dislike since it takes away my research time), I am thinking about course content for these areas. From where would the teachers come? Are they going to be drawn from the existing pool at UG? Would the teachers be drawn from experienced civil servants? The way I have always seen it is to utilize and enhance complementarities when resources are very scarce. Is the staff college going to focus on remedial courses or on actual diploma programmes?

Here is a case where the President has asked the right question. The next stage should be to task UG to come up with several diploma programmes for public servants who entered the service with varying degrees of education. Those already with a bachelor’s degree would be better off doing a post-graduate diploma. And those without a bachelor’s degree would need a semi-remedial programme. People would be hard-pressed to do even basic data manipulation tasks in Microsoft Excel if they are challenged in basic algebra. I am not a fan of online education, but there could be some scope here for UG to impart some of this training online. In addition, one has to make sure these diplomas are transferable to the private sector. Not all workers will stay in the public service forever. There is no reason why these diplomas – once they have certain core training – cannot be transferable to the private sector.

I agree all public servants should take a course in national defence. Indeed, the President published a book monograph called National Defence: A Small State in the Subordinate System (published in 2012). They already have a textbook to start with here. But I still believe UG can use the exact book for a course in national defence, which is crucial not only because of the territorial troubles with Venezuela and Suriname but also the smuggling of gold, diamonds and the white stuff, all of which undermine national development through destroying the human capital pool of the labour force and corrupting the security agencies.

The same principle holds for the private sector. The reason why the private sector fails to appreciate what UG has to offer is because its managers have largely failed to ask questions. The purpose of a university is to mould human capital to have certain core skills and knowledge. If the private managers can ask the right questions, they can turn to university professors who have a wide array of skills to help in answering their questions. This is the way it works in the United States. When CEOs and corporate boards can’t address specific questions in-house they turn to their local university.

In closing, I also believe the proposed training of public servants should include a course on Guyanese political economy, focusing on how the developmentalist structures of the State were stripped away from the period of Party Paramountcy of Burnham to Elected Oligarchy of Jagdeo. The course should also juxtapose the strategies of successful developmental States around the world and also a few predatory ones, so that public servants can get a feel for the appalling errors made in Guyana since May 1966. If the political class has the appetite, I would be more than happy to develop the course outline for free.




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