Experts in the Balance

Dear Readers:

During the recent ‘grassroots politician’ debate in 2003, one of our parliamentarians reportedly suggested that politicians could easily become specialists and experts within government ministries to which they were assigned. Similar sentiments were echoed by other parliamentarians, and then by a Minister of government. Today we shall place this concept in the balance.

Ministers of government are collectively responsible for developing government policies, and are individually responsible for directing these policies within their respective ministries or departments. However, if within the ministerial team there is none who possesses the necessary rudimentary knowledge and preparatory training, then they may not fully understand the consequences of their policy proposals. The ministry team may therefore have to rely on expert advice to assist them in the preparation of government policies. Critical to the process of government policy development therefore, is the selection of suitably qualified experts.

When mistakes are made at the professional level, by the experts, then the consequences can be very expensive to correct, and in some cases the consequences can even be fatal. It is for this reason that professionals must be adequately qualified through a combination of learning and experience, since it is only through a combination of the two that an expertise can be developed.

Government ministers are not required to be experts or specialists in the affairs of their ministries. However, if they are to become active participants in the process of developing government policy, then they must have the capacity to interact meaningfully with the professionals who advise them, and to understand the issues that form the basis of the policy proposals.

Members of the civil service are responsible for implementing the government’s policies. The risk to the public of receiving an inefficient and ineffective service in a government department is greater, if the necessary professional skills are absent from the management ranks of that department. If ill-advised policies are implemented, or well-advised policies are not implemented properly, then they can conflict with prior and subsequent policies in the government department, and can easily lead to a complex and operationally expensive bureaucracy that causes frustration to those who have to interact with that department.

Senior civil servants should not only be qualified in the area of public administration, but should also possess the relevant professional qualifications to allow them to fully understand and properly manage the implementation of the government’s policies.

The following list identifies those critical professional skills that, in my opinion, are required for the development and implementation of government policies. While many of these skills already exist within the civil service, they do not always appear within the senior management ranks of the relevant ministries. The selected professionals should have at least 10 years of experience in their respective fields, during which they should have attained management responsibilities.

Ministry of Agriculture – Agronomist, Agricultural Engineer and Land-use Planner
Ministry of Rural Development – Land-use Planner and Sociologist
Ministry of Commerce – Accountant and Business Administrator
Ministry of Environment – Environmental Engineer
Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources – Mechanical Engineer and Geologist
Ministry of Telecommunications – Electrical Engineer
Ministry of Finance – Accountant and Economist
Ministry of Health – Doctor and Nurse and Nutritionist
Ministry of Housing & Lands – Structural Engineer and Land-use Planner and Architect
Ministry of Labour – Human Resource Practitioner and Lawyer
Ministry of Public Works and Transport – Civil Engineer
Ministry of Tourism – Human Resource Practitioner and Public Relations Consultant
Ministry of Social Transformation – Sociologist and Civil Engineer
Department of Public Sector Reform – Engineer
Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs – Teacher and Parent
Ministry of Sports – Athlete and Coach

A program for identifying and developing the necessary professional skills and specialities within the management ranks of the civil service is an important component of public sector reform, which should be given greater priority.

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