How should public servants be recruited, on the basis of merit or political bias

The big policy making scenario and the increased functions of modern states, emphasizes the roles and the size of modern bureaucracies. The size of the bureaucracy and the extent to which it is centralized varies heavily from state to state. If we try to give an immediate answer to the question of this assignment, it would seem rather obvious to say that all public servants must be recruited on basis of merit. This is not always the case, as we will try to discover in the rest of the assignment. When looking at the functions of the state as those of a bureaucracy, a spontaneous and rather simple answer comes to mind.

According to Max Weber, who is considered to be the father of the bureaucratic concept, bureaucrats should be appointed on the basis of merit rather than the ascriptive criteria of class, race or political creed. The underlying assumption was that the bureaucracy had to be able to recruit the best possible personnel, and merit recruitment was the logical means of filling the available positions with the most qualified personnel. The main idea behind the concept of merit recruitment was the abolishment of appointments within the public service and/or administration, thanks to political patronage.

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This idea of merit recruitment seems to be the ideal system in order to avoid the situation where a post is filled by a candidate who is nominated due to political favoring but has limited technical knowledge necessary to occupy the post, thus resulting in a number of inefficiencies in the future. It is not always the case that the best possible candidate for any post would prove to be the best choice. Maybe the candidate will carry out his work in a hostile way towards the government program thus constituting a real problem in the policy making process of the government.

Therefore it would be better if a combination of administrative talent and political disposition would be used when selecting an appointee? In modern democratic societies, recruitment is now chiefly based on merit with selection being made through competitive exams. When we look at the French administrative system one may note that it recruits and trains for the higher posts in the French civil service itself. There is open competition for two-thirds of the places, and an examination for existing civil servants to ensure the promotion of only the most intellectually able candidates.

Candidates for the open places must have qualifications amounting in practice to a second university degree. As we have seen in the French system education may be considered as one of the components making up merit recruitment. Other factors include job placement, career distinctiveness and incentives and motivation. In the communist states control of recruitment through the nomenklatura system was a major instrument of party rule. The nomenklatura was a list of posts in all spheres (political, economic, social, cultural), which could not be filled without party approval.

The senior nomenklatura jobs were the most important and responsible ones, and their occupants constituted a privileged elite. One of the main fears of the new post-communist leaders was that the entrenched officials of the nomenklatura would resist the change to a new type of system. Fortunately, perhaps in some countries such as Poland and Hungary numerous former communist appointees left the state administration to pursue lucrative economic activities, forming a group known as the new nomenklatura capitalists.

In Malta the introduction of open competition examinations for entrance in the civil service was introduced by the British. In fact the Maltese civil service resembles in a great way to the British one. This idea rose when Patrick More O’Ferall was appointed as the new governor for the Maltese islands. More O’Ferall a civilian was given a great welcome by the population due to the fact he was catholic. This was seen as an action by Earl Grey, the colonial officer to reassure the Maltese that they were not being discriminated due to their religion.

Although More O’Ferall did not complete his term in office due to his resignation in 1851, he displayed an enormous foresight in tackling some of the social, economic and political-administrative problems of Malta. According to More O’Ferall the main problem of Malta was its dependence on the government, mainly economic dependence. In the process of solving this problem More O’Ferall improved significantly the efficiency and profitability of Malta’s harbour rendering it one of the chief exporters of grain in the Mediterranean. He also carried out reforms in the way charitable institutions operated, education and health services.

In an effort of rendering the Maltese more participative in the administration of their country More O’Ferall noted the low morale of the civil service. This was mainly due to the fact that people who had long and efficiently served in the public service were being overlooked in promotions. Thus he wanted to prove the ability of the people joining the civil service. In aid of this process More O’Ferall ended the system where each department could make its own contracts. He established the Office of Comptroller of Civil Contracts in 1848, so that all government contracts had to be concluded through this office.

Every year the number of people who applied for a job within the civil service amounted to thousands. To reduce the risk of abuse all appointments had to be confirmed by the secretary of state. Another check against abuse was the fact that in their annual report governors had to point out persons to the colonial office which in their opinion were fit to enter the civil service in the future. More O’Ferall also limited the ages of the entrants in the civil service. Another reform was that of promoting people on the basis of seniority, provided the person was qualified for the post.

In this way it was reasoned that public servants who performed their duties efficiently and diligently were not, for improper reasons, passed over when their turn for promotion came. Abuse did exist. An excellent example which we can find in Godfrey A. Pirotta’s, ‘The Maltese Public Service’ was the appointment of the son of the former chief of state first as a clerk and later as head of police. Apparently the appointee suffered from a speech impediment and had a series of debt problems. The process of open competition as the main method of entrance in the public service was finally introduce by William Reed, O’Ferall’s successor.

This idea was in many occasions proposed by O’Ferall himself but it was never actually introduced. Reid was concerned with the kind of people who were being attracted to the civil service. The first open competitive examination for clerkships was announced in the government gazette in 1857. The examinations were held under the control of a board appointed by the Governor, which included the Rector of the University, the Inspector of Charitable Institutions, the Public Librarian, the Director of Primary Schools and the Assistant Superintendent of the Ports. Nowadays the Public Service Commission carries out this process.

The Public Service Commission is an independent body established by section 109 of the Constitution of Malta. Its primary role is to give advice and to make recommendations to the Prime Minister in the making of appointments to public offices, in the removal of persons from such offices and in the exercise of disciplinary control over public officers. In terms of section 115 of the Constitution, the Public Service Commission is protected from legal proceedings in the sense that the question of whether the Commission has validly performed any functions vested in it by the Constitution cannot be enquired into in any Court of Law.

The Commission interprets its role to mean that it has a duty to ensure that recruitment into and all promotions or appointments within the public service are made in an equitable and impartial manner; are free from patronage and discrimination and are based on the principle of merit. It is also the duty of the Commission to ensure that disciplinary action against public officers is fair, prompt and effective. In terms of section 109 of the Constitution of Malta, the Public Service Commission must consist of a Chairman, a Deputy Chairman and from one to three other members.

Members of the Commission are appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. As on 1st January 2001 the Commission was composed as follows: Chairman Mr. Joseph J. M. Curmi MPA DPA FCIPD, Deputy Chairman Brigadier (Rtd) John Spiteri MOM, Members Ms Yvonne Micallef Stafrace BA (Hons) MA, Dr Janet Mifsud B Pharm (Hons) PhD PhD, Mr John A Scicluna DPA.

The term of office of the Commission expired on 11th May 2001 but was renewed for a period of one year with effect from 12th May 2001. During the year 2001, the Commission held fifty meetings in which it dealt with various matters relating to appointments and discipline as outlined in more detail in this report. In addition to attending the Commission’s meetings, the members of the Commission attend regularly at the Office of the Commission to examine case files and papers and to give their views on matters which are decided by circulation of papers.

Calls for applications for the filling of vacancies in the public service are approved by the Commission and are published in the Government Gazette where the recruitment is to be done by open public competition or are circulated as internal official Circulars either by the Management and Personnel Office of the Office of the Prime Minister, or by the Department concerned, as appropriate. Calls for applications for the filling of vacancies by public competition may also be advertised in the local press, at the discretion of the department concerned.

The selection process or method applicable to a particular post or position is indicated in the call for application. This normally consists of an interview or a combination of a written examination or practical test and interview but the Commission may authorize other selection methods which it considers appropriate. Interviews are conducted by Selection Boards consisting of, at least two officers of suitable grade and competence nominated by the Head of Department concerned and approved by the Commission, and one other member from a panel of senior public officers, also approved by the Commission.

Selection processes run by the Commission are based on the merit principle i. e the individual and relative suitability of a candidate for a particular post, assessed on the following criteria, taking into account the duties and responsibilities of the post to be filled: related professional/administrative/technical knowledge, relevant experience including previous performance, where applicable, abilities/skills required in the job, qualifications, personal qualities The selection criteria for particular posts approved by the Commission, may be viewed on request at the Office of the Commission, the Palace, Valletta.

The functions of the Commission in relation to appointments involve, recommendations and advice to the Prime Minister in the making of appointments into or within the public service, vetting and approval of draft calls for applications submitted by heads of department and verified by the Office of the Prime Minister, approval of selection boards nominated by heads of department, approval of selection methods and criteria, decisions on queries raised by selection boards on such questions as eligibility of candidates, vetting and approval of reports submitted by selection boards, approval and publication of the results of selection exercises, removal from office and termination of appointments, performance agreements or contracts, extension of probationary periods and performance agreements.

Throughout this assignment I tried to first give an overview of what is expected according to the ‘values’ of today’s modern society, which is mainly based on the concept of meritocracy where the person who deserves more gets it. Next I tried to give a brief look at communist countries and how their nomenklatura system used to care a lot for the restricted party elite at the helm of the civil service. Afterwards I gave some of the factors used when recruiting and promoting in base of merit. Then I looked at the way this system was introduced by the British and finally the present system thanks to the public service commission.