The discussion was brief and the response blunt. A senior executive, awaiting the outcome of the leadership assessment, was sharing his view of political parties suddenly getting a big pool of senior bureaucrats to choose candidates from.
What if people ask why and how you left the civil service? What if your contestant remind voters of why you joined politics? The questions cut the discussions short .
This is the awkward situation many senior civil servants who were managed-out and considering politics are in. There is no clarity if they could join politics and come back as leaders even if they are ready to face the voters and convince them. With voters voting based on personalities, some could come back as a member of parliament.
There are some vague answers to the questions on many minds. One section of the election Act disqualifies a candidate if he or she has been … dismissed or removed from public service or the corporate sector.
Being managed-out cannot be construed as being “removed”. The Royal Civil Service Commission made it clear. Managing out, according to the commission means moving the top executives who had not met the leadership assessment to lower positions, offering them the option to resign or retire early. If the executives who left the civil service after the leadership assessment exercise exited through voluntary resignation, as specified by the commission, they could join politics.
The election commission has not specified the rule and has left it for interpretation. This will be the interpretation unless the election commission thinks differently. The number is huge, 47 top civil servants.
On the other hand, it is still a dilemma for political parties when fielding candidates qualified enough to convince voters. The bulk of what we call the professional group is in the civil service, corporations and a few in the private sector. We have looked to the civil servants to provide the leadership and backbone for political parties. Senior or civil servants at the executive level, in the past, didn’t want to take the risk of losing a secured job for politics. Notwithstanding the genuineness to serve the people as an elected representative, the result had to depend on voters.
The concern was also that we didn’t want to see all the best-trained professionals leaving the civil service at the risk of undermining the professional services that the government is mandated to provide for the people. The situation is different now. Political parties have a huge pool to fish for candidates and the top executives that were managed-out have nothing to lose. There are many who may not be good leaders but have skills and expertise to help a political party’s ideas and ideologies.
The private sector has benefits from the recent exercise. They found skilled people like engineers or administrators to better manage their businesses. A managed-out civil servant may be a bad manager or leader, but a good engineer or financial expert.
As many look for jobs, the current exercise has brought out an old debate of how we use our human resource, people. A director-general or a director may be a bad leader, but a good doctor or an architect. It is about how we make the most of our human resources.