In what could be the first for the new government, the Cabinet has overturned the last government’s decision by reinstituting the Committee of Secretaries (CoS).
Where the last Cabinet believed that the CoS was functioning as a parallel government, taking decisions beyond their purview, in matters of foreign policy, the new Cabinet reasoned that CoS would play an advisory role to the Cabinet and would not function as an opposition. It believes that the CoS, comprised of secretaries to the government, the top position in the civil service, does not need a terms of reference.
The decision may be as much about perspectives as it is about a necessity but the government’s move to institute a coordination mechanism and take the bureaucracy into confidence in decision-making is received well. The CoS is an expert group of top bureaucrats that advises the Cabinet on issues of governance and implements the government’s decisions. However, it does not have a legal standing and its formation or dissolution has now become a political prerogative.
As the CoS resuscitates, there is hope among the bureaucracy that decision making would not be an ad-hoc exercise but a consultative process that has the inputs of technical experts. The CoS as such has no legal standing but it is comprised of civil servants who are bound and protected by the civil service Act and the civil service rules.
Among others, it is the duty of a civil servant to be prepared to make tough decisions while carrying out duties, openly communicate and provide feedback if what his superiors/ colleagues/subordinates do or say is professionally or morally unacceptable; and provide forthright and impartial advice in a constructive manner that facilitates the achievement of agency objectives.
The functioning of CoS must be understood in this perspective. Its role is not to take decisions but to advise the Cabinet on the decisions it takes. Its role is not to function as a parallel government, as it was accused of in the past but to support the government in its function. The secretaries implement the decision of the government but it is the government that is held accountable and answerable to the people.
As the CoS and the Cabinet works together to plan and take decisions for the people and the country there are lessons to learn and unlearn. Issues may arise but these differences should not stunt developmental activities that are meant for the people. By reinstating CoS, the government has for now acknowledged the contribution of the civil servants.