The aim of the performance management system is to ensure that the government’s objectives as laid out in its strategic plans are carried out, further to ensure that employees at all levels are performing their duties effectively and efficiently as expected and most importantly that each individual is held accountable for their performance or lack thereof.
Performance management was implemented in the public sector a few years after attaining independence but since then can it really be said that service delivery in this sector improved?
Performance management systems have components that are to be completed by the staff member under assessment and the supervisor. Firstly, a performance agreement is to be completed by the staff member which lays out all strategic objectives of that specific ministry, further lays out the risks and assumptions that might be encountered during the year of assessment, the outputs, operational objectives which are inclusive of all targets for the four quarters of the year of assessment and finally the actions plans on how to go about ensuring that these objectives and targets are met. This document is then signed by both the staff member and the supervisor. This agreement ought to then have a binding effect upon the staff member just like any other contract would and if the objectives or targets are not met as per the agreement consequences are supposed to follow for non-performance and equally so rewards are supposed to be awarded for those achieving the targets as is the practice in the private sector.
Why is the aim and purpose of this tool being taken lightly by the management in the public sector or are we perhaps saying that the objectives intended for the delivering of effective and efficient service to the Namibian people is not important and should be taken as a mere academic practice? Why are public servants not held accountable for actions of non-performance? Who does the non-performance of public servants affect if not the poor vulnerable societies the public sector is called upon to serve? Those are the questions on the mind of every Namibian, especially those not employed in the public sector and those on the receiving end of service delivery.
Before we attempt to answer these questions, one needs to understand that our performance management system as ineffective and inactive as it is has its roots grounded in laws that were enacted after the brutal colonisation that the Namibian people had to endured such as the Affirmative Action Act 29 of 1998, the Labor Act 11 of 2007 and the Public Service Act of 1995 and these statutes have in a way influenced and made the performance management system toothless.
It’s because of laws such as these that the public sector management finds it difficult to dismiss or discipline an employee that is not performing and because there is no discipline there is also no need to reward those carrying out their service duties as expected, and this right here is the main issue behind the performance management tool being seen as toothless or rather a mere accessory.
How do we expect employees to keep giving their all if no reward system is put in place to reward their hard work? If put to a test, one would be able to deduce that employees tend to perform better when their hard work is acknowledged by way of awarding them or promoting them and the opposite is true, those performing poorly will be encouraged to also pull up their socks so as to get rewarded, so really the solution for poor performance in the public sector is all in the reward that can be awarded for effective and efficient service delivery.
The exercise of merely completing and signing a quarterly review and not caring about the consequences of non-performance is a clear indication that there is a lack of accountability within the public sector in that employees are not evaluated, monitored and not given the necessary support and training by their supervisors to excel at the targets and objectives not met the previous quarter. The senior management and supervisors are failing both the staff member from growing and equally so robbing the Namibian citizens mostly the poor and vulnerable from receiving quality service delivery as entrenched in Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution.
Of late, the talk on the streets is that the public sector has too many employees but the performance remains poor. Typically, if the workforce is a lot the performance should be reflective of that but the same cannot be said for the Namibian public sector. It is high time that the public sector takes the delivery of service to the Namibian people seriously as lives can be gravely affected by poor or non-performance.
Can it then be said that the performance management tool that is currently being used in the public sector in Namibia is the right one to assess and monitor performance in the public sector? the answer is absolutely yes! but only if used correctly and in the way it was intended to be used. The public sector can follow the existing and exemplary application of performance management in the private sector as a point of reference in ensuring that performance is in accordance with the objectives of the public sector.
For the successful use of the performance management tool in the public sector, it should not be used in isolation of the parties that ought to partake in it as to ensure its success. It is important for the staff member under assessment, the supervisor, HR practitioners and the management to work together in order to make it a success and to ensure that the current reputation of the public sector performance is restored and is a thing of the past.
* Helvi Gorases is currently studying towards a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, majoring in Public Sector Management at the University of Namibia.