Evaluation of Public Servants: How to Avoid Making It the Instrument of Political Struggle

We arranged the meeting in autumn to clarify what tasks should assigned to the civil servants and how to evaluate their job compliance.

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Public service is different from business, because the state has the function to ensure welfare and security of citizens despite unfavourable conditions, limited funding and constant pressure. Public servants are responsible for implementation of this function. The situation is getting more acute because their salaries are financed from the taxes paid by Ukrainians, which means that they are accountable not only to their bosses but in broader sense to all citizens. 

To understand how to evaluate the public servants performance and consistency to their positions, we talked to Dmytro Gurin, the member of parliament of Ukraine, Oleksandr Starodubtsev, the councillor of the Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers on public service issues (in autumn 2019), Tetyana Tyshchuk, the leader of the Index for Monitoring Reforms (iMoRe) in VoxUkraine and the lecturer of public governance program at the Kyiv School of Economics, and Pavlo Kovtoniuk, the former deputy of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. 

Tetyana Tyshchuk: We did the research of the public service reform perception last year. Our respondents were the students of the Kyiv School of Economics who attended medium-term public administration courses and worked in public sector. The focus groups and interviews demonstrated that our respondents were the most positive about the new procedures of evaluation, especially about the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). 

The rules have changed since then. Earlier, if public servants received negative evaluation, they were to take another evaluation in three months. But now, when the new law “on restarting governing institutions” has been implemented, the person with negative evaluation will be dismissed from employment. 

The evaluation process has already started. How will it be held this year? Will the KPIs influence evaluations in any way?

The KPIs are widely used in business. So, it is feasible to introduce them at the public service sector. However, it is not clear how to do it properly. If the KPIs are generalized, they will be insufficient to evaluate the performance. If they are detailed, there will be too many of them. There is another problem. The performance indicators are often determined by the civil servant himself and his superior, which leads to creating the so-called “pyramids of loyalty”. The superior can provide easier KPIs to “the favorites” and more difficult ones to those he or she dislikes.

In one of our studies we tried to analyze the KPIs, but almost none of the government agencies provided them to us. Some referred to privacy, others to human rights. We could not find out how efficient and motivational this system is. What we got was too general. 

Non-compliance with the KPI can result in the public officer dismissal. This causes a lot of fears among the public servants. They understand that their main task is to ensure the implementation of reforms, and they are worried that they can be dismissed because of their personal qualities, using the non-compliance to indicators only as an excuse.

By the end of the last year, only 56 civil servants from 15 thousand assessed received negative evaluation. So you can see that the instrument did not work as intended. It did not detect inefficient people. Before this autumn, if a person “failed” the KPIs, he or she was put to a 3-month trial period to correct the situation. In the new law on public service, persons can be dismissed immediately after they received the negative evaluation.

So, on the one hand, we are trying to make the public service more open and ensure the rotation of people there. On the other hand, there are risks: by doing this will we be able to protect the reforms launched and the transformations that need protection? 

Pavlo Kovtoniuk: I support the evaluation of public servants. But it is not so interesting to talk about the technical details of KPIs. Let us talk about the reboot of the public service, where it is important that a person grows and moves towards certain goals, different from the goals of the old culture, where civil servants worked for the sake of executing orders: “dig”, “do not dig”, “I say nothing — you do nothing”. In the new civil service the employees must understand what kind of policy they pursue, and move forward to their goal. Evaluation is an instrument not so much for us, political appointees, but more for the civil servants themselves. It helps to understand where they are now and where they are going. When you go through this system every year, there is an internal motivation to improve. But the evaluation system is not possible without other components of the public service. In my opinion, at the moment we have not created a new public service in Ukraine.

Moderator: How to create it? Can the new law help succeed in what failed before? (adressing Oleksandr Starodubtsev) As it was with ProZorro? After all, when you started to work in the Department, about 50% of the Department left, and this was done without a simplified system of dismissal. How exactly?

Oleksandr Starodubtsev: the situation was slightly different. The Department of procurement and financial monitoring had to remove the function that duplicated the function of a completely different state body. We did it, and the people who provided it left. 

What problem should be solved by the KPI? This is an analysis of the task execution. In my opinion, the task of the KPI is not to inspire, but to give feedback from the superior to the subordinate, what he is already doing good, what is not so good, what needs to be improved.

This instrument must be used skillfully, it is not a tool for creating meanings and enforcing. I don’t know if a person can work under whiplash.

I think that we did not achieve our goal by implementing KPI, because this instrument is not perceived correctly in our country. On the other hand, it is right that we introduced it – we need to start this process. In business, KPIs are introduced in the second or third year of existence, and then iterations are provided, once in three or six months. The public service must also go this way.

Pavel Kovtonyuk: KPIs and evaluations are efficient in a healthy organization. It is important to distinguish between the institution of the old and the new civil service. KPIs will work in the new civil service, with a well-thought-out mission supported by the staff, where there is a clear strategy and understanding of the ways to achieve this goal. For example, I want to become a high jump champion — this is the goal. The KPI is 6.14 m. So, I can measure my results.

The important features of a healthy civil service system are as follows.

  1. There must be a distinction between the political level and the civil service level. When there is a real Secretary of State, the head of the public service, and he or she supervises the directorates of policies that are disconnected from the politicians. There should be no situation that the Deputy Minister or the Minister supervises some Department or Directorate, gives his instructions and acts as a micro-manager of it. Politicians should not be involved in management. They have to make decisions. They determine their position in their programs when they go to election.
  2. The departments of ministries should form policies. They should not carry out orders and micro-manage the institutions “under themselves” like hospitals, customs etc. We have already started building such public service in our country, and we managed to create “Islands” of it in some ministries. Where this did not happen, KPIs do not work. The KPIs take into account the number of completed orders or prepared bills, without understanding the function of this instrument.

We will not carry out any structural reforms with the old public service. Now that the public service reform has stopped, it is seen as not very successful, and the law has been passed that does not develop it. It does not replace it with a new one, but rolls back.

M: the average “life” of a Minister in office is 11 months. The longest government life was 40 months with Groysman, 22 months with Yulia Tymoshenko, and others had even less. If they are removed from the civil service, will politicians be able to fulfill their promises?

Dmitry Gurin: I will speak from several positions. I used to work in the Ministry of Health, now I am a parliamentarian. I recently gave a lecture on advocacy to civil servants, and I was asked a lot of questions about the civil service. I saw a lot of fear among people, because the new law on restarting the government was recently passed, and people do not understand what is happening. I think this is a very big communication failure. This law has a certain logic: you have all seen situations where a person can’t be dismissed for years — they are dismissed, then they go on sick leave, then they go to the courts and have the sues for several years, and after three years they are reinstated and receives a salary for the entire period of litigation. We understand that this model is incorrect. However, when people do not understand the new model of procedures proposed in the law, they feel uncomfortable. And we are talking about 250 thousand civil servants (to be precise, 209 thousand civil servants and 30,000 vacant positions as stated in Oleksandr Starodubtsev’s speech). 

I am currently working on a new law on the capital city. In particular, it covers the issues of local self-government. This is different, but very similar in ideology. We are introducing KPIs not only for people who work in local government. We are implementing KPIs as a general concept. Our idea is that when a person goes to the election (we are talking about politicians now), it should not promise “world peace”, but definite things. For example, if a politician promises that the air will become cleaner, they should not just say “better”, but “the CO2 level will be 40% lower”.

The KPIs seem important to me because they provide the basis for consent. They provide something understandable in the relationship between the employer and the subordinate. For the system to work at all levels, there must be clear mutual consent. So, there were problems with the KPIs at the beginning of the reform. After all, when something new appears, people do not always understand what to do with it. But now there are positive changes seen. 

Speaking of directorates, it is worth saying that in fact they were small R&D institutes that developed policies. When I come to the Ministry, why should I discontinue this institute? I have to give it an assignment and see how it performs. I don’t question the fact that the political situation is changing, and the political demands of the electorate are changing, this is normal. However, if the Ministry has 5 such institutes, but the Minister comes and says that we discontinue everything, then this is not appropriate behavior, and we should speak about it aloud. The solution to the situation should be found through dialogue, not through confrontation at all levels. There should be clear game rules communicated to the country. And they should be acceptable to the 250,000 people who are building the state. It is not right to question everything that has been done in recent years. We must reach a compromise. And perhaps we should talk about certain changes in the law. To do this, those 250,000 civil servants must not be silent. When someone faces illegal demands, this should be recorded and reported to law enforcement agencies.

Moderator: How can we reboot the government and not undermine the credibility of the institution as a whole? People go, institutions remain.

Dmitry Gurin: we should not talk about people here. We need to talk about the results, about the legal issues, about transparency and effective work of law enforcement agencies. 

Pavel Kovtoniuk: I would like to talk more about institutions. We are talking about the law “on restarting governing institutions”. I read it. This law is not about rebooting. This is the law about dismissals. It facilitates dismissals and implements job contracts in the public service. It does not add anything to establishing the public service as an institution.

Any law should be checked with “the Yanukovych test”. That is, if Yanukovych had this law at his disposal, what would he do, and would we like it? If Yanukovych was given this law to use, I think he would have done something that we would have hell to pay. 

The average duration of acting governments is short. The government and Parliament may change. The unexpected people may come to power, and a “tough executive” may come to rule the Ministry of Health. A new team can come, a political team, not a technocratic one, which does not understand the KPIs, but understands the”vertical rule”. Such a team would use the law to build the world familiar to them by destroying the institutions. This law does not help to build institutions, and I want us to build them by all means, so that we all have a kind of public service attractive to be employed in. I think this law is very important for the customs agencies. It is definitely necessary to dismiss some people and to hire other people. But 3 years will pass, the team will be changed, and what’s next?

Dmitry Gurin: I support this law. In a sense, this is a real power rebooting. There are thousands of people who cannot be dismissed. Job contracts will make the public service more mobile. I lobby in Verkhovna Rada the possibility of dismissal of people while they are on sick leaves. I am working on sick leave reform and I want to complete it. This is a big Soviet innovation that you can not dismiss a person on a sick leave. You can do it in Europe. You can do it in social Germany. This does not mean that you cannot get social support during the sick leave. It should be provided. This does not mean that there should not be a “golden parachute”, but a sick leave can not be the reason that you can not be dismissed from job. In Europe, this is nonsense.

Whether this law is about one-time power reboot or about rebooting every two years — we should understand what is what, we must conclude the agreement. Because we are not only talking about the fact that our state is ruled by corruption mechanisms. We’re talking about consistency. It is important that our system is consistent, so that the reboot happens once and remains forever. In this sense, the “Yanukovych test” is reasonable.

Pavel Kovtoniuk: the matter is not about being dismissed while on sick leave. The matter is about being dismissed by politicians which are constantly rotated. Politicians must be deprived of the right to dismiss and recruit people at their will. Politicians change very often, and this makes public service very different from business. It’s more like military service. It should not be like a General comes into service and dismisses the soldiers he doesn’t like to recruit those he likes. 

There should be no vain hopes for this law. It’s not about public service rebooting, it’s about layoffs, which are situationally necessary, and it’s about job contracts which provide more flexibility. But it’s not about a new public service. We also need to provide damage control against the “bad guys” in the new government. This law is dangerous if given to such people hands. 

Oleksandr Starodubtsev: it seems to me that there is a certain logical contradiction here. On the one hand, Pavlo says that the previous reform is unsatisfactory and something needs to be changed. But the way you change it is wrong.The idea is being pushed that there is a third way to change public service without opening social lifts. Is there a danger that good public servants suffer from opening the lifts and simplifying layoffs? Certainly there is. 

I believe that a reboot means getting new people to the sector, including top managerial level. Those people who work on top positions sometimes set a very bad vector, and they need to be changed. From the issue of dismissing or not, we take a step toward a more complex question: who should be dismissed? Public service sector has employees, managers, and personnel management service. I think the biggest problem in our public agencies is personnel management service. If we assume that there are managers who transfer certain meanings, there must be someone who amplifies these meanings, communicates them internally, collects feedback, explains, and provides training. This is what personnel management structures should do. Their work is not just personnel records keeping, and that’s where, in my opinion, the big problem exists. 

So, can the reboot law be anything other than the dismissal law? What is this third way?

Pavel Kovtoniuk: We like the old plan proposed by the previous team with the EU support. I think that we fulfilled it with a good KPI in the Ministry of Health. What did we do? We created a new structure with new rules, in parallel with the old one. The ministry has the directorates that form the policy. The directorates differ from the old structures in salaries, work conditions, assignments and relations with superiors. They are also disconnected from the political supervising. So, there is a flow from the old public service to the new one through competition. The people come from outside as well. The Ministry personnel has been updated by 60% in 2 years. The number could be higher if the reform kept intact the functions that are not related to the policies formation, like personnel, finance, legal issues, and so on.

We have updated the policy-making functions, which are essential for the Ministry, by 100%. In other ministries, the reform failed, because they agreed to compromises. This turned into imitation and profanation.

The new law should just be called correctly — not the reboot law, but the law about dismissals. Anyway, let us build this new public service. You are talking about lifts, but where do those lifts go to? Taking a person to the old Department? This way we won’t build an institution.

Dmitry Gurin: I worked in the Ministry of Health and I can say that they really wanted to launch the public service with new rules. They held job contests that did not reveal any acceptable people, then they restarted the contest, they held them again and again. After that, the people came who realized that the contests were real. But I have seen other ministries where they did not want to hold contests, they just took people from the old departments to new directorates. 

Therefore, we must talk about both dismissals and real contests. I think this discussion should be wider. If we need independent institutions and independent mechanisms, let’s talk about them.

Alexander Starodubtsev: There was a reform that was to separate politicians from public servants and to establish directorates. It was unsuccessful. This is what you are saying. So what to do next? You offer to return to it. No one sees any logical contradiction here.

We had ten pilot ministries, of which 8 remained because the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice left at some stage. Who carried out the reform successfully? The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Science. The reform has a 25% positive result in 3 years.

Anyone can draw the conclusions. Another 4 years is needed to reform all 10 ministries. Perhaps the Europeans can afford to build their institutions so slowly and correctly. They are at a different level of civilization. They do not have the war. They do not need reforms. They just need to improve their institutions. We need reforms. From business point of view, we are more like a startup project than an institutional large company dealing with procedures and processes, power distribution, and decentralization.

I don’t want to comment on the situation in the Ministry of Health from political point of view. But if we talk about other ministries, when we simplify dismissals, we give new Ministers and new political teams the opportunity to work. In the previous law of 2016 there was the idea of a limited reboot. TIt was postponed for six months. It was planned that technocratic Ministers would come in, bringing good people, the reboot would be over and the good people would stay. But this did not happen, good people were not brought in. The Ministry of Health in particular struggled for 2 years to get such people there. 

Dmitry Gurin: I understand the need for a new law on the public service reboot now, but let’s not stop on it. Let’s build up institutional mechanisms that work all over the world. Let us create the mechanisms that do not have corruption incentives, the mechanisms that will attract qualified specialists. 

We have an example of the National Bank, which stopped to be a public service. It started to pay good salaries. It provided normal job contracts. It has obtained consistency and independence. We have a normal business situation there. They recruited new people who work there properly.

Oleksandr Starodubtsev: the NBU dismissed some people at first, and then it recruited the new ones.

At Stanford, I spoke with Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, and Thomas Hendrik Ilves, the ex-president of Estonia, the author of “the Estonian miracle”. I asked them a question: “If you had one chance, one attempt to change something in the Ukrainian public service, what would you do?”. Both responded: “I would speed up a turnover of people within the public service.” I think it’s a good idea.

I urge you to remove your rose-tinted glasses. The magic instruments do not exist. We can unblock the system, and then we will be able to update the stuff of the ministries, but good people will suffer. Or, we will block the system further, and then everything will be fine with the Ministry of Health, but the rest of the government, which came to make reforms in Ukraine, will not be able to do this. I’m for the first option.

Pavel Kovtoniuk: I want to stress a few things. You can’t compare public service and business, because the business owner is not rotated every two years. In Ukraine, Ministers change even more often, and the problems do not have a two-year cycle. The tuberculosis epidemic can’t be overcome in a year or two, and it doesn’t adjust to the Minister. Someone needs to know and pass on the knowledge of how to eliminate it within 10-15 years. This knowledge is unpleasant, so there must be people whose working conditions allow you to say unpleasant things to the politician. We know that the President can say: “Why is this hospital so bad? Who is to blame? You?” etc. The answer is clear: this hospital belongs to the local government, and the local government cannot invest in it, because they have created a territorial commune, and in parallel there is a district agglomeration, so they cannot distribute funds from local budgets.

This answer does not satisfy the politicians, but it is true. Therefore, civil servants should have working conditions allowing them to tell the politician their expert point of view, which may not be pleasant. 

If you take 9 women, they will not be able to give birth to a child in a month. Therefore, if it takes 3 years to bring good public servants to the Ministry, then you need to spend 3 years on this. We brought 60 good people in 3 years. 

For the first year and a half, I didn’t change anything in the Ministry. I built a parallel team of 40 people, and they had external job contracts. But then I realized it was irresponsible. In the end, all these people ended up in the Ministry of Health or the National health service of Ukraine. I personally persuaded some of them to go there, because I saw that they had unique knowledge. This is called establishing institutions. I am in favor of making reforms in Ukraine, but I am also for institutions.

Dmitry Gurin: Talking about the public service, we should stop telling lies that we can pay small money. Small salaries are too expensive for us. We must stop lying that there exists a unique action which can change everything. No, it can’t. We can dismiss people who sit there for years on sick leaves. The idea of job contracts to recruit everyone, not just the heads of state-owned enterprises, is absolutely normal. Let’s say that we need to find mutual understanding and respect, that we need to move on. We should have normal salaries and such job contracts that when we offer them to businessmen, they could say: “We want to work in public service.” Successful people should say this. We must find such steps to get where we want to go. 

The President announced a new policy aimed at renewal and rebooting: a new honesty, openness and transparency. When we look at the electoral request, we will see the same thing.

Tatyana Tyshchuk: on the one hand, I agree that we need to rotate people in the civil service and replace those who are not very capable. On the other hand, I think that out of 210,000 public servants, the one thousand that we took into the new public service is now under threat. We may have taken the wrong people. But even those who previously worked in the old public service, did a certain act of courage compared to their colleagues. They went to the contest, they struggled to be admitted to the directorates. Now, those who came to work in directorates can be viewed as people who took an unjustified risk. It is very important that this does not happen. We should not demonstrate that “wait and see” is rational behavior. I wish it was like in business, where people are an asset, where evaluation system can confirm that.

It is important that we can protect the reform, because a lot of good things have been done. It is necessary to provide the correct model of behavior so that brave and competent people suddenly do not look like losers.

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