Reforming civil service in Somalia

Public [or civil] servants are the government employees responsible for the implementation of public policies and delivering government services to the citizens. Establishing capable and professional civil servants is a fundamental component of state-building.

Since independence, Somalia’s civil servants have experienced multiple challenges. Successive Somalia’s civil and military governments between 1960 and 1991 failed to produce strong and professional civil service institutions.An early aggressive civil service reform program was undertaken during Abdirisak Haji Hussein’s premiership (1964-1967). Thousands of directors and low-level civil servants were fired as a result of the reform. However, the 1967 elections and subsequent coup interrupted Hussein’s efforts. The collapse of the state in 1991 then completely destroyed an already ineffective public bureaucracy.

Reviving the civil service

Abdullahi Yusuf’s transitional federal government made first post-state collapse attempt to reestablish a professional civil service with the draft and approval of the Law for the Somali Civil Service – also known as Law No. 11 – by the transitional federal parliament. The law, which was approved in Baidoa in late 2006, became the basis for Somalia’s post-conflict civil service. Members of the National Civil Service Commission (NCSC) were appointed in the same year.

Article 7 of Law No. 11 mandates the NCSC to recruit all civil servants independently: “When the Government institutions need recruitment of workers, they apply and present their requirements to the National Civil Service Commission of the Government”. The article was not, however, implemented according to the law. Most of the more than five thousand current federal government civil servants were selected by ministers and other politicians mainly on the basis of clan or friendships. The NCSC members did not, in any case, have enough resources, capacity, and authority to undertake their mandated duties. As a result, the NCSC’s responsibilities were reduced to the registration and recording of new civil servants selected by ministers – documentation only started in 2012.

Successive governments failed to prepare a clear employment and retention process and create the environment for open competition and merit-based civil service recruitment. Civil servants did not receive the necessary training and professional development for their duties and mandates. There were no state-owned civil service institutes that trained public personnel. Furthermore, the salaries of civil servants were not regular and at times civil servants did not receive salary payments for successive months. These fundamental challenges resulted in a bureaucratic cadre who are not able to deliver rudimentary government services to the public.

Ongoing efforts

Despite these institutional challenges, there have been encouraging steps towards reform in recent years. The World Bank’s Capacity Injection Project (CIP) and the Strengthening Institutional Performance (SIP) of UNDP are two relevant programs for strengthening Somalia’s civil service. The World Bank’s CIP aims to strengthen the capacity of ten federal government institutions. The project introduced a new, formal recruitment process and injected key human resources to core government institutions. The project could serve as a pilot assessment for a larger government-led civil service reform in the near future. UNDP’s SIP project has also supported civil service reform, including a review of the civil service law no. 11.

The federal government has embarked on its own efforts to reform the civil service. Since February 2017, the government halted the recruitment of new civil servants not only due to a lack of resources, but also due to the need to reform civil service and the flawed recruitment processes. In addition to increasing working hours of civil servants and regular payment of the salaries of civil servants, the federal government redesigned the structure of civil service institutions by eliminating the ‘Permanent Secretary’ position of all but one ministries. The government has also started the recruitment of all Director General positions.

A comprehensive reform scheme

Building an independent and professional civil service is a prerequisite for a government that can implement its laws and policies. Redesigning and building civil service that fits Somalia’s context requires a combination of both legal and administrative reform.

First, the law governing the Somali civil service needs to be revised and endorsed by the federal parliament. It is encouraging that the law has been reviewed and approved by the cabinet ministers. The parliamentary approval of the law should be prioritized. The revised civil service law could be the beginning of a thorough reform of the civil service.

Second, good laws alone are not sufficient for meaningful reform, which the poor implementation of the provisions of the Law No. 11 demonstrates. A professional and competent civil service commission should be established, with its members selected in a clear and transparent process. Ministers should not, as in the past, undermine the commission’s independence in the recruitment of civil servants.

Third, a new approach for the recruitment and selection of civil servants should be introduced.  Given the then prevalence of patronage in civil service recruitment, a formal and transparent process for the recruitment of civil servants is essential. The civil service recruitment should combine centralization and formalization with the use of technology for application and selection processes.

Fourth, the federal government civil service needs both downsizing and expansion at the same time. A review of the capacity, commitment and work performance of the current civil servants should be an important component of any future reform scheme. This would help the government save unnecessary expenses it incurs in the form of salaries for unproductive civil servants. It would also provide an opportunity for the recruitment of a fresh and competent generation of civil servants.

Finally, Somalia needs an institution responsible for the training and development of the capacity of public servants. The support that the World Bank currently provides to the Somali National University’s School of Management and Public Administration is a good start. However, a fully-fledged civil service institute could fill the capacity development gap of Somalia’s current and future civil servants.

A comprehensive civil service reform scheme requires political will and commitment from the relevant executive authorities of the federal government of Somalia, including the offices of the president and prime minister and the Ministry of Labor. The civil service should be stand above the political fray. Politicization of the civil service, as has hitherto been the case, leads to administrative inefficiencies and perpetuates patronage-based civil service recruitment.


Mahad Wasuge is a researcher and writer. He tweets @MahadWasuge

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