BY FIKADU NIGUSSA
The post-1991 shift in political ideology, accompanied by the introduction of federalism, enabled Ethiopia to have regional governments with delimited constitutional authority. Each of these regions has executive organs in charge of implementing policies. The civil service sector is the major constituent of these organs, but is well noted for its inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
The major bottle neck seems to be the governance aspect, with principles of good governance more advocated than practiced. The futile attempt of major reforms in the sector attributes to a lack of good governance.
The sector has an experienced grievance-handling mechanism, though it lacks uniformity and varies from one office to the next. The introduction of Citizens’ Charters further promotes grievance-handling and redress mechanisms in the Ethiopian civil service. The practice on the ground is worth a mention, however.
Very recently, I made a visit to the Oromia Region Education Bureau for the first time in ten years. The first time I was in the Sar Bet Oromia Bureaus’ compound, I saw many teachers outside and inside (on corridors) the building.
Their faces are full of grimace. Some were seen putting their hands on their chin and others bowed and gazing at the soil between their legs, as if they are searching for something abstract. There were also female teachers with kids on their back, crying.
In the numerous times I visited within a month, I regularly saw people crying, particularly female teachers. The reason, of course, relates to their transfer from region to region or zone to zone. By and large, family-related problems, like – the different working locations of spouses, relative or spouse death, divorce and family health – are the major cause of teachers having to transfer from place to place.
People in charge of all these matters in the teachers development process are more often than not in meetings. Besides, there is a common reply for any query about teacher-related issues and that is “let the committee meet and decide”.
No one from the service seekers knows the members of the committee to ask when the actual date will be or how to get access to the decision. Of course, someone from the teachers development process could fix the date abruptly, but this is only to convince the teachers to leave the room, rather than in a bid to solve the problem.
Some experts often use unofficial and abusive phrases like, what I personally witnessed in the case of the regional transfer of a female teacher from another region to Oromia – “I can send you back to where you came from”. I can observe neither the practice of the 12 ethical principles by the teachers development process experts, nor the elements in the citizens’ charter that the bureau drafted, here.
But, one of the events I saw was more distressing than others. A female teacher, who has worked for the last five years in a region other than Oromia, got a transfer opportunity after years of trying. She heard the news much later than the usual time of announcement and was ecstatic for a moment.
She was married and a mother, but the marriage could not last long and ended in a legal divorce. This is the very reason she wanted to transfer to Oromia.
According to the existing inter-bureau working procedure, the teacher brought all the necessary documents to the education bureau. However, she only knew her zonal placement after a month’s stay in Addis Abeba.
This is due to the procrastination in the date of the committee meeting, with contradictory information also from one expert that the transfer was in exchange of someone in a similar discipline and would thus not require a committee decision. This truth was later revealed, when the Bureau handed over a placement to the teacher.
Having the letter at hand, the teacher who had been struggling to afford daily life in Addis Abeba with the absence of close relatives, headed to the zone where the education bureau assigned her. She packed all of her domestic utensils and other facilities, even though it was difficult to manage for a person in an unfamiliar place, travelling to the indicated zone.
Besides, the transport cost was not an easy burden for a woman like her, who has been recently divorced and forced to move to another workplace. The letter succinctly indicated that she was sent in exchange of another teacher, who was named.
Sickeningly, here happened the tragedy. The zonal education office told her that there was no teacher by that name in the zone and that they cannot help her. Nothing is more shocking than such an event for the poor teacher.
She has been psychologically debilitated. She spent a lot of money in transportation and other associated costs.
Phone calls by the teacher from the zone to the bureau were not replied to with words of excuse, but rather simple phrases – “Okay, it is a mistake very natural to human being. Please go to your original zone”.
She appealed to either be placed in the zone she had travelled to or to get closer to her parents. No one from education bureau was willing to hear her, however. The endeavour made by one of her cousins, who has been enrolled in summer education at Addis Abeba University (AAU), to deal with the bureau was futile. They also told him that yes it was wrong, but she must go to the other zone.
When asked about rights and accountability issues, they urged him to leave the office or they would call the police. Indeed, they supposed the teacher herself should come and deal with such an issue, which is really another additional suffering for her.
My experience has rightly shown me that the regional education bureau lacks the very principle of grievance handling and redress of the citizens’ charter in public service. Besides, the issue of rights also comes into play, as this teacher was misled by experts and officials in the teachers’ development process to go to wrong zone. She surely has a right to be compensated.
Moreover, accountability is central to citizen-centred service delivery. The experts who processed the transfer and the official who signed the letter are the ultimate accountable parties. This also holds true for the Bureau, as it could not institutionalise the grievance-handling and redress mechanism properly.
Could it not be possible to solve the situation at the bureau level, rather than bringing the issue to court? Why is there no system to compensate individuals ill-treated due to mistakes made by the service providers?
How many of us are facing such malpractices in our civil service? Where is the servant mentality in the civil service? Where is the essence of citizens’ centered service delivery?
How many service seekers are respected and having their voices heard?
Many questions continue to be left unanswered in how our civil service system is, or is not, functioning.
Fikadu Nigussa Is a Lecturer At the Ethiopian Civil Service College