By Nicholas Phiri
Dear Colleagues, I have noted with interest the debate on the number of Permanent Secretaries for Special Duties. It is important that we respond to this and put things in perspective. Allow me to start with the obvious: government positions are filled up based on the approved staff establishment of a respective arm of government. Currently, Cabinet Office has 4 Permanent Secretaries incharge of Special Duties.
No new office has been created.
Two questions that have arisen are around the specific tasks of Permanent Secretary for Special Duties and the cost of running those offices. Before I can proceed, let me state clearly that it is not true that the previous administration had one Permanent Secretary for Special Duties. There were actually two. What is true though is that they may not have had a well-defined job description.
What are those Special Duties?
Well, let me start from the basics again. Cabinet Office is the epicenter of the civil service. The effectiveness of the civil service depends on this office. Administratively, all Permanent Secretaries report to Secretary to Cabinet and are accountable to Secretary to the Cabinet for contractual deliverables. Secretary to the Cabinet through Cabinet runs the civil service on behalf of the President of the Republic of Zambia.
In practice, it means that Secretary to Cabinet has to work closely with all Permanent Secretaries across sectors and categories to facilitate and ensure efficient service delivery. This is not only exhausting but a recipe for poor service delivery as the amount of work is way too much for one office.
In order to address the above challenge, the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Special Duties at the Cabinet Office comes in handy. Permanent Secretaries Special Duties are Permanent Secretaries without a portfolio. They literally cut across all government ministries, departments, programs, and activities.
Some tasks are specific and defined while other tasks are delegated from the Office of the Secretary to Cabinet and Office of the President as they unfold. While I understand the concern about the cost, I don’t understand what standard is being used to call it as being high.
What is the cost-benefit analysis?
Just for interest, members of the public may wish to know that the office of the Permanent Secretary for Special Duties doesn’t come with any additional staff. At Cabinet Office, there is what is referred to as common services office.
This office has directors and support staff in human resource, procurement, finance, audit, etc which service all the divisions under Cabinet office use.
As it stands today, we have to deal with issues of compliance to government policies, CDF issues, depoliticize the civil service, unite the country, undertake targeted reforms, seal financial leakages, and many other things. While portfolio Permanent Secretaries will be implementing this, Special Duties will support ministries to ensure that they succeed.
I thought we could help put the discussion in context.
The Author is Permanent Secretary for Special Duties at Cabinet Office,