What is the civil service?
The civil service is typically described as the core, permanent administrative arm of government, including permanent and pensionable officials working in government ministries, departments and agencies. It includes staff who advise on, develop, and implement government policies and programmes and manage day-to-day activities. However, there is no universal definition for the civil service, and in some cases it is considered to include the wider public service, including the military, the police, teachers, health workers, and public enterprises.
Why is the civil service important?
Schiavo-Campo and Sundaram (2001) outline six reasons for the importance of the civil service:
- Governance: A necessary, but not sufficient, condition for good governance is a skilled, motivated and efficient civil service with a professional ethos. By contrast, a bad civil service is a sufficient condition to produce bad governance.
- Public goods and services: Access to public services and their quantity and quality largely depend on the skills and motivation of the public employees who provide the services or oversee their delivery.
- Economic policy improvements: Whereas some reforms will require political will but little administrative support, others depend on competent and motivated government personnel. Well-formulated policies have failed without the right personnel to implement them.
- Management of public expenditure and revenue: The civil service is critical for the responsible management of public expenditure and revenues. In its turn, such responsible management requires the provision of sustainable employment opportunities for competent and motivated personnel.
- Fiscal sustainability: The civil service can help maintain the sustainability of public finances. A well-chosen combination of measures affecting the number of employees and their salaries can improve the effectiveness of the government apparatus while also reducing its cost.
- Institutional development: This is a move from a less efficient to a more efficient set of rules and incentives. An example could be better implementation of regulatory frameworks: a skilled and motivated civil service can work with external organisations to help them better interact with the relevant regulatory frameworks and entrench better ways of working.
- Schiavo-Campo, S., & Sundaram, P. (2001). Government employment and compensation – facts and policies. In To serve and to preserve: Improving public administration in a competitive world (pp. 367-420). Manila: Asian Development Bank.