OP-ED: Creating Value for HR functions in the Liberian Public Sector

The public sector human resources industry in Liberia is entering a critical juncture. Spending plans are tight for the government and human capital expenses have an alarming price tag, adding to a bloated government payroll.

Moreover, the pressure for public servants to be more accountable is getting higher – a result of a rising desire among citizens for quality provision of government services. Because of these tensions, government agencies must overhaul and redesign their approach to creating value for human resource functions that should not be based on political affiliation.

Unfortunately, human resource professionals in the public sector are seldom given the control and chance to lead the transformation. For government agencies to create values for human resource professionals in the public sector, professionals with the right skills must be given a center seat. Doing so will improve the overall performance of the government and create a professional working environment where all public servants feel safe to work regardless of their political orientation.

There are some steps that public institutions can take to guarantee that their human resource departments are nimble-fingered and very much connected with internal partners.

First, the constraints on the national budget frequently lead to large-scale reorganization or severe staff or salary reduction. In 2006, the Civil Service Agency took aggressive steps to right size and downsize the civil service workforce with the aim of boosting efficiency among civil servants. The goal was to create an optimized payroll, but human resource departments did not have a suitable seat at the table and did not have key roles in the higher-value activities, such as leading strategic conversations and projects. If they had played fundamental roles in the process, the process would have been more clearly communicated to the workforce and steps would have been taken to ensure that employees perceived the process as fair, instead of the witch hunt they saw it as.

Similarly, during the merger of the Ministry of Planning and Development and the Ministry of Finance, human resource professionals did not play major roles in the transformation. Their roles were limited at all ends: forming strategic partnerships, serving as employees’ advocate, and administrative experts. The decision to merge was simply a legislative and political decision. It would have been strategic for human resource professionals to lead the transformation of the merger, looking at organizational leadership, work culture, employees’ motivation, and use of technology to facilitate decision-making during the merger.

The recent spontaneous salary deduction announced by President George Manneh Weah on April 25, 2018, was also another move that should have included the genuine participation of human resource professionals. The recent salary deduction created resentment among public servants, many of whom believe the act was illegal.

This is why human resource professionals need a strong voice at the decision table in the public sector to lead these transformations suitably and professionally.

The forces weighing on governments will continue to trigger significant shifts. These will include changes in the scope and mission of some roles, improved processes in many areas of government, and mergers, reorganizations, and delayering of programs. Still, human resource professionals must play a central role in such initiatives, and government leaders must ensure that their organizations are up to the task by allowing these professionals to do their work.

Jonah Soe Kotee

Jonah Soe Kotee is the president of the Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals and director of human resources at Partners in Health/Liberia, a Harvard-affiliated international NGO that has partnered with the government of Liberia to strengthen health systems.

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