The Problem With the Civil Service
21 March, 2013
I remember Shevardnadze's time when there were two types of civil servants. The first were ones whose position allowed them to make some money, they usually purchased their positions. They were the ones who needed to make decisions that could some how affect people's lives. For example the anti-monopoly commission would make money by not investigating monopolies. Tax inspectors would make money by not investigating tax fraud, traffic police would make money by....well, asking for it. And people in the
passport offices would make money by deciding to move a little faster than they would if they weren't given any money. The rest of the civil servants would work or not, show up or not, some had died years ago but still got paid.
That period thankfully ended. And the new civil service brought in a large number of young enthusiastic people. The idea was that they weren't corrupted by being a part of a corrupt system. The main problem over time was that senior members of the former government couldn't really agree on important aspects of the civil service. First of all who was a civil servant? There were thousands of people who were paid by the government, particualrly around election time. There were many in the leadership who hated the whole idea of civil servants, and wished that every part of the government could be some how be privatized. There were others that understood the political value of being able to hire large numbers of people even though that sort of went against the overall publicly stated ethos of the ruling group. And also as the ruling group became more and more powerful, ministers could largely hire anybody they wanted to even at the lower levels. Department heads might be good friends and were told bring your team with you. It was sort of an "administration by team" system. In the end, it got so bipolar that a group that largely considered itself libertarian created a Ministry of Employment.

But the most important fact was that ministers just found it very convenient to be able to hire more or less whoever they wanted whenever they wanted and have employees disappear whenever they wanted. New minister, new staff. As a consequence of that, probably around three quarters of all current civil servants are hired temporarily although they have been there for quite some time now.
But all that will change on the first of July. After that, according to amendment 143 of the Law on Civil Service, all temporary civil servants loose their jobs and can not be hired unless they go through a formal long term hiring process. This gives Georgia a once in a life time opportunity: setting up a professional civil service that will last through administrations. Of course there are those in the new government, just like there were those in the old, who will want to hire their friends, reward loyalty with jobs, who want to keep "administration by team", or who simply want to be able to do whatever they want. But let's hope they are not allowed to carry the day.

Although in the law a formal recruitment process is mentioned, nowhere is that formal recruitment process defined, nor is it mentioned who should carry it out. And everybody knows that the ministries have no budget or ability individually to undertake a fair, comprehensive, or successful hiring process. Any amendment that tries to find a way out and some how designate how individual ministries should hire, will fail.

The answer is some type of national testing process that will create a pool of applicants that the ministries can choose from. And this should be outsourced to an independent national entity. The obvious choice is the National Examination Center which tests teachers. They have the experience and ability to put together the tests and could charge the test takers a small amount. From there, those who pass the exam would then create a pool from which the ministries could choose and be sure that all the applicants have the minimum qualifications. This is the classic example of something that for many reasons should be outsourced rather than handled badly by many different entities within the government.

It is completely reasonable for the government to be able to choose the top positions, Ministers and Deputy Ministers, based on whatever criterion it decides upon. This happens everywhere. But a modern democracy must have a non-political group of civil servants that can serve under whatever government the people elect. The first step is to have centralized testing for a pool of applicants. Tests are not good at ranking candidates for a job according to how well they will do the job. But tests are great at ensuring a minimum level of knowledge and that is exactly what should happen. These next few months are the best chance that Georgia will have for many years to finally create a fair non-political and competent civil service.