PORT VILA, 26th September 2023.

The Office of the Public Service Commission has undergone major reforms as it embraces the importance of innovation and change in this modern era.

Recently, a reform-minded Public Service Commission strongly supported by the Vanuatu Government has been putting in place a robust, integrated, and innovative reform program of Vanuatu’s public sector.

The huge structural adjustments are currently being undertaken under the leadership and vision of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission Martin Mahe.

Mr Mahe made the following illustration considering these significant reforms.

“Looking at the reforms already underway is like looking at an iceberg with 1/8 of the iceberg visible above water and 7/8 still invisible under the water line. The reforms to the Vanuatu Public Service are in advanced development but much of the change about to be implemented is below the water line of the public’s eye,” he said.

“A container ship going from top speed to stop takes about 1.8 miles or 2.8 kilometers – the old way of doing things in the Public Service (like the container ships path) must be turned around onto the new course, taking care, extensive consultation, time, effort and commitment yet at the same time married with vision and innovation to deliver the promise and potential of our nation- Yumi 43.”

The office of PSC has the following reforms underway for the first time after Mr Mahe took over the office in November 2022 and a first since the days of the Comprehensive Reform Program 30 years ago:

  • A total rewrite of the Public Service Staff Manual (written in 2008) and lacking legislative enforcement procedures has been undertaken through broad consultation with senior Public Servants. The revised manual will be validated and ready for translation, publication, and implementation by the end of October 2023.
  • The addition of a new chapter on Performance Management in the PSSM will provide clear policy, procedures, and templates for strong Performance Management to reward high achievement, encourage skills and service delivery but also to provide strategies to deal with under-performance.
  • Redrafting of the old Public Service Act of 2008 to bring Vanuatu’s Public Service up-to-date with best practice internationally. Amendments to the Act of new regulations are ready to go to the Parliament with a totally revised Act at an advanced Drafting Instructions stage.
  • The new Act will provide comprehensive harmonization with a newly revised Staff Manual through vigorous legislative ‘teeth’, especially in the areas of transparent advertising, recruitment and renumeration as well as management of poor performance and professional behavior.
  • The new Staff manual is now linked to a new Human Resource Information Management (HRMIS) integrated with the Ministry of Finance’s SmartStream – providing not only personnel management information on every Public Servant but also on-time data on establishment, leave accruals, sick leave, discipline cases and entitlements. This was developed cooperatively with the OGCIO and private contractors with data already uploaded to ‘Go Live’.

Visionary and competent leadership in this period of change is critical. Consequently, changes to recruitment and Performance Management at Director General, Director and Secretary General levels has been a key focus of the innovation being undertaken:

  • Currently 6 Director General positions have been advertised. Concerns about transparent, merit-based short-listing, interview, and selection processes free from interference to promote an independent Public Service meritocracy are being addressed not only in the new Staff Manual and the revised Public Service Act but also through the establishment of a Panel of Peers.
  • The establishment of a Panel of Peers will see the selection of eminent Ni-Vanuatu – many former Director Generals and CEO’s who have long experience and knowledge of the skills our new Directors Generals must have. In other words, these men and women are ‘peers’ or equals in Work experience and seniority with those interviewed- not someone from a low level of the Public Service. For each interview of a DG, three Panel of Peers members will be selected who have specific experience and the seniority in the work of the Ministry in which the vacancy has occurred.
  • The Panel of Peers approach is a Pacific first and is already receiving considerable interest around the Pacific as a benchmark model.
  • The Panel of Peers members are receiving training in competency- based interviews to select the best applicant with knowledge of the managerial skills or competencies required by high performing, strategic, visionary leaders in Vanuatu’s revamped Public Service.
  • The same Panel of Peers can then be utilized for regular and rigorous Performance Appraisal backed up with new PSSM and revised Act to deal appropriately with under-performance and reward high achievement.

The office of PSC has also realized that not just mere change at leadership level to help improve Performance Management. To support effective, advertisement and selection throughout the Public Service, a new competency-based Job Descriptions are being introduced:

  • An initial batch of 4,700 newly revised Job Descriptions will provide an integrated platform for advertisement, selection, induction, Annual Work Planning and Performance Management Review & Appraisal. All these will be underpinned by a proficient legislative and policy framework through the revised PS Act and PSSM.
  • All these changes will require a strong nationwide roll out of training for Public Servants. This is already being implemented by the OPSC’s Human Resource Unit and the PSC’s Vanuatu Institute of Public Administration & Management. A restructuring has been undertaken of VIPAM and procedures are being developed for preparation and delivery of decentralized training.

In addition, a Multi-Agency Decentralization Training Program is being planned to be delivered between 16th to 20th October, to deliver not only initial capacity building training required for this raft of Public Service reform but also the momentous changes envisaged to provide decentralized of government services.

The recent Summit on the progress of the National Sustainable Development Plan saw a clear support for the drive of decentralization. A Decentralization Working Group of core GoV agencies, including the OPSC, has been meeting regularly to operationalize the Decentralization Strategy with far reaching changes to procedural, legislative, and budgetary processes.

The Chairman of the PSC Mr. Martin Mahe emphasized that the Public Service Reform being undertaken is not centralized in Vila but in all 6 provinces and 72 area councils.

“Restructures of provincial organizations, innovative budget, reporting, and planning guidelines are all underway. The OPSC has also been restructured. Recruitment is underway to staff a modern Public Service operational wing,” he stated.

Mr Mahe stated “My vision for the Vanuatu Public Service is for it to become a ‘Fit for Purpose’ and People driven organization, providing the people it serves with appropriate and timely services while at the same time making the institution of the Public Service a modern, attractive work environment so that it becomes the Employer of Choice in Vanuatu.