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PSC Report 2008

I recommend that all government executive officers, in particular those in human resource management jobs, should read the newly published 2008 Report of the Public Service Commission. The main function of the Commission is to watch and query government human resource management work. The most affected party is the group of government executive officers in such postings.

The report highlights the work of the Commission in 2008 and presents observations in areas requiring improvements. In other words, the report provides valuable hints on what the Commission is looking for and what not to do by government human resource managers. There are a few areas in this report which I find particularly interesting.

Upon the resumption of civil service recruitment, and in view of the recent economy downturn, many human resource managers find that the number of job seekers for government jobs has increased tremendously. Any advertisement of vacancy will attract a lot of, or far too many, candidates. It is a headache on how to select suitable candidates for appointment, or just how to select candidates for interview. The golden rule is to interview five candidates for one vacancy. Many departments has opted to interview ten or more candidates for each vacancy. Still, the number of qualified candidates is too much that shortlisting criteria must be applied to keep the number of candidates invited for interview manageable. Such shortlisting criteria are under the scrutiny of the Commission.

Normally, managers will select for interview candidates with either better academic achievements or better working experience or both. The Commission considers that some fresh graduates may also have good potential for appointment. Such shortlisting criteria will screen them out and should not be allowed. So what to do with the thousands of candidates. The Commission recommends the conducting of recruitment examination as a way of shortlisting. It is an additional resource consuming task for many recruitment exercises. Also, the Commission recommends the conducting of primary interview. This means that all qualified candidates are invited for a first round interview with a view to selecting the good ones for a second round interview. Just think the amount of resources required.

Another query is the special treatment to disabled candidates in recruitment examination. If the examination is meant to shortlist candidates, then disabled candidates must be interviewed even if they fail in the recruitment examination. Just imagine a disabled candidate not meeting the standard of recruitment examination; could their performance be considered on par with other suitable candidates? I am not sure if the EORE is a shortlisting examination or a qualifying examination as the content of the examination is much duty related.

I am happy to see that the report proposes the strengthening of staff performance management system. On reading, it seems the proposals are timely completion of appraisals, time conducting of promotion, timely implementation of career posting. All these are not strengthening the system, but just correction to the poor implementation of the existing system by the bureaucrats. The only good suggestion is the tightening of appraisal standard through training. This is the core of the issue. Only with an honest appraising officer can the appraisal report reflects the truth. All other steps such as comments by third parties including reviewing officer, departmental secretary, head of grade are taking the appraisal further away from the truth. The Commission highly recommends the convening of assessment panel on appraisals. It is another step to degrade the process to collective responsibility. In a department I worked which had assessment panel, the performance gradings of all officers were dictated by the chairman of the panel. Another phenomenon observed by the Commission is the overly graded or overly harsh appraisals. It is such observation that causes appraising officers to write reports which are similar, because any grade A or grade D report will create much trouble which the appraising officer has to defend.

Lastly there is the recommendation on streamlining of disciplinary procedures. However, it is only on a very special case where an officer was disciplined both under section 9 for not reporting criminal conviction, and then under section 11 for the criminal conviction. The cumbersome disciplinary procedures have not been streamlined. I hope the recent court case of no legal representative in disciplinary inquiry could kick start another streamlining exercise.