Political influence undermining Balkan appointments, report warns

By on 18/07/2018
The new report praises Albania for improving professional development amongst senior civil servants, but highlights a range of problems across the Balkan states (Image courtesy: Andreas Lehrer/Flickr).

The systems for recruiting senior civil servants in Balkan states aren’t robust enough to ensure professional competence, according to a new report by Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) – a joint initiative of the OECD and the European Union.

SIGMA found that selection rules often allow for wide political discretion, specifically for senior civil service (SCS) positions; and its report argues that this gives politicians too much influence over appointments, undermining the selection of competent managers.

There is no suggestion that the senior civil service in the Balkans has been politicised, says the report, but “in some administrations, despite the fact that heads of executive government bodies are considered civil service positions, the principle of merit is often not applied to recruiting and dismissing these officials, making them subject to undue political intervention”.

Although the legal framework in most of the administrations clearly stipulates that the civil service must be politically neutral, “it is difficult to conclude that it is being followed in practice”, the report says. It adds that senior civil servants’ positions in the political-administrative interface means that they are likely to be affected by political influence, “which may create tension between the principles of professional competence and political responsiveness”. The quest for political responsiveness could lead to “politicised incompetence” in the civil service, threatening its professionalism, the report says.

SIGMA also found that testing systems are not rigorous enough to screen for competence levels, focusing more on knowledge and “formal requirements”. In addition, members of selection committees often lack professional selection skills, and their neutrality is not always ensured, the report says – adding that ministers often take advantage of these flaws to use their political discretion in appointments.

The boundaries of the SCS have been defined in most administrations, but managerial accountability lines “are often blurred”, says SIGMA. And professional development is not well established in most of the Western Balkan administrations – except in Albania, where “much emphasis has been placed on creating a professional development system specific to the SCS”. Recently, Serbia and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) have launched professional development programmes targeted specifically at senior civil servants.

While most administrations ensure that senior officials cannot be dismissed without a solid legal basis, in some administrations dismissal is possible after only one negative performance appraisal, according to the report’s findings. And SIGMA warns that “central civil service offices tend to offer more technical assistance than strategic support for the SCS.”

Among its recommendations, SIGMA’s report calls for measures to limit political interference in the SCS, helping to ensure that the professional competence of senior civil servants is not compromised. It argues for the capacities and independence of selection committees to be improved, and says the role of central co-ordinating units should be strengthened.

The report studied the current practice in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. The authors conducted interviews with current and former civil servants in all administrations, as well as with politicians and non-governmental stakeholders.

About Colin Marrs

Colin Marrs is a journalist specialising in local and national government, as well as architecture and the built environment. Colin previously worked as digital content editor at Campaign, the advertising industry "bible".

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