By James Tamba Lebbie
The political evaluation mechanism in the name of Performance Management Contract, instituted for government ministers in 2008 by President Koroma, perhaps, on the advice of the Commonwealth Secretariat has been given a new lease of life, albeit in another sector. And the move has come at a time when many Sierra Leoneans have forgotten about the initiative, and therefore prompting speculation that it is dead.
But whether the whole project is a realistic mechanism established with a genuine object to maximize output from government ministers, or that it was just another political façade for both domestic and international publicity stunt is contingent on where one stands within the country’s political landscape.
And what is of concern to some of us is the fact that the results of those periodic assessments of our public servants within the context of the Performance Contracts they signed have not been made available for public consumption. In any case, that assessment mechanism has now been extended to the country’s two public universities.
In May this year, the University of Sierra Leone entered into a performance contract management with the Government of Sierra Leone with perhaps, far-reaching ramifications for all actors in the tertiary education sector. Prof. Ogunlada Davidson of Fourah Bay College points out that although the University has its own in-built performance management contract, which is used as basis for promotion from one level to the other, the recent one is justified because performance has to be shown for government’s increase in subvention for the University. He is of the opinion though that the two Contracts have to be merged into one.
Meanwhile, the Contract outlines duties and responsibilities for both the University and the Government. For the University of Sierra Leone, its obligations include reviewing and implementing its Strategic Plan and ensuring that it is linked to national policy documents such as the Vision 2025, the Medium Term Economic Framework, Agenda for Change and the Recommendations of the Conference on Development and Transformation.
The University is also required to identify performance targets, assign weightings to performance indicators, negotiate performance targets with the Office of the President and relevant partners and ensure achievements of the agreed performance targets and the preparation of employees in the organization for the desired changes in working styles, attitudes and work ethics.
In particular, the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University is required to meet targets set in the Performance Tracking Table, meet specific management goals that may be set by the President including the application of modern management practices in the University; showing proof of efforts to eliminate or reduce corruption within the institution and its departments and units, and show evidence of activities aimed at cultivating a positive change in attitude among the staff of the University; the application of modern management techniques as well as safeguards and use of state assets.
For the other partner in the contract – namely the Government of Sierra Leone – its commitments and obligations include providing, through the President and the Ministry of Education, strategic direction and overall supervision for the effective implementation of the targets; providing adequate human and financial resources that are within the means of the state; an environment of political stability and peace to enable the officials of the University function effectively; and supporting corrective and other actions taken by the University Court, Senate, and the Vice Chancellor and Principal to ensure timely delivery of the targets outlined in the Performance Tracking Table.
Ambitious targets indeed! But it would appear that reaction to the initiative is divided. While few professors and the University administrators say the signing of the Contract is justified, especially in the light of government’s move to increase salaries – albeit under pressure – for lecturers at the University, many say they have misgivings for project as a whole. For the administrators of the University, the introduction of a Performance Contract within the system would not only help maximize output in terms of performance, but will also enhance academic quality assurance.
In fact, in June this year, the University conducted a two-day retreat apparently with the object to strategize on how it can meet the benchmarks on the performance contract entered into with government. And it would appear that the administration is determined to live up to its commitments. But it would clearly require the commitment and resolve of both the administrative and academic staff to achieve the targets set out in the Performance Contract.
That’s a herculean task for sure. This is because there are some lecturers and members of the administrative staff of long standing service at Fourah Bay College, for instance, that are clearly cheating the system. They are either not regular at work or they don’t go to work at all. Few lecturers don’t cover their classes perhaps, secured in the notion that they are tenured staff and therefore cannot be fired. They are a real pain on the neck of their Heads of Department and by extension, the University administration. I will therefore imagine that the institution of a performance management contract will help the university administrators to put such people under disciplinary control.
However, there are those who see the introduction of a performance contract as a mechanism that could be used as a witch hunt against perceived opponents and detractors. In addition, some have pointed out that the system was not generated from within but was forced on the University by the government. President of the Academic Staff Association, (ASA) Fourah Bay College, Dr. Charles Silver notes that he is not against the introduction of a Performance Contract for staff of the University but believes the University authorities must provide the conducive environment and wherewithal for lecturers to give their best. His point is valid. Granted that the University has increased salaries for staff across the board, an increment that is arranged to stagger over a three-year period. However, the improvement on the teaching and learning environment, which ASA demanded as part of its grievances for an industrial action last academic year, has still not been addressed.
And even if salaries for staff are increased ten-folds, the lack of adequate teaching and learning environment would undermine the effectiveness of workers. After all, the success or otherwise of a performance management contract can be judged by two main factors among others – input and output. The latter is determined to a large degree by the former.
Let the University provide the basics in terms of a comprehensive condition of service befitting university dons and it will be justified to hold its employees accountable for their stewardship. And lest I should forget, the government has to demonstrate maximum commitment to supporting the University administration to meet those benchmarks set out in their performance management contract. In journalism, we say gigo – garbage in, garbage out.