Waning appeal of jobs in civil service needs scrutiny, watchdog says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2009, 12:00am

The government must closely watch whether the 'accountability system' will make a career in the service less attractive because political appointees have now taken the top policymaking positions that used to be reserved for civil servants.

This is among the concerns expressed by the Public Service Commission in its latest report on the civil service published yesterday. It warned of a possible exodus by 2013, when housing benefits for many recent recruits will expire.

The ministerial system was introduced in 2002 and expanded last year with two new tiers of deputy ministers and political assistants.

'In the past the civil service offered better prospects for those who aspired to the most senior positions ... Career civil servants used to fill all the positions in the upper echelons of the government. This is no longer the position,' the report said. 'On occasions when government policies became unpopular or when expectations of enhanced public services were not met, cynicism of the quality of the civil service was played up and the feeling of the civil service being undervalued by the public would inevitably emerge.'

Saying that recent 'social, constitutional and political' developments were to blame, the impacts on the civil service's competitiveness with private sector employers 'have to be closely monitored'.

The statutory watchdog on the civil service system also noted that because of a change of service terms since 2000, the present benefits including housing and retirement were less favourable than those offered in the past. While observing that pay was still favourable compared with similar positions in the private sector, the commission warned there was a need to 'stay alert' on career development opportunities in the next few years to retain talent.

'The temptation for them to leave the service for job openings with better pay packages in the private sector or quasi-government bodies will be great,' the report said.

The watchdog carried out a survey in 2007, which concluded that the civil service was still attractive to job seekers. The survey found the number of applications for eight grades in recruitment exercises had dropped from 61,747 in 1998 to 44,883 that year. It also found 28 per cent of civil servants employed under new and less favourable terms were satisfied with their conditions. Some 282 people were interviewed.

Half as happy

58 per cent of civil service staff polled in 2007 were satisfied with the old terms of service

The proportion of civil servants employed under new terms satisfied with their conditions of service is: 28%